The phone rang at 5 a.m. and I shot out of bed.
It felt like I had just closed my eyes.
The sky looked purple as the sun was still rising.
I decided to use the time to pack my bags and get everything organized for my trip back home.
When I saw that the sky had turned to a light blue, I headed out to the Dead Sea.
There was no one out on the beach as I filmed the sea in complete silence.
For once, I actually got quality audio as I was able to record the waves lapping onto the white, salty rocks on the shore.
I set up my tripod and recorded a few different standups in front of the Dead Sea. I said a couple different lines because I wasn’t sure what I was going to end up using.
On the way back to my room, I got more broll of the resort and tried to talk to some employees but no one spoke English.
No tourists were out this early either and I couldn’t find anyone to talk to.
I stayed out as long as I could before going to the lobby to check-out.
The drive to the airport took about an hour and I finally saw the landscape that had been hidden in darkness when I first arrived in Jordan a week earlier.
The airport was hectic and crowded.
I shook Mo’s hand and thanked him for a wonderful week.
He had been a great tour guide.
Merissa walked us into the airport, gave us all hugs and said goodbye.
We were on our own after that.
Only seven of us were leaving on the flight back to JFK.
Two students were headed to Cairo and another was going to Lebanon to continue their reporting in the Middle East.
Before getting to the check-in desk, I had to pass through an x-ray machine and metal detector.
Airport employees and Jordanian army officials corralled this mass of people into two lines and ushered us through security.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to take off our shoes or we may have never made it through.
I threw all my bags onto the moving x-ray machine.
I tried to walkthrough the metal detector but the airport employee made me take off my belt.
I had passed through countless metal detectors with this belt and never set off any equipment but I complied with his request.
I walked through with one hand holding my shorts that were now falling off.
I joined a group of people who were pushing and shoving as they grabbed their bags that were being churned out of the x-ray machine like a highly efficient assembly line.
My computer and camera bag had slid down to the end of the belt.
Luckily another student in my group grabbed them before other luggage slid down and crushed them while I fumbled with my pants that were still falling down.
One of my bags had been flagged for a security check and I had to go over to another desk and let someone look through it.
The man at the desk didn’t speak English and moved extremely slow as he looked through my bag.
He kept mumbling to me in Arabic and I just looked at him confused.
“English?” he finally said and I nodded yes.
He seemed to chuckle and went back to mumbling in Arabic.
Another student in our group joined me at the desk. Her bag had been flagged too.
I was finally cleared to leave and turned around to see that another airport employee had strapped all my luggage on him and was holding my large bag.
I normally would’ve had no problem carrying my own bags but I needed to get moving and didn’t want to waste time telling this guy to give me my bags back.
I had a few extra dinars anyway and didn’t mind tipping him.
He quickly ushered me into the correct check-in desk where I saw other members of my group waiting in line.
An employee, who was standing at the start of the line, explained that I couldn’t bring liquids on the plane.
I acknowledged that I understood and then he said some things to by baggage carrier in Arabic.
They both laughed and I felt like I was the butt of some joke.
Precious minutes passed by as I stood in the line and watched my boarding time approach.
“I don’t care if I get stuck in JFK,” I thought, “but please don’t let me miss this flight.”
The few of us in our group started to get nervous as we started to run out of time.
We still had to get through immigration once we had checked in.
I was a few spots away from checking in when I turned around and saw a huge tour group being led through immigration.
“Oh no,” I said as other people in my group turned around and saw the large tour group.
Their mouths dropped and eyes opened wide as this group of at least 30 or 40 filled the waiting area.
We decided to check-in in pairs to speed up the process of getting through.
Thankfully, the check-in process went smoothly.
We stopped to say a quick goodbye to the students who were traveling to Cairo.
They were in a corner reorganizing their luggage because it was overweight for their flight.
No one from our press trip seemed to be having an easy experience leaving Jordan.
I wisped by another airport employee who was checking to make sure everyone’s carry-on bags were the right size.
He was caught up with another passenger so I just walked by him.
I didn’t care. Time was running out and I needed to get to my flight.
The flight was scheduled to leave at 11 a.m. and at 10:30 a.m. I was standing in line at immigration.
Thankfully, I had picked the right line to wait in.
The immigration agent was a pro at typing, flipping through passports and stamping them.
