Packing Lists, Travel, USA

I’ve just returned to Amman after four weeks of traveling in Germany and Turkey – mostly for grad school and work, with a few days of relaxation in between. I couldn’t wait to be unpacked and back home – and I did unpack very quickly – but now I’m continuing to pack for an eventual move back to the United States.

A few months ago I was interviewing for a job in New York that unfortunately didn’t work out. But at that time, I started getting ready to move by packing up all my winter clothes and trying to get more organized. Now I’m interviewing for two more jobs (and applying for more); I’m considering heading to the US in the near future, with or without a job, mostly due to some family concerns. So I’m again in the situation where I could be moving in three weeks, or waiting a bit longer.

Fortunately, last year I went through a major purge and got rid of probably 75 percent of my wardrobe. I’ve bought some things since then, but I expect I can fit all my clothes, shoes, bags, etc., into 1.5 large checked bags. Half of my wardrobe (winter clothes) is packed into one suitcase with room to spare. I’ve started packing up non-essentials like carpets, pillow cases, and a few decorative items that I don’t need everyday right now.

This is me with one of my best friends, loading up the car in January 2015 when I was moving from DC to Turkey. I traveled with one large Samsonite suitcase, an Osprey 65L backpack, and my carry-ons were a small blue suitcase and another smaller backpack.

Looking back, I’m not sure what all I came with, but I remember packing a fair amount of unnecessary things out of sheer panic. Almost four years later, I feel ok about moving with three checked bags – full of things I like, that have memories and will help me set up a new home – and with a carry-on suitcase with my camera gear. Going with only two bags would mean leaving behind a lot of stuff that I like, and four feels excessive. After all this time abroad, and perhaps with getting older, I feel like I have clothes that suit me in either environment (when I moved to the Middle East, I came with lots of outdoor clothes/gear that for some reason I thought I needed) and that are better quality and worth moving halfway around the world. So far, I don’t think it will be necessary or worth it to ship anything, but obviously some people choose to do that. Lots of stuff is just easier to buy once you land, especially if you’re moving to the US, where clothes and household goods are cheaper than the Middle East (I’ve brought bedsheets from the US, but I’ll never understand people who fill an entire suitcase with just a duvet). Basically, I’ll be moving with the same amount of suitcases an Emirati lady takes on a weekend trip to Beirut!

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Tomorrow is our katb al-kitab day. Big inshallah that everything goes according to plan and no one decides some part of our paperwork is wrong. For lots of Jordanian couples, katb al-kitab is the “engagement,” but it is a marriage contract, and after it’s done, you’re legally married. So even though our wedding isn’t until July, after tomorrow, we’ll be married. To each other. Between work and running around getting documents stamped, I haven’t really had time to freak out about the fact that it’s my last day as a free woman. Joking.

Documents!

Since Layth’s mom and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what offices we needed to go to, and since we accidentally went to divorce court instead of marriage court, I’ll write what we did here, since I’m not the only foreign woman out there getting married here.

1. A letter from your embassy stating that you’ve never been married, and if you’ve been divorced, you’ll need proof of that, too. The US embassy doesn’t keep centralized records of marriage, so when you go to the embassy, they will only give you a very generic letter stating that they can’t give Jordanian authorities proof that you’re not married. So far this letter has worked for me, as the half-asleep civil servants who stamped it didn’t even read it. However, other women I know have had the letter rejected, went back to their office and had a colleague type up a “proof” letter stating she was single, and had two witnesses sign it. Somehow this was accepted. Others were skeptical of the embassy letter and made her swear up and down that she was not already married. I think it depends on the mood of the employee you get that day. 

This letter has to get stamped by the Ministry of the Exterior (Shmeisani) and the Sharia Court (Gardens).

2. Translation of your passport into Arabic. After a lifetime of battling with people not to pronounce the silent R in my last name, the guy at the translation office insisted that spelling it phonetically, as it would be pronounced in French, would raise red flags. I wanted to tell him I have relatives named “Thibodeaux” – how would you transliterate that, I wonder? Oh well. At least the Arabic pronunciation sounds nicer than the American version.

