Laura Finaldi in Jordan, 2012

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Field Work

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I wrote most of this post yesterday (Friday) so bear with me. But here’s a recount of a crazy day reporting (finally), and things I know I wouldn’t have been able to understand if I wasn’t here as a journalist.

Friday, June 1, 2012, Amman, Jordan – Right now, the Arabic students on our trip are returning from Jirash, an ancient city with beautiful Roman architecture. I’ve heard it’s home to some of the best preserved ruins in the world, with columns, palaces and other ancient structures everywhere. I’m sure it was really cool. But I’ll never know. This is because us J kids opted to skip out of the trip so we could get some reporting done.

Friday is the Islamic holy day–the weekend for us. We haven’t had a free weekend with nothing to do at all since, well … ever. But you see, as journalists, there’s never NOTHING to do. We never get a day off. Every minute we spend sleeping, eating, trying on hijabs for sport or going to the mosque (or, in my case, to church) with our families, we could be writing, reporting or blogging. I’m definitely getting schooled–we all are–but this is how it is.

I was going to use my day off to track down mid-level experts and anecdotes for my story on the recent hike in the price of gasoline 95 here in Jordan. I set my alarm for 9:30 so I could grab the extra two hours of sleep I haven’t gotten in I don’t even know how long. When I finally got out of bed at 10:20, I took my time getting ready, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with Kate and our father, and smoked a few lights before I even thought about getting into the shower. Then it was time for my daily internet digest–Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress.

For some reason, this morning I found myself perusing around, which used to be part of my morning routine when I was in Boston. Here, I feel a lot more at peace than I did when I was there, so I’m not constantly checking it in hopes things will improve. But today I figured why the hell not. Here’s what my daily extended horoscope says:

There is a very big difference between being lazy and being relaxed, and you are definitely not lazy! So there is nothing wrong with taking it easy today and saving the heavy lifting and hard work for another day. As long as you avoid the temptation of procrastination, you can trust that what needs to get done will get done when it needs to get done. Until then, feel free to take a long lunch, kick up your feet, and let other people compete in the rat race.

That’s very nice of you, the internet, but for the record, I can a) definitely be lazy … but thanks for kissing my ass and b) not, in fact, afford to take the day off. I was definitely tempted to – I mean it’s in the stars, right? But alas, I got myself out of the house and moving by 12:30. Record time. Game face, always.

Here’s where I stop being annoying and start telling you the relevant things I did

My mission: find a cab driver who speaks English, ask him about how the price hike affects him and have him take me to a gas station where I can talk to owners and employees. Maybe it was the stars above me rewarding me for not taking the day off, but the first guy I found spoke English and was willing to help out. I got in the cab and he drove me in loops around the neighborhood as he spoke, delving past gas prices and going even further, right into his status as an impoverished Jordanian.

He’s 50, a father of six and from Palestine. Each day, he makes 13 or 14 JD, which is less than $20. His monthly salary is about 400 JD, which he uses to support his wife and six kids.

400 JD a month. For a family of eight. That’s for food, rent, and, well, that’s it. Medicine? Better have a good health plan. Clothes? Hope you like hand-me-downs. Don’t even think about stopping at McDonalds for a quick burger on the way home, let alone a drink or a pack of smokes (there’s Trailer Park Boys rubbing off on me) for the road. We’re talking no extra cash, making every penny count.

And here he is, driving my cab. If I hadn’t been a journalist asking him about these things, I would have never understood or even known the guy charging me 2 JD to get to my destination had seen things and been through things I as a girl enveloped in a happy bubble in Boston would never even think about.

We talked for about 15 minutes, and I had him drop me off at a gas station. I exited the cab and approached a worker, ignoring the twinge of fear and insecurity in my heart. The worker turned me over to the owner, who, as it turns out, lived in the States for 22 years. He still owns three gas stations in Chicago. He told me a lot about prices, government subsidies and sales drops. When we were finished, he handed me over to his brother, who offered to drive me to another, larger gas station their family used to own.

So there I was, in a car with two Jordanian men I had just met. One of them spoke English, the other, not even a word. The one who spoke English asked me about my life, school, profession and if I had yet to crack Amman’s nightlife scene. I told him he could spot me and my friends from a mile away on Rainbow Street. Then he gave me his number and told me I should hit him up if I want to hang out this weekend.

I’m skeptical. The cultural differences between Jordanian men and American men will be discussed at length in a different post.

Anyway. He did tell me I could call him anytime if I needed help with any reporting at all. That’s another thing about the people here. They are so nice and so willing to help you, no matter what. It’s not like in the States where it seems like asking them for even five minutes of their time is a major inconvenience.

“We’ve got your back. You need anything, you let us know.”

Thanks bro. I will.

They dropped me off at a large gas station, where I was introduced to the owner, a Palestinian-Jordanian. He led me behind the gas station, up a set of stairs, and into his office, where I was offered coffee and cigarettes. I accepted both. As I’ve told all 12 of you readers, this is customary in Jordan. We broke the ice for about 15 minutes before he started to tell me about gas prices, government corruption, and the economy here, which is crippled, to put it lightly.

I can’t even begin to explain in this post how freaking terrible things are here. People come in from outside companies trying to make Jordan a better place by funding housing projects or water tunnels, but government workers–prime ministers, parliament–will all steal the money for their own benefit.

King Abdullah is not the problem, this man told me, and that’s why he shouldn’t be overthrown as Mubarak and Ghaddafi were. No, the Jordanian king is a good guy with good plans who doesn’t want to see Jordan fall like so many of our neighbors in the region have. I don’t need to spell it out for you. And he even switches out the prime ministers and parliament who are corrupt to supposedly fix things. But it’s not enough. It was so sad to hear this man talk about it. The American economy might not be great, but in comparison, we’re all doing just fine.


Written by laurafinaldi

June 2, 2012 at 9:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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