Travel guides to the Middle East do a pretty good job of helping you plan for your time abroad. The glossy pictures, up-to-date maps and honest reviews all paint a romantic picture of your destination. But whichever way you order your itinerary, things will often get ugly when emergencies arise. Since landing in Jordan, a hot tourist destination in many peoples’ eyes, I’m now a pro at avoiding large crowds, dysentery, and stray gunfire. I’ve come to realize that travel insurance only stems the bleeding of a botched holiday; to really have a hassle free trip it’s advisable to do your research and make some notes. This guide to surviving the Middle East is a pretty good place to start.
Before we begin, you look a little dehydrated - would you like a drink? Jordan’s coffee is great, the fresh juice fantastic and the tea sublime. But if you’re looking for a quick hit of that thirst-quenching classic, water, then you should choose wisely. Firstly, tap water is not a good idea; Jordan lacks the infrastructure for delivering purified water directly to your faucets, so unless you fancy giving your immune system a good auditing, you should steer clear. If you’re just visiting the country, then branded, bottled water is safe, costing anything from 0.20JD to 2JD, depending on your gullibility. However if you’re in it for the long haul, then purchasing a water cooler is the way to go; you’ll get a 20-litre tank that is refillable for 0.85JD, at any of the thousands of water purification shops all over the country.
Whilst we’re on the topic of bodily needs, it should be mentioned that politics and riots could disrupt any mealtime. Currently, Jordan is at peace, both internally and externally, but should any crisis unfold you will likely be bolting doors, reading up on martial law and watching your larder stocks diminish. Don’t panic though; savor the chance for a bit of gastro-tourism and try out Jordan’s gourmet food delivery service, ‘iFood’. Modeled on the popular ‘Just-Eat’ English franchise, its army of deliverymen goes above and beyond to keep your stomach happy. The online ordering system is one of those rare places where you will see a turkey testicle sandwich advertised alongside a McDonalds’s fillet-o-fish.
As we continue up the ladder of DEFCON-appropriate dilemmas, things can get a bit unsteady. When playing tourist, be prepared if you wander into the wrong city district. Getting curb-stomped is not going to happen and neither should you look into Kevlar-based attire; just try not to fumble the barter of that genuine-fake YOLO tee that just caught your eye, it’s embarrassing enough that you thought buying it would be a good idea. Aside from shopping correctly, it’s sensible to be street-wise too. Familiarize yourself with local crime hotspots and popular methods by which you’re likely to be violated, and then avoid them. Jubeiha, Amman is a classic example. Considered to be capital’s ‘red light district’, it is home to prostitutes, petty thieves and boy racers. The other day a woman punched a guy using a brick as her fist. Painful, sure, but at least the stereotypes are being challenged. It’s also the area where I attend university, which is great for practicing my spoken-Arabic role-play situations; the one where I call the police tends to pop up a lot.
It’s hard not to ignore the regional pressures that are facing Jordan, but if you do adopt an attitude of willful blindness then you’re being foolish. If you haven’t heard, quite a lot is going on in Syria, which runs along Jordan’s northern border. Now although human instinct compels us to avoid such war-torn badlands, it’s still easy to get swept up in the hype. Tourist-Terrorism is on the rise and Al-Shabab, Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda don’t care if you can’t speak the lingo; a good trigger-finger and half steady aim are now the only prerequisites. Terrorist groups know that many people in the West wish to help the Syrian people, and are milking it accordingly. Try to avoid talking politics and stay away from the border. If you somehow hop on a tour coach and find that ‘wheels on the bus’ and other holiday classics have been replaced by death-chants for Assad, then you’re probably in the wrong place.
Also thanks to the mess in Syria, another danger is on the loose. Awaking from its manmade slumber, feeding off the decimated infrastructure, and threatening the entire region, Polio is making an unwelcome return. Syria’s vaccination program ceased long ago, and now this is the result. Before making a trip to the region, it is worth checking with your GP if any jabs are needed; you really don’t want to be remembered as the guy who reintroduced this horrific disease back into Europe. With morbidity in mind, cat-lovers should also take special note. There are as many of the fury little scoundrels as there are people here, but that doesn’t mean you should attempt any level of coexistence. Most felines eat, live and party around the often-overflowing, always-putrid street bins. So it’s really not advisable to go pouncing on every kitty that you see; Rabies, Ringworm and Toxoplasmosis are all poor choices of mementos for your time here.
With the recent spider uprisings, malicious mega-hornets and Miley Cyrus, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s not just the Middle East that presents some clear threats to humanity. But it’s easier to control these things at home. When abroad, one is at the mercy of their preparation, so it’s best to do the research and dream up some scenarios. If all else fails during your time in Jordan, call the emergency services on 911; I still have no idea how the dialing codes work though, so good luck with that.