On any other day, I may have questioned this guy’s thoroughness but I was so happy that this process only took 30 seconds.
I ran up an escalator and headed for my gate.
The plane should have already been boarding at this point.
As I approached the gate, someone made an announcement in Arabic and the all this people in front of me stood up and quickly moved in the direction I was going.
I wasn’t fast enough and a group of twenty people lined up in another security line.
“More security!” I thought as I began to fear that the worst was going to happen, “I cannot miss this flight.”
Thankfully, most of the people in front of me were women and they had to go through their own separate security check that was administered by another woman.
I passed through my metal detector, this time still wearing my belt, and was patted down and cleared to go.
I could see the boarding area ahead of me and people were still sitting in the waiting area.
“I’m going to make it!” I thought as I walked with my eyes fixed on the ticketing station.
I didn’t realize that I walked by another security point and an agent ran after me.
He grabbed my arm and explained that him and another guy need to look through all my bags.
I politely complied.
I didn’t want to look suspicious for trying to miss this checkpoint so I patiently stood there as they examined all my electronics.
I met up with other students in my group at 10:45 a.m. in the waiting area.
We were supposed to have been boarding 15 minutes earlier.
My fear then switched from missing my flight out of Jordan to missing my connecting flight in New York.
“Did I not have enough bad luck on my way over?” I thought to myself.
We boarded a little before 11 a.m.
Everyone on the plane was quick to stow their luggage and took their seats so we were only 15 minutes late.
Another student and I were still nervous because we had to catch flights at 6 p.m.
The flight back was 12 hours and 20 minutes and we were expected to arrive at 4:30 p.m.
“I’m not going to make it,” I thought.
I had already accepted my fate and just wanted to relax. There was no sense in being stressed in an airplane for 12 hours.
I shared a row with another student from the group and we took advantage of having two extra seats.
We pulled up the armrests and spread our stuff all over the seats.
I wanted to make the seat next to me look occupied so I wouldn’t wake up to another surprise visitor like during the first flight.
As the plane rolled away from the gate, I fell asleep.
I was woken up to the flight attendant tapping my arm and asking me what I wanted to drink.
The student in my row was laughing at me as I looked around groggy and confused.
I looked up at the flight attendant and said the first thing that came to mind.
“Whisky and coke,” I told the woman.
“Whisky coke,” she replied as she poured Johnnie Walker Red Label and a Pepsi in a cup for me.
I stayed up for a while and had a few more “whisky cokes” as I watched an episode of Friends on the airplane TV.
The drinks were weak and didn’t come fast enough to get any sort of a buzz going.
The people in the far left of our row had their window up and filled our entire cabin with light.
It was difficult trying to fall back asleep.
As lunched was being served, another student in my group gave me an Ambien to help me fall asleep.
I took the pill with some tea and finished my lunch.
I was talking to the student in my row when I started to feel funny.
It felt like I was moving away from her while zooming towards her face at the same time, similar to that scene in Jaws when Roy Scheider saw the shark off the coast of Amity beach.
I started to laugh and she looked at me confused.
“What’s funny,” she asked me.
I laughed harder as I tried to explain.
“You’re funny,” I said laughing.
Now I felt like Will Ferrell in Old School when he got shot in the neck with the animal tranquilizer.
I woke up six hours later.
I was told that I had fallen asleep sitting up straight with my tray table down and still holding onto my drink.
I woke up with the tray table up and a muffin placed in the cup holder.
One minute I was flying over the Mediterranean Sea and now I was right over Iceland. I was very confused.
I took out my computer to work on my blog and checked my itinerary for my flight from JFK to Reagan National.
6:55 p.m. My flight was at 7 p.m. and not 6 p.m.
I was going to make it.
A huge sense of relief came over me as I leaned back in my chair and took a deep breath.
My trip back home was going to be much easier than my epic quest to get to Jordan.
I slept off and on for the remainder of the flight.
The Ambien had left me feeling very refreshed and I didn’t sleep for extended periods again on the flight.
We landed in New York around 4:30 p.m. and I headed to customs.
The line wasn’t long compared to the line for people who weren’t U.S. citizens.
The customs agent was nice.
“College Park,” she said reading my customs form.
“You go to the University of Maryland?” she asked.
“Just graduated,” I said with a smile.
She congratulated me, stamped my form and let me go.
