Monday, June 8, 2009


            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.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


            We left the hotel around 8 a.m.

            Everyone was ready for a day rest and relaxation on the shores of the Dead Sea. For the first time on the trip, most of the curtains in the bus were closed as we drove back north.

            Everyone was still tired from the night before and tried to catch some sleep during the three-hour car ride.

            I wanted to get some sleep too so I dug through my bag to find my ipod.

            I laughed as I played Phil Collins while looking out at the desert sand.

            The music clashed with the scenery and I was mildly amused.

            I eventually fell asleep and woke up to our bus winding down a steep mountain road.

            Off in the distance, I could see a large blue body of water that I assumed was the Dead Sea.

            My ears began to hurt as we descended lower and lower towards the sea.

            The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth and the pressure change felt just like being in an airplane.

            We drove along the dark blue water and saw some people floating.

            We started to get excited for the resort but we were first going to the baptism site of Jesus Christ.

            The baptism site was right beyond the Dead Sea along the Jordan River.

            I used the opportunity to try to get video of the river but had trouble with the audio because of all the tour groups that were walking around. But I managed to get a few good shots that showed up low the river had gotten.

            Perhaps because I was distracted with trying to get video for my story, I did not really let the idea that I was where Jesus Christ was baptized sink in.

            Mo explained how archeologists figured out where John the Baptist and Jesus stood in a spring by the river but I just snapped a few photos and looked for another way to film the river.

            Mo then took us to another part of the river that was only about 15 feet wide where many people come to be baptized.

            This was also the border between Jordan and Palestine.

            A camouflaged jeep with a .50 cal machine gun mounted on the top was hidden in a straw hut nearby and an armed Jordanian official stood guard along the river.

Our group dipped their feet in the river and I shot more video.

            Across the river, on the West Bank, the Israelis had flown an Israeli flag. It was a reminder of the sensitive conflict that President Obama had talked about.

            Next, we boarded the bus and headed off to the hotel for our long awaited vacation.

            The check-in process was taking forever so a few of us decided to use the time to go out and report on the Dead Sea.

            We went a neighboring hotel and I was able to film their water-recycling center and got an interview with their maintenance manager.

            He even took us up on the roof of the hotel and I got some beautiful wide shots of the resort area of the Dead Sea.

            After this, I was ready for a break.

            It was supposed to be my day off and I was at the Dead Sea.

            I didn’t want to waste all my time working.

            I checked into my room, threw on a swimsuit and headed down to the beach.

            I stopped to take photos of the gorgeous views from my hotel on my way down.

            The hotel was nice but it was my least favorite. It was another village-style resort but it was less authentic and I could tell that the stone walkways and buildings were artificial.

            I got down to the beach and met with part of my group.

            They told me to keep my shoes on because the sand was unbearably hot.

            I wanted to get the desert sand off of them anyway so I decided to wear them into the sea.

            Floating was unbelievable,

            “It feels like anti-gravity,” said one of the girls in our group and I agreed.

            I could effortlessly sit in the water, lay back and relax.

            The only problem is that I quickly discovered any cut or scrape on my body.

            The Dead Sea is so salty that any open wound burns the second it gets in the water.

            I was so buoyant that it was even difficult to try to tread water with my head upright and my feet underwater.

            My feet kept floating back to the surface and swimming like this required slight finesse and balance.

            We only stayed in the water for 15 minutes because we didn’t want to get dehydrated.

            With so much salt, the sea actually pulled fresh water out of my body.

            I realized this later when I got back to the hotel and chugged a few bottles of water.

            But after floating in the Dead Sea, we headed to one of the pools.

            Swimming in normal water was difficult after effortless floating in the sea.

            Especially because this had been my first time swimming for the summer, I was surprised at how much work it took to tread water.

            We hung out for an hour or so before we had to get ready for dinner.

            My hands were full when I returned to my hotel room.

            I had been carrying my cameras, a huge towel and my shoes.

            As I opened the door and threw in my shoes and towel, the door slammed shut and I was locked out.

            “Oh, great,” I thought.

            So I strapped on my camera bag and headed to the reception desk.

            It was approaching dinnertime and everyone was walking around in nice outfits as they headed to the different restaurants in the resorts.

            I, on the other hand, walked into the five star hotel without a shirt or shoes and in a wet swimming suit.

            Again, the check-in process was taking forever and I impatiently stood in the lobby and felt incredibly out of place.

            One man, who was walking with his wife, stopped and looked down at my feet and then moved upward, surveying my entire outfit, or lack thereof.

            I gave him a “how’s it going?” smile but he walked away nodding and mumbling something to his wife.

            “Jealous,” I jokingly assured myself.

            We were meeting with Senator Akel Biltaji and I wanted to look nice.

            Senator Biltaji looked like a cross between the Reverend Al Sharpton and Albert Einstein.

            He had a thick white mustache, kind eyes and slicked back white hair that puffed out on the sides of his head.

            He was a very friendly man and I could tell he was a politician. He knew how to work the crowd.

            We sat around and had drinks while he let us ask him questions.

            Most of what he talked about was the changing confidence Middle Eastern states had in the U.S.

            He was incredibly pleased with President Obama’s speech but wished he had focused more on the suffering of the Palestinians.

