A year ago today . . .

We arrived in Jordan.  August 7th, 2008.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year!  Right now, sitting here typing this post, it seems as though time has flown by incredibly fast.  But in reality, this year has had its ups and downs – fast parts and slow parts.  Adjusting to a new life and culture is one thing, but doing it as a family of four is entirely another matter!

In honor of this now important “anniversary” in our lives, I thought I would post a couple of pics and share a little bit of what it was like leaving our old home and arriving in our new one.

This was the scene in my in-law’s garage at 2:00 AM on August 6th of last year.

All packed and ready to go . . .

All packed and ready to go . . .

That was 12 of the 16 bags we brought with us.  I know – it sounds like a lot, and yes we had to pay some fines.  But this was the culmination of a lot of pac king and repacking, sifting, sorting and decision making.  Exactly a month before on July 6th we had left the Chicago area with all of our worldly belongings packed in a Penske moving truck.

Chicago to Jordan by way of Ohio, New York, and Connecticut

Chicago to Jordan by way of Ohio, New York, and Connecticut

We spent July on our affectionately dubbed “Farewell Tour” from Chicago to Ohio to New York to Connecticut.  Don’t worry we didn’t drive the Penske the whole time.  (My brother and I did have a crazy but fun 2-day trip from OH to CT and back to get all of our stuff into storage at my in-laws.  Ask me about how we got from the the truck rental return to the Hartford airport sometime.)

Any American who has had to move their entire household from one state to another knows that the whole process of dealing with “stuff” and what to do with it is mind numbing.  It’s incredible how much stuff we accumulate as Americans.  We were a family of 4 living in a modest 2 bedroom apartment.  We had a garage sale and gave a ton of stuff away to charity to downsize before the move yet somehow we still managed to fill a 20 foot moving truck with all of our “essential” things!

The last week and a half of our Farewell Tour was spent in CT at my in-laws.  My wife and I had the tedious chore of whittling all those possessions down to what we would actually bring with us to Jordan. In retrospect those 12 bags above seem pretty good when compared with the whole truckload of stuff we left Chicago with.  I actually challenge any American family of 4 to pack up their life into 16 bags (only 4 oversized duffles allowed)!

I hadn’t planned on being up till 2:00 AM on the day we were leaving, but that’s how these things go isn’t it?  I was making last minute decisions on what to take or not to take and making sure every bag was packed as full as possible without being too full.  Morning came early and it was a bit of a puzzle packing 16 bags, 4 adults, and 2 kids into my in-laws mini-van.  Believe it or not we all fit.  The trip to JFK airport was fairly uneventful and as far as I know we didn’t do any permanent damage to the minivan’s suspension!

Anyone who has flown through JFK knows it’s kind of a madhouse. The day we flew out was no different.  Fortunately we had a nice guy checking in our luggage.  He waived part of the fine and much to our son’s delight slapped a huge red fragile sticker on his suitcase of toys and stuff.  Unfortunately airports are no longer the places of memorable and extended good-byes that they once were.  Does anyone remember the times in days gone by when your loved ones would wait with you at the gate to make sure you got off safely?  Or they would greet you at the gate with smiles and hugs upon arrival?  No more.  After we checked all the luggage we were told we couldn’t wait where we were standing and would have to go outside or go through security.  Shortly thereafter someone came through asking for people flying internationally and led us briskly to another terminal.  My in-laws followed as far as we could and for reasons I can’t quite remember now we made our hasty and tearful goodbyes near a security gate.

And we proceeded to wait for hours (or so it seemed) on the other side of security because of some sort of delay.

A soon-to-be world traveler

A soon-to-be world traveler

I don’t remember a whole lot about the flight except that it was long and fairly uneventful.  Transatlantic travel with small children is always kind of dicey, but all-in-all things went smoothly.

