Picking Fights in the Middle East - 10.02.2005

The flight to Jordan was fairly uneventful. Just long with plenty of bad television. When I arrived in Amman this afternoon at 4:30 PM local time, it was a generally chaotic scene. Im certain that most airports in foreign countries will appear unfamiliar to the traveler. Coming from the airports of the United States where bodies rush past each other with little more than a glance, arriving at the airport in Jordan I was overwhelmed by the helpful offers of Jordanian locals, having to explain several times that I knew where my bags were and that I could take care of them myself.

After this I found a taxi, which appeared to be no more than a guy with a car and time on his hands. He approached me multiple times; while I was looking for a calling card, making the call, and after finishing, to offer a ride. I accepted, and was a little surprised to find that his car was not with the taxis, but in fact in the airport parking lot. No matter, he only asked 3.5 JD (Jordanian Dinar) over what I have been told was the going rate.

Although most of the Jordanians on the road appeared to follow general traffic laws and rules of the road, the driver of my taxi seemed to have a penchant for driving in the middle of the road, so he could quickly maneuver from lane to lane when necessary. This was slightly disconcerting to me, but nevertheless we arrived with a minimal of horn blowing from irate drivers on the road and little event of note.

He is from Jordan but has a brother who lives in Brooklyn that he spoke tp on the phone with while I was in the cab. He was excited by my small amount of broken Arabic, I suspect it will get much better in the coming days. The first real event of note was when I arrived at the Al Monzer Hotel.

On the ride to the hotel, the driver told me several times that I did not want to stay at the Al Monzer and that it was dirty, etc. So I was not surprised when I arrived at the condition of the hotel when we arrived. Keep in mind that Kathy Kelly from VITW (Voices in the Wilderness) assured me that the taxi driver would attempt to convince me to stay at a separate hotel. After I had moved into my room, I went downstairs to look in on what had appeared to be a bar, to find a drink, and perhaps some of the journalists I had been assured were staying at the Al Monzer.

Imagine my surprise when I found that what from the outside appeareared to be a bar, was in fact the Al Monzer itself! I had been tricked by the hotel that shares the building with Al Monzer, in order to rent a room for only 8JD! Keep in mind the exchange is .7JD per 1 US Dollar. I met Jameel at the desk of the A-M and he assured me that when his Boss returned, hed have a word with the proprietor of the other hotel, and wed settle this quickly. At this point Jameel regaled me with stories of all the people he knew, who I also happen to have made acquaintance with over the past several months, preparing for this trip. People like Joseph Carr, Dahr Jamail, Sheila and Matt from CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) among others.

At this point Jameel introduced me to Haj Ali, an Iraqi who spent several months in Abu Ghraib and is in Jordan currently, trying to set up an organization to advocate for the rights of Iraqi detainees. Hajali speaks almost entirely Arabic, and as I speak only very little Arabic, we had some trouble communicating at first. With Jameel as a translator, though, it went well. I explained to Hajali about the Alive in Baghdad project and my trip. He showed me many photos that he has of detainees who have been injured or killed. I will ask him about posting these photos, and hope to have them up late Sunday, Jordanian time.

Tomorrow Haj Ali will head to the Italian Embassy here in Amman because he continues to be refused a visa. He is attempting to travel to a conference in Italy this coming week and is meeting with them tomorrow because they are supposed to make a final decision regarding the visa. He has invited me to travel with him to the embassy to see what happens.

I hope that at least some photos from the trip will be available on the site soon after, and I plan to interview Haj Ali tomorrow about his organization, his time in Abu Ghraib, the Occupation, and the various photos he has passed on to me. I suspect I will have an article posted by late Sunday evening, again Jordanian time.

Ive been in the country less than 12 hours and already I have stumbled onto what should be the first of many great stories. Keep an eye on the site for more soon!

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