            Still, he said, President Obama said everything that he had needed to and he looked forward to seeing results from Obama’s words.

            As Senator Biltaji spoke, the general manager of our hotel came over and did some royal ass kissing to him and welcomed our group to the hotel.

            The drinks he had, of course, were complimentary of the hotel and he thanked us for visiting and wished us a pleasant stay.

            We took a picture with the senator and went to the restaurant for a quick dinner.

            Mo told us that there was a beach party that night and we didn’t want to waste too much time at a formal dinner.

            I had a light meal and ran back up to the reception desk,

            Since the general manager had been so nice to us, I thought he might grant me a brief interview about his concerns over the shrinking Dead Sea and how it could affect hotels and tourism.

            The manager was much nicer when the senator was around.

            He wouldn’t even come out of his office and I could hear him chewing on some sort of food as he rejected my request over the phone.

            “Oh well,” I thought, “I tried.”

            I wanted to get to the beach party anyway.

            Our group meet outside a restaurant that had a live band playing soft rock music that would have been perfect for my parents.

            “Is this the beach party?” I asked Merissa.

            “No no no,” she assured us all.

            As Mo led us down the beach, I couldn’t hear any music.

            Eventually I saw flashing red and blue lights and thought we were getting close.

            Before getting down to the bar, Mo pointed out a line of lights that was on the mountain range on the other side of the Dead Sea.

            I was looking at Jerusalem.

            We walked down some stairs and I could hear the faint sound of techno music.

            We were the party. There was no one else there.

            Some residents had complained about the noise so the D.J. was forced to turn down her music.

            I was disappointed by the lack of people but also because techno music should never be played softly.

            Finding a seat at the bar was easy and we all ordered strong drinks to celebrate our last night in Jordan.

            Eventually, a group of guys made their way down to the bar.

            They were from the U.S. on a business trip with their company.

            We started talking and had a fun time sharing where we were all from.

            One guy was from Baltimore and we had a good time talking about HBO’s The Wire while everyone else listened to our conversation with no clue what we were talking about.

            The bar was closing down so I paid my tab but stayed to talk to my fellow U.S. citizens.

            But before closing, my fellow Marylander bought the bar a round of shots and I explained to his friend what our press trip was about.

            Although I thought I had conveyed that the purpose of our trip was to learn more about the Middle East, he didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t hold the region to preconceived stereotypes.

            “You go to watch out for these Hajis,” he said as he took another sip of beer.

            It was difficult trying to respond in a way that neither condoned his raciest remarks nor started a confrontation.

            The guy from Baltimore, however, had no problem causing issues.

            After complaining that the bartender had made him a weak drink, he went on a rant about Iraq and said some awful things about Arabs.

            One girl in my group told him to tone down his comments and he lost it.

            This belligerent asshole was saying some of the most raciest comments about Arabs right in front of our bartender, Merissa and in the middle of five star resort on the Dead Sea.

            His friends didn’t seem comfortable with what he was saying but they didn’t make any effort to stop him.

            I tried to bring the conversation back onto the topic of The Wire but the guy had turned his hatred from Arabs towards the girl in our group who had told him to stop.

            She quietly sipped her drink and ignored him as he yelled sexiest remarks at her.

            He kept getting closer to her until I finally stood up and walked in between them.

            I was embarrassed for her, for him and for all Americans.

            Here I was in the Middle East, a place that is typically viewed as a volatile region of extremists, and the biggest confrontation I faced was with another American.

            His friends finally coerced him away from the bar and I stayed to make sure my friend was OK.

            That’s when the bartender tapped me on the shoulder and handed me another bill.

            “No, I already paid,” I told him, as I looked a bill for another two rounds of Jack Daniels.

            But the bartender, who seemed to speak very little English, told me that it was the bill for the guy from Baltimore.

            The bill was for 14 dinars but they had left over 100 dinar on the bar and the bartender was trying to give me change.

            “No, my friend,” I said, “That’s all you.”

            I hoped he didn’t know enough English to understand what the guy had been yelling before he left.

            The few of us at the bar walked over and met up with the rest of the group, who had been sitting in some couches a little ways away from the incident.

            Thankfully, Merissa was not offended or upset but rather thought that we had handled ourselves well.

            Inside, I was infuriated with what had just happened.

            This guy was a reminder of the prejudice beliefs and ignorance some people have, which was the reason we were on this press trip.

            It was my job to show the side of the Middle East that is so often unnoticed. People like the guy from Baltimore needed to learn of stories about the Middle East that explained the area’s culture and history.

            The image of all Arabs being uncivilized terrorists needed to stop.

            We were able to make some jokes about the incident and lightened the mood a bit.

            We ended up moving to another stage where the live band was playing.

            I ordered another drink and we got a hookah for the table.

            We all wanted to relax and try to forget about the incident that had just happened.

            The band was not playing typical college bar music as the crowd had turned into a group of young adults.

            We all sat around and sang Bon Jovi and laughed at a group of South Americans who enjoyed dancing in front of everyone.

            The last few songs the band played were traditional Arabic songs and people got up to do the dance that we had been taught the night before.

            I wanted to get up and join but I doubted my coordination skills and thought it would be best if I just sat in my seat and clapped.

            Once the band stopped playing we all slowly trickled off to bed.

            I went back to my room and started to pack and organize.