Upon arrival at the airport in Amman everything went better than expected as well. We cruised through immigration thanks to a mysterious stranger who waved us from the end ofa long line, through an empty turnstile, checked our passports and sent us to baggage claim.  We grabbed a couple of carts and loaded up our 16 bags, which had seemed like so few when deciding what to take and what to leave behind in CT, but now seemed like way too many!  Somehow we managed to get them through the security scanners and to the curb where we found the taxi stand.

It’s funny to think of how little Arabic I knew then.  I had practiced and practiced what I would say and even had a map marked with the location of our Apartment.  The dilemma was that we had so many bags that we had to take two taxis.  V. knew absolutely nothing about Amman and we had no way to communicate with each other.  What was I to do?  Send my wife and kids in a taxi with a strange driver and no idea where to go?  Put the whole family and some bags in one taxi and the bulk of the luggage in the other?  Would we ever see our 10 of our precious 16 bags again?  In the end I went in one taxi with our daughter and half the bags in one taxi and sent my wife and son and the other half of the bags in the other.

I thought for sure with the map the taxi drivers would have no trouble finding our new place.  But the map only seemed to confuse matters more.  There was about10 minutes of heated discussion between 4 cabbies and the map on the hood of a taxi.  In the end I seemed like they knew where we wanted to go, so off we went.  Once we got on the highway the other taxi sped off, and my driver said, “he doesn’t know where he’s going.”  I can laugh about it now, but it was a bit nerve wracking at the time.  Eventually we caught up to them and my guy led us into the right neighborhood, but from a different direction than I had ever come before.  He kept askingif I knew where the apartment was and I kept saying yes, hoping I would eventually see something familiar. Eventually I did.  And even though we had to go the wrong way down a one way street we arrived safe and sound with all our bags in our new digs.

Or so we thought.

We were all pretty exhausted from the trip and we decided to make up the beds. It’s then we discovered that the suitcase with all of the kid’s bedding (and who knows what else) was missing.  My stomach dropped and my mind raced as I tried to remember if we had taken it off the belt in the airport. Had we left it on the curb in the chaos of getting the taxi?  Had it even arrived at the airport?  If we had been at home in the States I would have called the airline or the airport, but in that moment I was instantly helpless.  Even though I had a cell phone I had no phonebook, no internet access, no idea who to call.  After a few moments of indecsion it seemed like the only thing to do was to go back to the airport.  But how?  The airport taxis were only one way.  I had no idea what to tell a regular taxi to take me to the airport nor knew how much such a trip would cost.

I found our Egyptian building super and tried to explain the problem to him, but he didn’t really understand.  He took me to an American neighbor who knew Arabic and he was able to help translate.  Within 10 minutes the super had found a friend who would take me to the airport in his personal car for an undetermined amount of money.  (Our neighbor recommended 30 JD – which seemed reasonable as I had paid the airport taxi 20 for one-way).  Saying goodbye to the wife and kids I got in his car and as the suns rays were lengthening I couldn’t believed that on my very first day in Jordan I was heading back to the airport to look for a bag that might not even be there while my wife sat with our kids in a completely new apartment in strange new surroundings.

Our super’s friend didn’t speak much English.  He had an icon of St. George hanging from his rear-view mirror (the dragon being slain was the tip-off) so I tried to make small talk about that unsuccessfully. When we got to the airport he said he would wait for me.  It took me a  half hour or so to sort out what office I needed to go to for lost baggage. It had a thick plate glass window with a small hole to speak through.  A burly man asked for my passport, which I slid under the window.  He immediately left the office with it.  I didn’t really know if I would see it again.  Fortunately, he returned in 10 or 15 minutes and said that he had found the bag and to meet him at the security gate.

I tipped him 10 JD, found St. George and his car and watched the landscape zoom by as the sun set.  Not exactly how I expected to spend my first day in Jordan.

When I got back I discovered that despite the fact that all V. had been able to serve the kids for dinner was plain white rice, she had met a young Egyptian neighbor.  She spoke fluent Arabic and English and happened to know mutual friends of ours from the States.  Small world.