3. Blood tests for you and your fiancé. They check for Thessalemia and HIV. I hear a lot of people complain about how the Ministry of Health basically doesn’t look nice and they’re afraid they won’t get a clean needle, but there are plenty of very modern looking, very clean medical labs where you can get any number of tests done for a reasonable price (seriously, like $10). These tests have to get stamped by the Ministry of Health.

4. Defter al-’aile (family book). This is basically proof of the Jordanian partner’s marital status, lists his immediate family, place of birth, etc. Since Layth’s parents are divorced, his father has this paperwork, so Layth had to go to the Civil Status and Passport office to basically get a substitute copy.

Now to go eat some celebratory shawerma…

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What’s the most irritating part of living in Amman?

Transportation. It, for practical purposes, doesn’t exist. 

A few years ago I might have said the language barrier, or sexual harassment was the most frustrating part of my daily life here. At least my Arabic is at a much better level than when I started out, but I do hate that every time I go into a shop and an employee starts talking to me, they immediately know I’m a foreigner. As for the harassment, I’m not sure if it’s me, them, or just not being at the university or Rainbow Street anymore, but it’s become a rare occurrence for me these days. Which is great.

Five years ago, traffic was annoying during rush hour, but I never had major obstacles getting to and from home, university, and work (except during Ramadan). The population was also around 2.5 million then, and now it’s probably closer to 4 million. Now traffic can happen anytime, anywhere – usually because someone is triple-parked, blocking multiple lanes of traffic so he can get his shawarma.

I hate taking taxis in any country, but taxi drivers seem to be especially useless here. When I do manage to find an empty taxi (sometimes after waiting 30 minutes), they just can’t be bothered to go where I want to go (usually one neighborhood over), even though, you know, they’re getting paid. Or: “ah, impossible – there is traffic.” Newsflash: there’s traffic absolutely everywhere, every single day in Amman. I’m going the same direction as you – you might as well get paid to sit in traffic. And then maybe I get to argue with him about his meter being “broken” and how I’m not going to pay him 10x the normal price. Or my favorite, the young drivers who keep their smartphone wedged into the steering wheel so they can play video games while driving. Also, I get sick of having the conversation about where I’m from every single time. “American” is never a good enough answer – they need my whole family heritage so they can understand why I look vaguely Middle Eastern (no, I’m not hiding any Arab grandmothers in my closet). And then there are the ones who think I am Korean or Japanese. 

All of this is routine.

My hatred for taxis is so great that yesterday, when I had to go into the office for a two hour meeting, I opted to walk 40 minutes in the rain, both ways, rather than take a taxi. Luckily I live close enough to walk to work right now. Once we move I’ll have to come up with a new plan.

While we’re on the subject, walking in Amman is a pain in the ass as well. There’s no such thing as a crosswalk. If there’s a sidewalk, it’s usually obstructed by trash, someone’s car, or these stupid evergreen trees that people actually grow so that they’re a meter wide at the bottom and take up the whole sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into the street. You’re likely to have to traipse through an empty lot filled with rubbish, stray cats, cars, and in the rain, giant mud puddles to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic. And I will never understand why Jordanians love putting the most slippery tiles (the kind that belong indoors) on stairs outdoors, so any time it rains, it’s a bit like trying to walk on an ice rink.

Aside from my friends, public transport is the one thing I really miss about living pretty much anywhere else.

So instead on my days off I spend day after day at home, or going anyplace in a 45-minute walking radius. I wake up with ambitions of running, or doing yoga, or writing something, but do I? No. I just get incredibly bored.

I need a car, but guess what? a 20-year-old manual transmission car that probably has a door ready to fall off costs about $5000 here.

So if I want to get a car (and pay my student loans and pay for wedding and travel expenses) I need to save money, which kind of defeats the purpose of going out anyway. 

Ugh.