            I didn’t plan on getting too much sleep because I had a long flight the next day.

            In the morning, I wanted to shoot some more video and try to get a few interviews.

            So I set a wakeup call for 5 a.m. and fell asleep.

Friday, June 5, 2009


            I woke up on my own around 7:30 a.m. and went to get breakfast.

            I brought my laptop with me to check my email and update my blog.

            Of course, I went onto Facebook too but the site was in Arabic.

            Amazingly enough, I had used Facebook so much that I was still able to navigate around the web site because I was so familiar with it.

            “I wonder if I could teach myself Arabic this way,” I thought.

            The drive to Petra was about twenty minutes.

            We stopped on the way at an overlook of the valley that Petra was located in.

            I couldn’t believe that somewhere buried in the cracks and crevasses of this mountain valley there was an ancient city.

            As we approached the entrance to the park, we were offered donkey and horse rides for our journey.

            These men clearly knew how to influence tourists as they said all the right things as we passed them.

            “Donkey ride with air conditioning!” one man yelled with a toothy smile.

            “Five dinar! One dinar! Free for you,” another man said as he offered the guys rides before noticing one of the females in our group.

            Further down the trail, we were ambushed by a little kid selling postcards. He had been waiting in the shade behind a rock and jumped out in front of us when we got close.

            “Postcards! One dinar!” he yelled as he stood in the middle of our group as we walked by him.

            As we began to wind our way through the narrow passageways of the mountains, Mo told us the story of the Nebateans.

            This ancient civilization had carved cities into five valleys in Jordan.

            We would be visiting the most popular one.

            The Nebateans built the city around 100 B.C. but the Romans poisoned their water source and took the city over years later.

            An Israeli couple overheard Mo’s explanations and decided to invite themselves along with our group. Not only were they listening to Mo, but they also stood in the middle of the group and blocked other student’s views as Mo pointed out different carvings and features in the rock.

            “Maybe they don’t realize Mo is our personal guide,” I thought.

            But Mo didn’t seem to mind our new honorary group members.

            He showed us the area where they filmed scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

            I was more of a Star Wars fan growing up so this attraction didn’t resonate with me much.

            The rock turned a darker red the deeper we walked into the valley.

            Eventually, Mo asked that we all step to one side of the narrow canyon. He then ushered us forward slowly.

            I walked around a bend and saw a glimpse of a huge tomb carved into the side of a cliff.

            The canyon I was in was shaded and dark but the tomb was sitting in direct sunlight, which helped expose the intricate carvings.

            I could see more of this huge structure as I emerged from the canyon into an open valley full of tourists, donkeys and camels.

            The Israeli couple separated from us and Mo sat down to explain the significance of the tomb.

            He told us that the tomb was called “The Treasury” but that it never actually had any money and treasure inside it.

            Merissa pointed out holes in the rock where British soldiers had shot at the tomb in the hopes of getting the treasure.

            Mo pointed out the Gods and inscriptions on the outside walls, which had both Aramaic and Roman influence.

            After resting for a bit, we continued our hike to a Christian monastery that was built on the top of a mountain.

            As we walked further into the city I was in awe of how large it actually was.

            Caves, tombs and carvings were on the sides of every rock I saw.

            Before our trek up the mountain, we stopped for lunch.

            Everyone looked exhausted.

            Not only was walking under the desert sun difficult but most of us were dealing with some stomach problems as well.

            As uncomfortable as it was, it was kind of fun trying to figure out what same food all us had eaten as we tried to pinpoint what could have made us sick.

            But I decided to be conservative and only ate pita bread and rice for lunch.

            While eating lunch, President Obama made his speech to the Arab world in Cairo, Egypt.

            As a member of the White House press group, Merissa was sent a transcript of the speech and read it to us.

            So in the ancient city of Petra, where the Romans had whipped out an entire civilization, we sat around a table and listened to President Obama’s call for peace between all religions.

            Merissa read the speech almost as well as how I would’ve imagined President Obama delivering it.

            She inserted her own opinions, which were all positive, as she read out loud.

            “This is huge,” she said as she read the part about both Palestinians and Israelis needing to recognize the other side’s right to exist. She was happy with the speech.

            I was feeling better after lunch and was ready to conquer the 800 steps it took to hike up this mountain and get to the monastery.

            Men with donkeys lined the trail and offered rides up to the top of the mountain.

            I had to be alert when hiking because I never knew when I was going to have to dodge a donkey flying up the trail or barreling around a corner.

            I also didn’t want to step in donkey shit, which littered the trail and smelled horrible.

            On the way up, we passed a young couple riding down the trail on donkeys.

            A local Jordanian was holding onto the girl’s donkey and slowly guiding it down the stone steps.

            The guy was desperately trying to balance on his donkey and had a look of shear terror on his face.

            “See, it’s fun,” said the Jordanian as he guided the girl, whose big smile showed how much she was enjoying the ride, down the mountain.

            “Oh no, it’s really not,” said the guy in a shaky voice as his donkey wobbled down the trail.

            We all laughed at the couple’s situation and continued upward.

            All along the way, Bedouin women sold crafts and jewelry at stands.

            It was obvious that all these people survived off of what they could make from tourists.

            When we reached the top of the mountain, I saw the monastery.

