The Adventures of Shaun Gilday – What it’s Like to Work and Play in Jordan
When I told people I was traveling to Jordan, I got all types of responses and quizzical looks. The typical responses were “The country!?” and “For pleasure or for work?!” Before my work took me to Jordan, I hadn’t given much consideration to the country myself. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, has a total population roughly equivalent to half the population of the Greater New York City area and about the size of Indiana, but it doesn’t get a lot of mentions across the various media platforms, especially considering how often its neighbors are mentioned (as you can see on map).
While not as plentiful in natural resources as its neighbors, Jordan is extremely rich in culture and history. Tourism is considered a cornerstone of Jordan’s economy accounting for over 8 million visitors in 2010. With over 100,000 archaeological and tourist sites, none are as iconic as Petra. Nevertheless, although my trip to Jordan was for business, I stayed an extra day to do some sightseeing. Below is a daily log of what it was like to work and play in Jordan.
Day 1 (Friday) – Jordan, like most other Arab countries, works a Sunday through Thursday work week. As such, traveling from the U.S. to work on Sunday involves a Friday night departure to Amman, the capital city of Jordan.
Day 2 (Saturday) – Arriving in Jordan is much like arrival into any city in the U.S. Since Jordan is generally regarded as a safe country, and based on the well-developed relationship between the U.S. and Jordan, going through customs is straightforward, and obtaining a visa can be done while at customs for 40 Jordanian dinar (JOD). The JOD is pegged to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and so is the U.S. dollar, which makes the conversion rate minimally volatile (1 JOD = 1.41 USD). Jordan joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has a free-trade agreement with the U.S. – the first Arab country to do so. At the time of my travel (mid-May), Jordan had lifted its negative-Covid test for entry requirement.
Our client had arranged for transport from the airport to the hotel (a Holiday Inn Resort hotel) situated right on the Dead Sea. Electrical outlets in the room were international and I could plug my electronics directly into the outlet without an adapter.
Day 3 (Sunday) – The first day of work. I was again transported by the client directly from the hotel to the plant, which is situated by the Dead Sea. The plant utilizes bromine from the Dead Sea to manufacturer various brominated products. One of many interesting things about the Dead Sea is that its surface elevation is ~1,400 feet below sea level. Looking out at the surrounding landscape from the Dead Sea felt as though there were towering mountains all around, and while that is true, much of the elevation I was looking at was just getting back to sea level.
Working at the plant was mostly easy for someone who spoke no Arabic. Everyone I encountered had at least a minimal understanding of English and most were fluent. Added to that, the hospitable nature of the Jordanians made collaboration second nature.
Day 4 (Monday) – Turkish coffee is a welcomed treat when dealing with jet lag and reading environmental regulations that have been translated into English. Water, snacks, and Turkish coffee were brought in every 2 hours while we were at the plant. The 3 p.m. version was particularly ceremonious, where a complete pause of work was expected, and personal stories were shared. My other work colleagues were from the Netherlands and the southern U.S. All of us were curious about how similar or different our lives compared to each other.
Back at the hotel, my colleagues and I walked down to the Dead Sea to perform the requisite float. As many times as you hear someone recount the event, it truly is something to experience firsthand. Floating in a standing position is particularly an odd feeling. For dinner, we ventured to a nice Syrian restaurant where the food and the service were both first-rate. We opted for a heavy seafood course of meals and loved the complimentary dessert, a pudding type dish infused with orange blossom water and topped with a sweet crème. I got the impression that Syrian restaurants were similar to Italian restaurants in the U.S.
Day 5 (Tuesday) – The last day of plant work was culminated with the Plant Manager hosting a meal at the local hotel restaurant overlooking the Dead Sea with us and about 40 of the plant’s employees. No alcohol was consumed, as is the custom, but the loss of inhibition was in full effect with many embarrassing and funny stories shared by all including a feats of strength contest toward the end of the meal!
We settled back at the hotel and ended up sharing a few pints, discussing the finer points of the week and planning for the free day tomorrow.
Day 6 (Wednesday) – Our first excursion of the day was going back to the plant in the morning to obtain a Covid PCR test, which is required for re-entry into the U.S. after international travel. It must be taken no more than a day before arrival. Which can be a logistical issue considering the time for longer flight travel and laboratory analysis and reporting time. After the test, we set out over the mountain range (or perhaps “through” is a better word here) for Petra.
Petra, prominently featured in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, is an amazing UNESCO World Heritage site half-built, half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges. It was settled around 400 BCE and cannot be described in words or captured in photos. After Petra and followed by a lunch at a local café, we set out to Wadi Rum. Known as the Valley of the Moon, its landscape is equated to what I would imagine the Martian landscape resembles. In fact, Matt Damon’s, The Martian, was filmed here for the setting of Mars. The landscape is mainly red dessert sand with stark granite and sandstone formations more closely resembling icebergs than normal mountains. Complete with arches and valleys, Wadi Rum itself consists of several hundred Bedouin inhabitants surviving in goat-hair tents and concrete houses, and also their four-wheel vehicles. With a local Bedouin in his 1980’s land-cruiser, we toured Wadi Rum stopping at the major attractions and ending the tour with an open fire-prepared tea containing local herbs from the desert floor.
Day 7 (Thursday) – Travel back is never easy, but with the friendly relationship that the U.S. and Jordan have, along with a Global Entry card, customs and re-entry were a cinch. With the time change, I arrived at my doorstep on the same day as departure; however, by midnight, I had been in Thursday for over 30 hours.
I don’t know if I ever would have traveled to Jordan if work hadn’t taken me there, but I am sure glad it did.