Amman Rising and Falling
3 – 9 April 2013
I end up couchsurfing four nights, its a strange experience. My host is a young Jordanian woman living with her family (mother, two sisters and two brothers). They are very welcoming and hospitable but during this time I inhale enough secondhand smoke I might as well be smoking myself and experience a number of fights between mother and grown up children I would rather not have.
There is also another couchsurfer staying there, an American woman so we meander around the centre of Amman together. I develop a cold from all the smoke and dampness of the apartment. I wanted to leave after three nights but after the other couchsurfer leaves I am weirdly manipulated in to staying another night. Some people are strange the way they want to bring people into their lives when they dont really seem up for having them.
Roman theatre in the centre of Amman.
Sheep grazing in the suburbs in Amman.
A lemon mint drink at the Books@Cafe.
Upon at last leaving Amman I make my way through the various suburbs out of the city heading north west towards the Jordan River crossing with Israel. There is another border crossing the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge closer to Amman but I have read that no foot traffic or personal vehicles are allowed across and so am heading north to cycle across the other crossing.
I eventually reach the start of the descent back into the Jordan Rift though it is not quite as spectacular as before in terms of surroundings and busy road. I start to notice a funny noise coming from the back wheel so stop at sea level for lunch and to examine what the problem is. I think it is the wheel angle but cant seem to adjust it to stop rubbing on the chain stay and mud guard. The wheel is spinning unevenly and so I adjust the brakes allow for this but it still seems to be a problem.
I continue down the hill but now the problem only seems worse. I stop to examine and adjust but the problem persists. Its then that I notice the cracks on the rim sprouting from where the spokes join. This explains why the wheel wont spin straight, the rim is twisting out of line as it cracks at the seams. This is not good. I think that when I had the bike looked over in Amman they over tensioned the spokes thus causing the rim to crack under the pressure of the fully loaded bike. Before this the rim was completely fine and was part of the complete new wheel I got in Athens.
Looking down into the Jordan Rift.
Stopping at sea level on the way down.
I try to ring the bike shop and Rosie but to no avail. So I sit and ponder a bit about hitchhiking back to Amman. A truck pulls up with three army guys from the nearby base and one of them asks me what I am up to. After I have explained he says he will be finished work soon and can give me a ride back to Amman, so I accept and wait for him to return. The next part of this story is not one I care to remember but I will tell you anyway because I have already omitted a few unsavoury encounters with Jordanian men on the blog and if I am going to tell you any I might as well tell you the worst. Ugh.
He comes back in his car and we start the journey to Amman, he buys me food and drink and I am wary until he tells me he is married and has four children. At this point I foolishly drop my guard a little and trust him. Ugh. I should have just asked him to drop me near the centre of Amman so I could find a hostel like I planned but instead he says he has a friend who has a spare apartment I can stay at, the cheapskate in me wins. He stops at a few shops along the way to get more food and then we arrive at the apartment.
Turns out he wasnt only food shopping, after I go the bathroom and come back he has pulled out some shampoo and ridiculous underwear for me. I can only describe this point as the ultimate sinking feeling. I should have picked up on all the cues, I have really landed myself in it now. I take to asking him when he will leave and reminding him that he has a wife and children at home. Uncomfortable does not begin to describe it. He is passive and seemingly unable to go past the prop cues and eventually leaves after flicking through all the channels on the tv whilst I say nothing and sit awkwardly on one of the couches. I feel like an idiot for getting myself into this situation after all the trouble in Egypt I relaxed a little in Jordan, trusting people and this is where I ended up. Ugh.
I wake up the next morning not sure where I am in Amman and without my passport as the owner of the apartment took it the previous night. I eventually track him down after knocking on many neighbouring doors and get my passport back. I ask a few people the way to the centre and make my way back to the bike shop. On the way I get a flat tyre and so stop on the sidewalk to fix this. I am wearing a t shirt for the first time in Jordan as I have seen a number of other women in Amman wearing them so deem it ok. I was not however quite prepared for the problem my arm tattoos would cause.
I am working on Frankie when a young man comes over and starts talking to me, or rather shouts at me. He asks what work I do in Jordan, I explain I am travelling on my bicycle. “Why you not work?” “Why travel?”. I defensively explain the merits of travelling and that I have already been to university and worked. He really starts to piss me off implying that I am somehow stupid for traveling and should be working. He is staring at my tattoos repeatedly as he continues to shout questions at me. It seems I wasnt giving him the right answers. He declares I am in the mafia, referring to my tattoos and then tells me that fucking would be a good hobby for me, apparently the kind of job he was covertly trying to refer to with all the questioning. I cant remember what I said at this point but I was quite enraged for being accosted on the street and having some sort of shouty conversation with this misogynist asshole.