            It looked almost exactly like The Treasury except it didn’t have any carvings of Gods and this structure was three times bigger.

            I couldn’t tell how large the monastery was because it was built into the side of an even bigger mountain peak.

            I had to approach the entrance and look up at this towering building to fully understand its immense size.

            After taking tons of photos and video, we headed back down the mountain.

            One of the perks of being a guest of the Prime Minister was that our bus got special permission to drive on an access road inside of Petra.

            Instead of walking all the way back to where the kid had ambushed us with postcards, we hopped on our bus where we had eaten lunch.

            That night, we ate at a place called Petra Kitchen.

            It was a very unique restaurant where we were taught how to make traditional Jordanian food and did the cooking ourselves.

            Everyone contributed to the cooking and enjoyed the meal that everyone was involved in making.

            We separated into cooking stations and made different parts of our meal.

            My group was in charge of making meat pies that had tomatoes, onions, peppers and lots of cumin.

            Our chef gave me the onion and laughed as she said that she was going to make a boy cry.

            “Oh I’ve cut onion before,” I said with an air of confidence, “my mom is a home ec teacher.”

            She put me to work after that comment and made me chop the onion into tiny pieces.

            I did so without a complaint or a tear.

            My mom would have been proud.

            Everyone was having fun making their specific dish but there was one empty station with all of its ingredients still wrapped in plastic.

            That’s when a TV crew showed up and started to set up their cameras and lights.

            “Are we going to be on TV?” I wondered.

            But it turned out that our group was supposed to be cooking with another group that had not arrived yet.

            We had all finished cooking and were sitting around with cocktails as we waited for the arrival of this mystery party that had their own TV crew.

            I was getting pretty hungry.

            Finally, this tall, dark man walked in the restaurant. He paused in the doorway and ran his hand through his hair as he survey his surroundings.

            A few more attractive looking people showed up as the restaurant staff tried to prepare them for the meal that they needed to make.

            They didn’t seem too interested in cooking and contributing to our meal. They just stood around talking and laughing while a frantic camera-girl recorded their antics.           

            “What’s going on?” I thought to myself.

            I was getting very hungry.

            Someone in our group found out that they were soap opera stars from Brazil who had been filming episodes in Jordan.

            While most of the girls were fawning over the tall, handsome Brazilian, I was not amused.

            Showing up over an hour late may not have meant anything to these Brazilian celebrities, but I was pissed.

            The worst part was that they never even apologized.

            A Jordanian official, who was traveling with them, came over an apologized as the Brazilians took their time preparing their food and making stupid jokes in front of the camera.

            One of the actresses leaned across the able and looked at me.

            “Thank you guys,” she said while flashing a flirtatious smile.

            But I was not swayed by her lipo lips, heavy eye makeup and fake highlights.

            I flashed her a grin, tipped my glass and looked the other direction.

            That’s when the tall Brazilian, Thiago, tried his hand at diplomacy.

            He decided to interview one of the girls in our group in front of the camera.

            She handled herself well as he flashed her his pearly white smile and winked at her.

            He glanced over at me but was met by a hard glare staring back at him.

            I had become the leader of the resistance against these Brazilian superstars and nothing they could do would win me over.

            Unless, of course, they picked up our bill, which I thought would have been the noble thing to do.

            We finally sat down to dinner and I was relieved to discover that we did not have to share table with them.

            The meat pies we made were delicious and all the food we had cooked was very satisfying.

            But in a sign of protest, I chose to avoid the cucumber yogurt that the Brazilians had made.

            The manager of the restaurant came over to Merissa and apologized for the long delay. He said that the first round of drinks was on the house.

            While some of our group took this to mean that their first drink was free, I took it to mean that I didn’t have to pay for my next one.

            “That was respectable,” I thought as I had assumed the Brazilians were picking up the bill.

            I was even more upset when I learned that the restaurant did it out of their own courtesy,

            “It’s not their fault,” said another girl in our group.

            A little farther into the meal, the manager came over again and told us that the whole meal was free.

            Again, the kind staff at the restaurant, instead of the Brazilians, felt bad about the situation and wanted to correct it.

             Every time I thought about the fact that these inconsiderate soap opera stars were eating food that I had cooked, I got angrier.

            “Maybe they’re coming to the cave bar afterwards too,” said one of the girls in our group.

            “They better not,” I said, “Two countries will go into the cave and only one will come out.”

            The whole table laughed.

            We finished our meal and left a generous tip as a sign of appreciation for the staff’s kindness.

            The cave bar wasn’t a real cave but rather an ancient tomb that had been turned into a bar.           

            While some of us raised objections to the ethics of such a development, we all sat down and ordered drinks and hookah pipes, or “arguile.”

            I was feeling pretty good from all the beer I had drank at Petra Kitchen and was in a better mood now that I was away from the Brazilians.

            I ordered an Al Wadi, which was one of the few drinks on the menu that had more alcohol than fruit juice in its ingredients.

            It had rum, triple sec, blue caraco and lemon juice, which was mixed and served in a martini glass.

            We were having a great time smoking the “hubbly bubbly” and teaching those who had never smoked before how to do it.

            A D.J. inside the cave was pumping upbeat music and Merissa requested that they kept playing Arabic tunes.

            I looked over my shoulder and saw two waiters holding hands and hopping in unison to the beat of the music.

