to Amman, to Sinai and back again


This time last week I was sleeping at the Holiday Inn near JFK. “Flight 93” was playing on TNT earlier that night; the hotel was full of Jordanians and other Arabs, many with brand new biometric American passports like the new one I finally have. Royal Jordanian delayed the Sunday night flight, because of a hurricane we heard. Which one? The one that had mildly hit the northeast two days earlier, making Rafa Nadal wilt in swamp weather in Flushing? Or the one coming in two days?

Either way I landed in Amman early Tuesday morning. By Wednesday morning I was in a bus south to Aqaba to catch the ferry to Nuweiba in Egypt. “You want speed?” a ticket man asked me at the crumbling port building in Aqaba, which shares coastline with Eilat in Israel and Taba in Egypt. There are two ferries that run between Jordan and Egyot; the fast one is only supposed to take one hour, plus the casual but unclear waiting before leaving and after hitting port on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Amman and Aqaba share claims to possess the world’s tallest flagpoles. However I heard in the days since getting here and since seeing both flagpoles (impressive) that in fact Turkmenistan has the world’s tallest. And Azerbaijan, or perhaps Kazakhstan is about to out-do that. Sort of like the supertall skyscraper rivalries in Dubai, only a little thinner.

Returning to Egypt invited immediate haggling. Jordanian cabs use a meter and the drivers, besides each having unique knowledge of the best hotel in town (surely better and cheaper than the one you ask them to take you to), seem to share little with their surly Egyptian counterparts.

In a shared taxi ride from Aqaba to Amman last night, at a rest stop on the side of the highway for tea somewhere north of Kerak, the driver told me that he used to work in Baghdad. “I was a driver for KBR in Baghdad for four years. I was a driver between Amman and Baghdad for twenty years.”

I confessed I didn’t know much about KBR. He looked surprised, then annoyed, then was silent. We looked at each other and I asked if he was from Amman. He was. KBR is the major Ameican contractor in Iraq, building housing for soldiers. The driver said they work as police through the American army, and he was explaining this to the man from Madaba sitting shotgun next to him. He seemed stung that I didn’t ask him more about Baghdad, and I was embarassed that I didn’t know that KBR, among other things, employs more American private contractors and holds a larger contract with the U.S. government than does any other firm in Iraq.

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