I make it back it to Nader Bikes and they do there best to find and install a new secondhand rim on Frankie for me. It’s nice hanging out with Nader (the owner), the other mechanic Anton and their friends as they look after me and Frankie once more. A pleasant change from being treated like a piece of meat. I find a hostel to spend the night in the centre of town. I end up staying another two nights in Amman to shake off the head cold and regain some sort of sanity. I hang out at the Books@Cafe once more which I later come to realise is the unofficial queer space in Amman, no wonder I felt so at home.
Back to Amman and Nader Bikes to get a new rim for Frankie.
Leaving Amman once more, it seems to take a long time to reach the edge of the Jordan Valley again. The view is as amazing as it was before and I cannot really complain getting to experience it another time. Reaching the bottom of the valley I turn and head north along the road that is now quite populated with towns in between various agricultural land and buildings amongst the fertile land near the Jordan River. The map didnt really indicate this and I had imagined the surrounding land to be more sparsely populated.
I feel a tension as I cycle past people as they seem to be deciding how they should act towards me. There is not the usual Hello! How are you? Welcome. Instead I am shouted at in Arabic words I dont understand, sometimes aggressively. It puts me on edge. I feel like my presence is unwelcome and sometimes provoking. I have no idea why I am so antagonising to the locals (later living in Palestine I think it is probably because they thought I was Israeli and they could possibly be Palestinian refugees living in Jordan).
A group of five or six teenage boys see me coming and walk towards the road. As I cycle past one spits in my face, another on my leg and another throws a tomato that hits my arm and another a stone that hits the wheel. One of them starts to run after me. I stop and yell at him to come closer and show how tough he is. He starts to walk over and his friends behind him. I think one of them is going to throw another stone when a man in a truck pulls over on the other side of the road and shouts at them. I wasnt sure what was going to happen next so am relieved and you this intervention to cycle away.
There are people all along the road and I feel constant tension, real or imagined. A young guy, maybe fifteen steps out in front of me and says hello then brushes his hand at my bottom as I cycle past. I cycle on and turn a corner to see a another guy in his late teens waiting at a bus stop. He sees me approach and walks out in the road in front of me causing me to slow down. I think he is going to make a grab at me as well so I yell at him “Dont touch me!”. His face turns from interest to anger. I continue cycling and get about fifteen metres away when I feel something hit my back hard. I turn to see a rock the size of a baseball laying on the road near me. My back hurts where it struck me.
I shout at him in anger and he begins to walk forward picking up another rock. Luckily a car comes around the corner and I wave it down in a moment of desperation as the guy looks like he really wants to hurt me. The driver getting out of the car happens to be a uniformed army officer whom I hastily tell that the guy threw a rock at me. I dont know if he understands what I am saying but he gets the message that this guy is harassing me and shouts at him in Arabic until he walks away.
I am still at least 10km short of the border crossing I am now desperate to reach. I fear what else this gauntlet stretch of road will throw at me. With 3km to go I pass some more youth on the roadside, one shouts fuck you and begins to chase me until I stop and challenge him. I finally arrive at the border crossing. Thank God. Give me the dogs of Greece and Turkey or miserable weather, anything but this.
It transpires I am not allowed to cycle across the border and instead have to go on the foot passenger bus. Its a confusing process with a lot of waiting but at least on the Israeli side they do not xray Frankie again as they did in Eilat. I am questioned for a short amount of time for my motivations for visiting Israel but not to intensely as the young border control officer seems more interested in my bicycle journey then what I intend to do in Israel. By the time I get through the border control with a new three month visa it is 7pm. I arrived at the Jordanian side at 430pm, it is now close to dark and the town I hoped to get to, Jenin is still 30-40kms away.
I cycle away from the border and start eyeing up the road side for somewhere to camp, I am very tempted by some dense wooded areas until I notice the sign warning of land mines. I continue on and come to some agricultural paddocks, looking at the map I decide my best chances are wild camping and so quickly divert myself down a dirt track along the side of a paddock. I find a hay paddock out of sight of the road and any buildings and put up the tent trying to dodge swarms of bugs. As it gets darker I begin to hear howls from im not sure what, a fox? Dog? Wolf? Whatever it is has friends and they seem to be not so far away in the paddock now making an great noise. I dont get up to look. I have no desire after this day. My back still hurts.
Spot of wild camping in the hay paddock.
Lights from the Israeli border crossing just over there.