            As they pranced towards our table, some of our group got up and joined.

            I sat in my seat and laughed as I watched them try to learn the steps of the dance.

            They circled around us and Mo said that all the guys now had to do a customary dance.

            So Mo and us three guys on the trip got up and tried to learn the footwork of this traditional dance.

            We all laughed as we knew the steps weren’t too difficult yet somehow none of us could do it properly.

            I thought of the booty call as I hopped my left foot over my right, kicked, stomped and repeated.

            We finally started to get the hang of it, which the waiters noticed, and the dance sped up.

            The dance was the same but we kept moving faster and faster around in a circle.

            We must have looked ridiculous and unbelievably uncoordinated but our onlookers were still clapping along with the music and cheered us on.

            The song ended and I sat back down with my Al Wadi in one hand and hookah pipe in the other.

            We sat outside until the bar closed and headed back the hotel.

            We had to leave early the next morning to head to the Dead Sea but I managed to do all my packing before going to sleep.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


            I was woken up by my 6 a.m. wake up call and was somewhat surprised that it was actually useful.

            We had a meeting at 8 a.m. with Father Nabil Haddad of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.

            Father Haddad, who is Catholic, played a major role when the Pope visited Jordan a few months back.

            He spoke to us about the importance of respecting people of every religion and said that journalists had a noble responsibility to change opinions about the Middle East.

            “You are messengers,” he told us, “the prophets were messengers. The angels were messengers. You have an important role.”

            He had a powerful message that I completely agreed with.

            He was very proud of his country for its relationship with the U.S. and its tolerance of all religions.

            It was a very inspirational breakfast that helped me forget about the frustration I was dealing with the day before.

            No matter what form of media I used, I would be sure to share my experience in Jordan with others and in the hope that they see a side of the Middle East that is rarely reported.

            After breakfast, I finished packing my bags and met my group in the lobby to begin our excursion to Petra.

            Checking out was a little bit of an issue because the hotel had charged our group for their dinner that they had on the first night they arrived.

            But since I had missed the first night, I didn’t have any problems.

            Merissa argued with the man behind the desk.

            “They are guest of the Prime Minister,” she finally said, “would you want to pay for dinner if you were a guest of the Prime Minister?”

            Eventually the problem was settled and we boarded our bus.

            On the way there, we stopped in the municipality of Madaba.

            Madaba is the site of Mount Nebo, which is where it is said that Moses died after God showed him the holy land.

            The view was spectacular. I could see the city of Jericho and Jerusalem off in the distance.

            I was even able to shoot some video of the Jordan River flowing into the Dead Sea. The shot was very wide and distant but it may have been the only chance I had to get video of the river.

            Our next stop was a Greek orthodox church that had existed since the 6th Century.

            The church was rebuilt because an earthquake destroyed it in the 18th century.

            Mo did an excellent job explaining the church’s history.

             Inside the church, there were remains of an old mosaic map that had been made to guide Christian pilgrims through the holy land.

            The earthquake had destroyed parts of the map but you could still clearly see the city of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

            In the corner of the church was an underground room that was full of ancient paintings of Jesus Christ.

            Standing alone in this room was creepy.

All these sad eyes from the paintings were staring at me. The sorrow in their eyes seemed so real.

            Before hitting the road, we stopped and had lunch in an outdoor courtyard at a quaint Mediterranean restaurant.

            The meal was very similar to my first dinner in Jordan.

            Hummus, babaganush and pita bread were constantly being put on the table.

            The main dish was beef and chicken that was baked in an oven and covered in potato slices.

            The beef was covered in some sort of cream sauce that seemed like a watered-down version of the sauce they put on gyros. It was pretty good.

            After lunch, we stopped at a local craft shop to do some tourist souvenir shopping.

The store made their own mosaic art and we got a quick demonstration of the painstaking process of cutting stone, carefully placing it in a design and gluing it all together.

I was glad that I finally had some time to shop for my family and friends.

Each one of us was followed by someone in the store and was constantly offered items for different prices.

I was looking at the mosaics they had made when this woman began to follow me.

“That is 90 diner,” she said, “85 with discount.”

“OK,” I said with no intention of buying the piece of work that I knew no one I was shopping for would like.

After not showing any interest the woman lowered the price again.

“15,” she said, “how much will you pay?”

I told her I was just looking around but this didn’t stop her from following me throughout the store.

I started to look at a rack of handbags that seemed more in line with what I was looking for.

“Were all these made here?” I asked my newfound companion.

“Yes,” she replied, “all made in Jordan.”

I opened one bag up and saw a white tag on the inside lining.

“100% Cotton,” it read, “Made in India.”

I paused for a moment and then turned to the woman.

“What about this one?” I asked with interest.

“Yes, yes” she quickly replied.

“But it says ‘made in India,’” I said.

“Oh, really?” she said with a surprised tone as I showed her the tag.

She took the bag from me and hung it up on a different rack.

As I continued to look through the bags, I noticed that she had moved away from my side and was looking through the insides of all the other bags.

Another woman came over and the two spoke in Arabic.

My personal shopper said something and laughed in a way like she knew she had been caught red-handed.

I decided to look elsewhere for my souvenirs.

