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.
By Barbara Weibel January 6, 2011 - 8:35 am
Looking forward to reading more about your volunteering experience. Jordan is definitely high on my list but,like you, Egypt does not call me.
By admin January 7, 2011 - 1:59 pm
Barbara – glad to hear that I’m not the only one!
By Stephen January 6, 2011 - 8:41 am
I volunteered in the West Bank a couple years ago ( http://gomadnomad.com/2009/12/30/volunteer-in-the-west-bank/ ) and really enjoyed my time there and traveling throughout the Middle East for a few months. I found the people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the West Bank to be incredibly hospitable. And I also had many good experiences in Egypt too, but I guess I adjusted my attitude before arriving because I heard so many people complain about traveling there.
By admin January 7, 2011 - 1:59 pm
There are so many great volunteer opportunities around this area – and I don’t think people think of the Middle East as a place to volunteer – hopefully that can change! Thanks for reading!
By Mark H January 6, 2011 - 9:24 pm
Looking forward to your stories from Jordan (and I love the new site look by the way). I’ve also been to Egypt and have no particular will to return despite its superb history. I’ve had a plan to visit Jordan and Syria for some time with itineraries roughly mapped out in my head but haven’t yet bitten that bullet. Best wishes with your impressive volunteer efforts.
By admin January 7, 2011 - 1:58 pm
Thanks Mark! I hope to provide you some good info about Jordan and Lebanon to inspire you to buy that ticket! I’m so impressed and surprised by Jordan so far…it’s really an easy and amazing place to visit the middle East and get a feel for the culture. Happy New Year to you and thanks always for your support!
By Jeff January 6, 2011 - 9:47 pm
Glad to hear you’re off to a good start despite the small bump in the road in Cairo. Can’t wait to hear more.
By admin January 7, 2011 - 1:54 pm
Thanks Jeff! Hope you had a great New Year!
By Alison January 7, 2011 - 9:44 am
Phew, I finally just caught up with all of your posts from the Christmas holidays! First, I love the new blog design. Second, I’m so jealous/excited about your travels in Jordan and I can’t wait to read more. I also related to a lot of your self-contemplation over the holidays. It’s never easy when you chose ‘the road less traveled’ and I find the holidays can really bring up all those feelings of uncertainty. You’ve done great and exciting things and you’ve touched a lot of people while doing it and sharing it with all of us. Keep up the great work (but don’t work too hard) 😉
By admin January 7, 2011 - 1:51 pm
Thanks for the kind words Alison – meeting you was one of my highlights of the year! Excited to see more of you next summer!
By Katherine January 9, 2011 - 10:57 am
Currently living in Saudi and wanting to explore surrounding countries. Your pictures are great and inspiring. And I like the narrative too.
By dojo January 17, 2011 - 10:29 am
This does look amazing. we never stepped in that country, but you really made me curious. It’s superb.
By MOHAMMAD February 27, 2011 - 4:32 pm
Thanks for the nice worked about Jordan. I love what you wrote and I am happy that you enjoy your time.
I am from the North of Jordan from Al-Ramtha city near Syria. I am now in Richmond,VA,USA.
By Leslie April 2, 2011 - 1:46 pm
This blog is really outstanding. I’m a 29-year-old American woman considering a Geovisions Conversation Corps trip to the Middle East sometime within the next year or so, and your blog is really helpful. I have not completely made up my mind on which country to visit yet, but Jordan really appeals to me!
By Sherry April 2, 2011 - 8:07 pm
Glad to hear that you are considering Jordan for Conversation Corps – it really was a great experience! I honestly loved both Jordan and Lebanon – but Jordan is a bit more ‘untouched’ and Lebanon is very developed – so it sort of depends upon what you are looking for. If you have any questions about Geovisions – I’m happy to answer them honestly. I don’t work for them – just a regular person participating in their program!
By MOHAMMAD April 3, 2011 - 11:54 am
I am a 30-year-old Jordanian man. I like to know the people who love the Middle East and the culture their. My friend Chris will go to Jordan this year for Arabic study. If you feel you would like to know each other more free free to write to my email. I like to help the new friendships.
By Leslie April 6, 2011 - 10:01 am
Thanks to both of you. At this point, I’m learning towards Jordan, but I am really not sure. Sherry, when I contacted Geovisions to ask them for names of people who’d done the Conversation Corps or Conversation Partner in Jordan, they gave me your e-mail! So I will be e-mailing you soon – probably within the next couple of weeks. Shukran jazeelan!
By Volunteer in Africa September 29, 2011 - 6:40 am
It looks absolutely beautiful there, helped hugely by the stunning photography.