When I think about this story I am amazed how much we’ve learned in a year.  And am mindful of how much we still have to learn. It’s been a difficult but good year.  We were of course really worried about how the kids would handle the transition.  The picture below kinda says it all.  It was taken the day after we arrived . . . and a year later they’re still smiling!

Still smiling after 2 days and 3000 miles of travel!

Still smiling after 2 days and 3000 miles of travel! (Aug 2008) No we didn't ship them in the cardboard box!

And still smiling after 12 months and 3000 falafils!  (Aug 2009)

And still smiling after 12 months and 3000 falafils! (Aug 2009)

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10 Responses

  1. Wow…didn’t envision it well at all until I read this…scary adventure, but makes our air travel issues here seem tiny!

  2. Hey friends back home – thanks for the warm greetings and well-wishes! We miss you all tons too and can’t wait for the next time we see you.

    Kyle – sorry to hear about your hard day. I think I can sympathize a little, although we all experience this crossing-cultures things differently and our tough days are all different and personal. What is tough for one may not phase another and vice-versa.

    I appreciate what you mentioned about not processing things subconsciously yet. It’s something we take for granted back home and here in our new setting can be such a blessing and a curse. I’m told this hyper-awareness wears off in a couple of years, but I’m not so sure. In the meantime we get to enjoy both the joys and bothers it brings to our lives.

    I was amused to hear from V about your stumbling upon my blog – that’s so great and good news to me.

    Keep listening and pointing and perhaps tomorrow will be a bit easier than yesterday – or at least easier to categorize!

  3. Hi Brian (& V)
    We’ve been in Jordan for one month! I think today has actually been my toughest day yet… (I’m sue there are more to come). I just have to say that it is heart warming to read about another family’s journey! We just sent out pictures of our bags in my brother-in-laws basement in Brooklyn! we know only too well the process of weeding out and packing your family’s life into – I think we had 14 bags. (though we did bring a couple bags in March when we visited and were able to leave them at J & S’s house here in Amman) and we were fortunate enough to have S drive me & the kids so Paul could go with our bags & a driver S hired!

    It has been great meeting you here! Paul & I were just talking today about how much energy it takes to live life in a different culture. It is sensory overload- we take in so much more at every turn and don’t filter as much info out since it is all so new and we don’t yet have the catalog to filter things quickly and more ‘subconsciously’. Anyway- just wanted to say I enjoyed finding your blog (Paul googled something about finding a post office in Amman! and we happened across your blog. I even posted a link to that post on my fb site before I realized that I had actually met you!).

    Now its back to listening to my Arabic lesson recordings and pointing to pictures…

  4. Wow what a year! We miss you all here. Think of you all the time. Sadie sure has grown. Noah looks the same but, just taller. We love you guys.

  5. Thanks for the report of the trip. Our grandson Zack is home and we await his report of the time spent with you. Thanks for all you did for him. It is a small world.

  6. Our stories match in several places…but especially the part about 2 taxis, though ours was in Venezuela, and involved a one hour ride up the mt to Caracas, and finally to an apt where we spent one night before taking two taxis back down the hill to board another flight…this time to Puerto Ayacucho. Our kids were 18 months and 3. They smiled, too!

    We’re very proud of you. A good and difficult year probably doesn’t sum it up as well as you’d like… so many emotions, so many lessons. Thank you for letting us share your memories.

  7. Hey Brian,

    Thanks for sharing that story. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. We miss you here.

    Steve

  8. Such a good story. Wow – what an adventure!
    Kristen

  9. Thanks for this post. Great writing. The details really help me better understand your experience e.g. felt the angst of the two-taxi ride and leaving the fam to search for the wayward suitcase. As David said, great memories.

  10. Great retrospective. It’s not hard to imagine the incredible stories your kids will have tell the rest of their lives.

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