After our group finished our tourist shopping, which I was now sure was overpriced and not even genuine, we embarked on our three-hour drive to Petra.

            I ended up falling asleep and waking up as we stopped to take some pictures of a nomadic Bedouin camp.

            The cool desert wind felt amazing and the temperature in the evening was perfect.

            But the desert air is very dry and I could feel the inside of my nose burning from the lack the moisture,

             We stopped once more at an old castle that had been built by Christian crusaders and took some pictures.

            It was getting late and Mo kept encouraging us to be quick so we could get to our hotel near Petra.

            The final leg of the drive reminded me of the Grand Canyon.

            The landscape had suddenly changed from a flat sandy desert to dark red rocks jutting up towards the sky.

            These mountains looked especially gorgeous as the sun set.

            Our hotel was actually an old village on the side of a mountain that had been turned into a resort.

            Uneven stone walkways guided me through the tight alleys of the stone buildings.

            “Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed as I entered my room.

            I had never seen anything like it before in my life.

            The tall ceilings and uneven, white plastered walls gave the room a cave-like feel but it had all the amenities of a modern hotel.

            My living room had a TV and a mini bar and the sleeping area had a huge bed that was low the floor. This place was very cool.

            The bathroom, however, could have been better.

            The plumbing needed work and you could hear running water and rattling pipes long after you flushed the toilet, washed your hands or took a shower.

            The built-in hairdryer on the wall looked like some sort of respiratory machine from a hospital.

            “Whatever,” I thought, “this place is still really cool.”

            Dinner was at 9 p.m. but I headed to the restaurant early.

            I wanted to explore the resort a little more and I also figured I would get lost trying to navigate these tight stone corridors that crossed and weaved through the grounds of the hotel.

            The resort had its own line of shops that seemed to have more genuine gifts than the previous gift shop.

            I looked around for a bit and then went to the restaurant.

            Dinner was a buffet that I tried to make the most of.

            I ate beef, lamb, fish and chicken along with mashed potatoes, rice and vegetables.

            The meal was good but nothing great.

            I had some cheesecake for dessert but it paled in comparison to the cheesecake at Wild Jordan the night before.

            The best part of dinner came afterward when we moved outside to the patio for an after dinner drink.

            I was excited to finally try a local beer.

            Petra Beer was a light beer that had an alcohol content of 8%. It had a little more flavor then Bud light but had a weird metallic taste, which may have been from the tall can it had come in.

            We all had a good time telling jokes and sharing stories about favorite TV shows and movies.

            Harry Potter was a particularly popular topic in the conversation.

            An hour or so later we all headed off to bed.

            I still had not gotten a case for my contacts but luckily my room had scotch and wine glasses.

            We had a long day of hiking and climbing ahead of us and I was looking forward to finally getting to see Petra.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


            I woke up on my own again at 6:30 a.m.

            As I got ready for a long day of meetings someone rang my doorbell.

            I answered the door and was greeted by a hotel employee with a cart of oranges and bananas.

            “Hello sir,” he said, “would you like a fruit?”

            “Uh, no,” I replied.

            I was still only half-awake and thought that I had somehow mistakenly ordered breakfast to my room.

            Two cups of coffee later and I was fully awake.

            I met my group in the lobby and we headed for the Ministry of the Environment.

            On our way to meet the Minister of the Environment, I thought about my options for producing a quality video story.

            Another student in the group had mentioned that the Red Sea was facing problems with losing its water supply as Jordan, Syria and Israel all take water from the Jordan River.

            I knew our last day was a free day at a resort on the Red Sea so I would have the chance to do some filming there if I wanted.

            I was still nervous about trying to get broll of Amman and getting the chance to speak with ordinary citizens and I wanted to come back to the U.S. with the resources to tell at least one good story.

            Doing an environmental story about the Dead Sea seemed like the best option.

            Luckily, His Excellency Khaled Irani, the Minister of the Environment, was the only government official who agreed to be interviewed on camera.

            I asked him some specific questions about the Dead Sea and got some good potential sound bites.

            I figured I could talk to some hotel and tourist shop employees when I got to the Dead Sea and ask them about their feelings towards the Dead Sea drying up.

            The Minister of the Environment had given a fairly decent explanation of the problem and I could explain the rest in my narration and standup.

            After the meeting, our group headed to downtown Amman to walk around the shops and markets.

            We stopped on the way there to have lunch and I experienced eating a falafel for the first time.

            I had asked my roommate, who is from Egypt, once before about what exactly falafel is. He couldn’t really answer the question.

            My observation was that falafel is pita bread filled with chickpeas and peppers. I think there are a few more ingredients but I was hungry and ate my falafel rather than examined it.

            Something in it tasted like a pesto sauce. It was very good.

            The streets of downtown Amman were incredibly crowded and dirty and our guide, Mo, wanted all of us to stay together.

            Once again, I faced problems because I was the only broadcast journalist.

            Mo literally walked us through the streets and barely ever stopped.

            I spent the time stopping to film for seconds at a time and then would run to catch up.

            I certainly wasn’t going to have time to stop and interview anybody.

            I was very frustrated as I tried to get wide, medium and tight shots of the crowded market place.

            Forget trying to film any sequences. I simply did not have the time.

            The central market in Amman is a very crowded and dirty place.

