You never forget your first impressions – right? That’s why they are so important.
Being a budget traveler means that you have to make some difficult decisions when planning an itinerary. I recently made one such budget decision when I chose to save $150 on my flight to Jordan and take a 9 1/2 hour layover in Cairo – overnight. I wasn’t thrilled about sleeping on uncomfortable chairs in the airport all night, but in order to save money I decided to do it.
As I landed in Egypt at 11PM and looked out the window I wondered if my first impression of Egypt had changed; but then again I didn’t really care too much since I wasn’t planning on staying in Egypt – it was merely a layover in the airport. But by simply being there it brought back the memories of travel through Egypt; for many reasons I never really liked Egypt and it has always topped my list of least favorite countries to travel to. You can see why in my Egypt Country Wrap-up from my 2007 Career Break.
I deboarded and went to a Egypt Air desk to figure out where to go for my long transfer layover. They informed me that it is policy to put me up in a hotel if my layover is more than 6 hours. Woohoo…maybe I wouldn’t have to sleep on the chairs tonight. They continued telling me they would need to arrange my transit visa and then they would take me to the hotel and bring me back for my flight; the visa paperwork should take 45 minutes. No problem, I just sat and waited and worked on photo editing and writing; I welcomed the chance to simply sit and work at my computer. However, 2 ½ hrs later they finally called my name and told me it was all ready. It was now around 2AM and myself and a small group of other people were ushered out of the airport and onto a hotel bus. The bus slowly took us to the hotel where I was met by guards with guns and metal detectors.
I walked through the detectors, the alarm went off, I looked at the guards and they just waved me through. I see that Egypt is just how I left it. We had to wait around while the desk clerk went through all of the paperwork to get us checked in. I was checked into my room at 3AM and was told that I had to be up at 5AM so that they could take me back to the airport for my 8:30AM flight. All of a sudden this ‘free’ hotel room just seemed like a way to shuttle me around and waste time and sleep; I think the airport chairs would have been better in hindsight. As the shuttle pulled away from the hotel at 5:30AM I noticed a guard at the hotel entrance….sound asleep in his chair…with an AK47 balancing between his legs. I was reminded that my first impression of Egypt hadn’t changed.
On to more promising lands and new first impressions – Jordan!
I peered out the plane window and saw the brown, uninhabited landscape which made the aerial view of Nebraska look like a metropolis.; what would this land new country be like? I arrived in Jordan sleepless, and worked my way through the visa queue easily. A GeoVisions representative, Dana, picked me up and we made the drive into town. I was immediately surprised to see the rolling hills, large buildings, and trees in this desert landscape. This first impression of Amman seemed more like San Francisco than the Middle East.
I worked with Dana to organize my schedule and in order to see the various volunteering programs throughout Jordan. The volunteer opportunities are spread out across the country and in varying terrains. My biggest surprise was the hiking opportunities in Jordan; I look forward to stretching my legs through some of these canyon trails reminiscent of Arizona slot canyons.
Finally I was off to my host family’s house in Fuheis, an outlying town (the locals charmingly refer to it as a village) west of the city. The closer we got to Fuheis the more spread out the homes were and the hills got steeper and steeper. I felt as if I should throw my hands up in the air and start screaming as if I were on a roller coaster. Olive trees and big white houses were perched on the hillsides and for a moment I felt like I was in Tuscany.
The Sweis family greeted me with open arms and a big plate of some of the tastiest baked chicken and rice I’ve ever had. This will be my home for the next month as we converse in English and learn about each other’s cultures – and hopefully eat much more food!
Unlike Egypt, my first impressions of Jordan, Amman, and the Sweis family have all been set in my psyche forever…and they are all good.
This volunteering series will be featured also on Briefcase to Backpack on a weekly basis. where we’ll follow my two month volunteering trip through the Middle East. We are starting you at square one and you’ll get diary-type updates to know what it’s really like from the moment you pick a program to the moment you arrive home. I’m volunteering with one of Briefcase to Backpack’s recommended volunteer organizations, GeoVisions, which offers unique opportunities to volunteer around the world and make a difference.