After successively watching 4 in-flight videos, I suddenly found myself roaming a bustling terminal in Charles de Gaulle and pondered heading to downtown Paris to burn some layover heures: maybe indulge in pain au chocolate for brunch and discreetly do some people watching at the pont des arts where lovers lock away their secrets and dispose of the keys in the Seine.
But I didn’t.
Sometimes we have this choose-your-own-adventure book and for some unbeknownst reason we evade the prodding of visceral instincts and skip to a more rational chapter. So I found one of the few sections in the passenger terminal’s beam seating that had three adjacent units bereft of steel arms: I.e. the sleep deprived, luxury lounge-less traveler’s Shangri-La.
As I drifted uncomfortably into the first REM sleep cycle, a young prodigy sat down at a nearby piano and began transforming ivory (actually ebony and spruce) into Jazz as if he were reviving the late Michel Petrucciani’s discography, serenading passersby with his dexterity and reminding me of the spinet I inherited from my beloved grandfather—his fingernail scratches embedded in the fallboard’s lacquer—left behind forlorn, sedentary, and tuneless in an overpriced Bay Area storage unit. Then it hit me: I am walking out of the private sector and, after this limbo state of language study and graduate school, trekking into the world of public service.
Having spent much of my tufula (childhood) in Washington, I recall traipsing around SeaTac while watching thousands of people dart through the concourses to their respective gates, disappearing from the sphere of my life forever; I assume they later popped out of another gate in some foreign land on the Pacific Rim or a historic city on the Eastern Seaboard. As I sauntered through the concourse in France, however, I felt as if I were literally in the center of the world.
Montreal. Shanghai. Krakov. Casablanca. Dubrovnik. Beirut. Punta Cana. Minsk. Cotonou.
People. From. Everywhere: Going. Everywhere.
As if Paris either retained some remnant of a monopoly on the world or is now the epicenter of inbound and outbound tourism. We often realize how small the world is. That day, I caught a small glimpse of how big it truly is—a dichotomy that I don’t predict any Montana cattle rancher or D.C. diplomat will ever fully grasp.
Soon enough, it was time for me to board flight 8438 to Amman. I was caught off guard by America’s ubiquitous cultural imperialism (or soft power) as episodes of Friends and How I Met Your Mother were shown on the crank-your-neck screens above for all of the Jordanians on the Air France flight to watch. Having previously binge watched both series, I opted to sparking up a conversation with my seat buddies—an Irish World Vision journalist traveling with Game of Thrones actor Liam Cunningham to the Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps to write an article in hopes of inspiring Ireland to accept its fair share of refugees, and a capital markets banker from Toronto who was enjoying a reprieve from the job he despises by attending the nuptials of a cousin with an arranged marriage. After a few hours of small talk about Michal Lewis’s The Big Short—you know the brainiacs who bet against the collateralized debt obligation bubble and made millions of dollars in the wake of trillions in household wealth evaporating in the U.S. and abroad—far below us the lights of party town Tel Aviv-Yafo glimmered endlessly and minutes later we crossed the border into momentary darkness.
My relationship with the Jordanian people began with pure trust. A month before hopping on a plane and leaving my San Francisco life behind, I filled out an online form to inform the Qasid staff of the time I would arrive at the airport. Sure enough, after paying 40 JOD, seeing a temporary visa stamped on my tuckered out passport, and retrieving my limited luggage, I was relieved to spot a smiling chauffeur holding a sign with “Qasid” written in red. Thank goodness because it was 11 pm, I had no idea where my apartment was, and my first class started in less than 12 hours.
My new roommates: Malik, a Polish-Algerian Oxford student, and Alex, a French-Lebanese former Oliver Wyman consultant, greeted me spryly at midnight. I was also delightfully surprised to find a box of welcoming chocolates awaiting my arrival.
A new adventure has begun (or at least I finally got around to writing about it)! I took a month long break from social media so that I could initially live authentically in Jordan rather than superficially in cyberspace. However, feel free to tag along virtually; if you have the means, desire, and time, come visit!