            All sorts of filth and grime line the streets that are packed full of Jordanians who sell everything from live rabbits and birds to shoes and cell remote controls.

            There were many shops that sold fruit, vegetables and spices, which I was able to get some good photos of.

            So I spent the hour alternating between taking photos for myself and trying to film broll for my now almost doomed story.

            When we got back to our bus, I realized my story about Jordan and U.S. efforts for a two-state solution was dead.

            I didn’t have any government interviews on camera, my broll was lacking and I didn’t have any opinions from local Jordanians. I had nothing.

            I was very frustrated.

            How can print journalists say broadcast journalists are lazy people with just pretty faces?

            Everyone else just had to take notes at meetings and maybe snap a few pictures.

            I had to visualize every part of the story that I wanted to tell and this press trip was not affording me that ability.

            Our next meeting was with Dr. Moen Nsour, CEO of the Jordan Investment Board.

            The first thing he said when we started the meeting was that he was not comfortable being filmed.

            I had the camera disassembled before he even finished the sentence.

            I had half-expected this based on my previous luck with interviewing Jordanians in high positions of power.

            He said he felt he could be more candid if I wasn’t filming.

            How come his candid comments could be quoted in print but not shown on a TV?

            But most of what he said was off the record anyway.

            I wondered how the print journalists would even be able to right decent articles when half of their sources talked to them off the record.

            It’s fair to say I wasn’t in the best mood during this part of the trip.

            I started to question the quality of any of the information we were given.

            I knew the media laws were different in Jordan but we had turned into a group of pack journalists who were recording talking point responses from government officials who wouldn’t even go on record.

            Most of the officials even commented that they thought the media often reports stories in a polarized fashion.

            How was delivering a prepared speech and sticking to some main talking points when they were asked questions going to solve this problem?

            Like I said, I didn’t fully understand the media laws or public relations of this constitutional monarchy, but I began to doubt the quality of our reporting.

            After sitting through Dr. Nsour’s meeting and taking notes that I knew I probably would never use, we left to go meet with the Jordan River Foundation.

            Contrary to its name, the Jordan River Foundation actually works to improve the lives of abused women and children and has nothing to do with a river.

            His Majesty’s wife, Queen Rania, created this foundation that has programs throughout the country.

            We visited the Queen Rania Family and Child Center.

            I filmed everything as we got a tour of the building.

            Although it wasn’t a particular interest of mine, this visit was a stand-alone story and I actually had the chance to get some broll.

            So I kept my camera rolling for the entire visit in the hopes of having enough good video and sound bytes to piece together a short package about the center.

            But filming some of the mothers at the center was an issue so I had to be very careful to not show any faces of the women who did not want to be on camera.

            I focused most of my shots on their hands as they made puppets for the children at the center.

            The children were at school during the time of our visit so I didn’t have to worry about any issues with them

             This was the first time I was able to shoot sequences and get enough broll to actually produce a story.

            So if nothing else, I would have a story about the Queen Rania Family and Child Center.

            We had two hours of free time before our evening meeting so I decided to try to catch a taxi and return to downtown Amman on my own.

            I flagged down a cab and quickly realized getting back to the central market would be harder than I thought.

            Although I had heard that most Jordanians speak English, my taxi driver was one of the few who didn’t.

            Only knowing a few words of Arabic, I did a horrible job of trying to explain where I wanted to go.

            “Shopping,” I said, “Downtown, food, markets.”

            “Shopping!” the taxi driver said and then continued a full sentence in Arabic, which I did not understand.

            “Yes,” I said. Having agreed that I did say “shopping.”

            It was clear that we had hit a language barrier.

            Thankfully, that was the only thing we hit as my driver bobbed and weaved through Amman rush hour traffic.

            I had a decent grasp of my orientation between the hotel and downtown Amman and it seemed that we weren’t going in the right direction.

            I tried to ask the guy where we were headed but he just smiled and spoke to me in Arabic.

            The only English he knew, it seemed, was how to tell me how much my taxi ride was.

            I arrived at the Mecca Mall, which was like any mall in the U.S. but you can smoke indoors and everything is even more expensive.

            So after strolling past a Footlocker and a cell phone kiosk, I went back outside and decided to try my luck with a different taxi.

            I hopped in another taxi only to find myself in the same situation but with a different driver.

            But this new guy was determined to help me and even asked some locals on a street corner and a police officer if they could translate my English for him.

            I suppose it was my fault that I could not explain clearly where I wanted to go.

            I described the area to the police officer, who seemed fairly confident that he knew what I was talking about, and we headed to, “down Amman.”

            But after driving for a little while more, I wasn’t recognizing the area.

            That’s when I realized my camera had pictures of the market from when I was there earlier in the day.

            I pulled up a photo of a mosque in the heart of downtown and showed the driver.

            He nodded and said something to me in Arabic and starting making motions with his hands like he was taking pictures.

            Traffic was heavy and I was running out of time before I had to meet up with my group at 7 p.m. back at the hotel.

            I asked my driver how much more time it would take before we got there.

            “Time?” I said pointing to my watch, “how much?”

            “Uh, uh, ten and five,” he said slightly embarrassed, “sorry, my English not so good.”

            He kept pointing out different areas as we slowly moved through traffic and made his camera gesture with his hands.