Our group congregated in the baggage claim area as we waited for the plane to be unloaded.
It was nice to wait around in an airport without of a feeling of mounting stress.
I helped pull our luggage off of the conveyer belt and we headed out into the airport.
I said goodbye to my fellow journalists and headed towards the connecting flights check-in desk.
“I’m sure will keep in touch on Facebook,” I told them as we hugged and went our separate ways.
After dropping off my large piece of luggage, I took the AirTrain to Terminal 3 and did the electronic check-in at the Delta kiosk.
I had an hour before my flight boarded but the line to check bags was very long and I was glad I had taken care of that step already.
Everyone had to pass through one security checkpoint, which cause another long line.
I got to my gate with enough time to call some friends and family.
I told my parents that my flight was on time and made plans with some friends to go to a graduation party that night.
I figured if I went to party I could stay up longer and try to adjust my jetlag better.
I fell asleep before takeoff, which was now the only way I knew how to fly, and woke up as we started our descent towards Washington, D.C.
I hade made it home.
I called my parents, who were ten minutes away, and arranged to meet them at the baggage claim.
I waited around as luggage slowly began to pass by.
One by one I examined each bag, casually waiting to see my large red piece of luggage.
Another ten minutes went by.
My mom had called me and said they were parked outside and waiting to see me emerge from the airport.
Still, I had not seen my bag pass by.
I could see where this was headed.
I took out my luggage receipt in anticipation of the inevitable.
Sure enough, the conveyer belt stopped and my luggage had not appeared.
I immediately walked to the Delta luggage desk and was able to beat the small crowd of frustrated and confused passengers who were also missing their bags.
I handed the employee my ticket information, he typed on his computer and ask me the address that I wanted my bag to be sent to.
He printed me a receipt and I headed for the door.
I was home. I didn’t care about anything else.
I would have been more upset if they had lost my luggage on the way over to Jordan.
Still, it was a fitting ending to a journey that was riddled with airport mishaps.
I greeted my parents, who had been looking for someone with a large red bag to be leaving the airport, and got in the car.
I told them I wasn’t too worried about my luggage, which didn’t have anything extremely important in it.
I had my cameras, computers and souvenirs for my friends and family.
I looked out the window to see the illuminated moments of Washington, D.C. as we headed home on the George Washington Parkway.
This is how my trip to Jordan ended.
I had traveled from the capitol of one country to another.
These two countries, although vastly different in their regions, religion and culture, were celebrating 60 years of friendship.
My first experience as a reporter on a press trip taught me the drawbacks of pack journalism.
The price to pay for a trip that was paid for was that our time was structured and planned.
As official guests of the Prime Minister, we only saw what the government wanted us a see.
This lack of freedom was frustrating at times.
While difficult at times, being a backpack video reporter in a foreign country wasn’t an impossible feat.
Other than encountering issues because of speaking different languages, my biggest issues were with the lack time to shoot video and the government officials that wouldn’t go on camera.
With the proper time and access to sources, I could have easily come back with a handful of stories about a wide variety of topics.
But I did all that I could with the resources that I had.
Not only did this experience teach me a lot about journalism, but the trip broadened my view of the Middle East.
Although I didn’t have the means to report on it, I learned that Jordan faces the same issues that the U.S. does.
While most news about the Middle East relates to the latest bombing or newest terror threat, this region faces other issues that are just as important and not so different from the U.S.
Education, energy independence and job creation are important issues to the Jordanian government.
They realize too, that these improvements can come quicker through strong diplomatic relations.
They’re hopeful and believe that these improvements will come.
Jordan has a particularly young population and there is a sense that this new generation will emerge with a better understanding of other cultures.
I feel the same sentiment is echoed in the U.S.
There is no denying that there are a certain number of people in the Middle East who aim to gain power through terror, death and destruction.
But they can be replaced by a new generation of people who share mutual respect and interest in other cultures.
That was, ultimately, the purpose of this press trip.
Journalists have an important role in shaping future beliefs and opinions about the Middle East.
While my stories from this week may fall through, my experience in Jordan will stay with me throughout my career.
I saw a side of the Middle East that is not often seen on TV or in newspapers.
It is a side of a kind, peaceful, religious culture that shares the same interests that the U.S. does.
These interests are better served through positive relations with other countries and cultures.
Jordan serves as a model of this.
They understand that peace is the path to progress.