Getting Home from Jordan

Maddy Johnson –

I had planned to be in Jordan studying Arabic for seven months, but the coronavirus had other plans. In early March, I learned that I could spend one more week in the country before evacuating only two months into my time abroad. With a week left I wanted to see it all, beginning with the Ma’in hot springs, two hours from Amman and unreachable without a private car. I intended to spend the night at the hot springs, relaxing and reflecting on my experience in Jordan, before meeting up with friends at the Dead Sea. Knowing that my study abroad would be cut short by five months I planned to make the most of my remaining week in the country.

I checked into my hotel, hiked around the area and spent a very relaxing hour in the hot springs. As I headed back to my hotel, I checked my phone and found 5 emails and over one hundred texts- never a good sign in the midst of an encroaching pandemic. I sifted through the barrage of frantic texts to piece together the facts. Jordan was closing its borders and I had 48 hours to leave the country or else I would be in Jordan indefinitely. Dozens of flights out were already cancelled and the remaining flights were skyrocketing in price. I was alone in a very remote area, two hours from the capital.

I attempted to quell my initial panic as I ran back to my hotel, still soaking wet from the hot springs. I had two pressing concerns- purchasing a flight home and finding a way back to Amman. In my hotel room, I began searching for flights while my parents did the same from the United States. Every option felt like a gamble. Which flights would be cancelled in the coming hours? Which flight would truly get me home? Given that every tourist and expat in Jordan was searching for flights at this time, the website crashed continuously. Additionally, the sites could not keep pace with the high demand, meaning that three times I purchased a flight that seemed to have an open seat only to be notified afterwards that the flight was full.

During this frantic search for a viable flight home, I received a call from my Program Director, telling me to return to Amman immediately before municipal borders and local transportation shut down. I went to the front desk to inquire about the hotel van but I was informed that the driver had left for the day and there were no other transportation options available (the hotel is too remote to be reached by taxis or ubers). This was not good news.

In pure desperation, I ran after two men that had checked out right before me hoping they were not murderers. When I explained my situation, they quickly and happily agreed to let me ride with them back to Amman and within five minutes I found myself driving through the Jordanian country side relieved to be heading to the capital while hoping that these two kind strangers wouldn’t kidnap me. As luck would have it, they were a married couple from the United States working in development in Jordan. One worked at the World Food Program and one worked at UNICEF helping promote educational programs for children in refugee camps (pretty much a dream job of mine). The car ride was much too short and I left with two new friends and the promise of a home-cooked meal when I return.  

The next day and a half passed in a whirlwind of food, packing, sad goodbyes and absolutely zero sleep. Before I knew it, I was headed to the airport for a 2am flight. As I waited in a mammoth line to check my baggage and receive my boarding pass, the airport announced that the last flight to France was cancelled, leaving hundreds of French in the airport with no flight home and nowhere to go. As one might imagine, this did not go over well. A large (and angry) group of French immediately began protesting, blocking the ticket desks and sitting on the luggage scales, demanding a flight home. It took many minutes of careful pleading–and a very firm stance with elbows out–to eventually receive my ticket and escape through security.

37 long hours later, I arrived back in Kansas, missing Jordan dreadfully but glad to be home. I thought that going to Jordan would be the adventure of a lifetime. I had no idea that the true adventure would be in leaving.

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