            Finally, we arrived at a mosque that looked similar to the one in my photo but the one he took me to was bigger and had a beautiful blue dome on the top.

            “Five minutes,” he said, as he opened my car door.

            “Does this guy think I want him to drive me around to take pictures?” I thought.

            My quest for the market had failed.

            I took pictures of the mosque and asked my driver to take me back to the hotel.

            He seemed to understand but kept talking to me in Arabic.

            He stopped once more to let me take photos of the mosque from a different angle and showed me a church that was right across the street.

            “Mr. Jesus,” he said, crossing his two index fingers.

            “Yep,” I replied, hoping that I would somehow make it home.

            On the drive back to the hotel, my driver asked me if I smoked Marlboros.

            “No,” I said, “Do you smoke?”

“No, no,” he said, “I like swimming. I like walking around.”

            Perhaps I was really bad at giving directions because this taxi driver knew a decent amount of English.

            “Do you like Barack Obama?” I asked.

            “Eh,” he replied, “he maybe good, he maybe not good, I don’t know.”

            “What about Bush?” I asked.

            “Ah, Bush,” he said making his hand like a gun and waving it like a cowboy, “crazy, crazy.”

             I cracked up. I couldn’t help myself.

            My driver laughed too after seeing that I liked his response.

            “Bush not so good,” he said, “Obama could be good, we’ll see.”

            “What about Clinton?” I asked.

            “Clinton good,” he said nodding.

            “Hilary?” I asked.

            “Eh, Hilary good,” he said less enthusiastically, “but, uh, Clinton. I don’t know name.”

            That’s when he brought his hand to his mouth and seemed to make a cigar smoking motion.

            Again, I cracked up.

            “What’s his name?” he asked.

            “Bill,” I replied.

            “Bill!” he said,  “Bill Clinton very good, Reagan good, Carter very good.”

            I was impressed that he knew all of our former presidents.

            “Bush one and two, not so good,” he said while making the gun motion with his hand again.

“W,” he said with a chuckle.

            “Yeah,” I said laughing, “Do you know the word ‘worst?’” I asked him.

            “Worst?” he repeated.

            “It means ‘most bad,’” I told him, “it starts with a ‘W.’ ‘W,’ for worst, most bad,” I said.

            I shaped my hands to make the letter “W” and didn’t even realize that I had made the same gun shape with my hands that my driver had been making.

            “Ah, yes,” he said, “most bad.”

            This whole interaction made me forget about my troubled journalism stories and my failed attempt at finding downtown Amman.

            I didn’t get it on camera but I was able to have a great conversation with an ordinary Jordanian citizen.

            When we arrived at my hotel, I paid my driver and shook his hand.

            “Salaam,” he said.

            “Salaam,” I replied.

            As I headed into the hotel he drove passed and yelled, “Salaam a lakem!” and we waved goodbye.

            That taxi ride may have been the best part of this trip.

            That night before dinner, we visited the film house of the Royal Film Commission.

            This foundation is similar to public libraries in the U.S. but allows any Jordanian to check out camera equipment and use edit stations at the film house.

            There are even free courses available from everything from lighting, to editing and script writing.

            I remember wishing there was something like this in the U.S.

            They have 16 state-of-the-art digital video cameras and six Avid and Final Cut editing suites.

            I was jealous.

            The purpose of the Royal Film Commission, said Mohannad Bakri, the Capacity Building Manager, is to empower Jordanians to make films and documentaries about any topic they wish.

            The building has a breathtaking outdoor theater that overlooks downtown Amman where they screen films every week.

            I could only imagine how amazing it would be to sit outside on a warm night and watch a film that was projected against the dark night with the lights of downtown Amman glimmer in the distance. It would be incredible.

            After touring the building, we headed to the Wild Jordan Nature Conservancy and CafĂ©.

            Wild Jordan, the nature conservancy, was created by the Minister of the Environment and partially funded by the U.S.

            We ate dinner on the roof of the building, which was situated on the top of a hill that led down to the central market.

            The view was remarkable.

            Fireworks exploded in the distance, which we were told were from local Jordanian students celebrating their high school graduations.

            I sat next to Bakri and we talked about our mutual interest in film and documentaries.

            He told me that the film house had a private studio with a personal apartment that filmmakers from around the world are invited to stay and work in.

            The luxurious working space is free to use if the filmmaker agrees to teach a few workshops for the Royal Film Commission.

            I told him that I would gladly teach some editing workshops with Avid or Final Cut and he said that I was welcome back anytime and gave me his card.

            “Did I really just find a free place to stay in Jordan?”  I thought.

            Dinner that night was good but nothing authentic to the region.

            I had a steak with potatoes and vegetables and the most delicious cheesecake for dessert.

            It was a long dinner because of all the great conversation that was going on.

            We talked about everything from the Islamic rule on adoption, to President Obama’s interaction with the press, to how people in the southern states in the U.S. somehow deep fry coke.

            Needless to say, things had gotten much better from the afternoon. It was a lovely evening.

            All of the food was good but the view from the rooftop and the company was what had made this dinner so special.

            We returned to the hotel for our final night in Amman.

            We had one meeting in the morning, which was actually going to be at our hotel, before we headed to Mount Nebo and Petra.

            Most of our meetings were done and the trip was going to become more fun and touristy at this point.