I have now received three emails from the US Embassy in Amman. Yes, I counted because each one comes with a sense of officiality, of importance. The topics are dense, the words long, and what-ifs the standard.
Today, I "swam" at the lowest land elevation on our planet (Quotation marks, as my movement in the sea was minimal, more bobber than fish.). I got mud in my hair, salt in my eyes, and burns head to toe. It was surreal. The Dead Sea, 1410.76 feet below sea level, is a place you read about. It has a Guinness page and shows up in National Geographic. It's a myth. I rolled around on the water's surface, attempting orientation, printing the sensations into my brain: warm surface layers broken up by incoming waves, modeling clay floor laced with canyonesque strata, hand-on-a-stovetop level burning from a droplet in the corner of an eye. This sea puts salt shakers to shame. The Dead Sea is 8.6 times saltier than the well seasoned Atlantic, and has been a destination since Biblical times. Cleopatra, Herod the Great, King David (Yah, the killed-Goliath-with-stones David) bobbed around in this odd desert lake. And so did I. (Can you punctuate a sentence with a check mark?)
I was supposed to be at a world wonder today. Taller, flavorless, no mud to be seen, my group was originally going to spend this weekend taking in Petra and Wadi Rum. Enter those official emails. There were protests on the Desert Highway on Thursday. A car was burned. Our plans changed. Jordanians thrive on flexibility. What is predictable? Not governments, nor taxis, water supply, nor weekend plans. The trick is making do: doing what can be done and waiting out the rest.
Jordan borders Syria, Palestine, and Iraq. A dozen American teenagers in the middle of it all, looking for a whirlwind summer, doesn't halt the conflict. I am aware, but I am not afraid. Threats of burning cars and angry chants do not constantly occupy the minds of the average citygoers. There is work and class and shopping and laundry, just like at home, but the proximity changes: the conflict is across a sea rather than an ocean. Proximity naturally increases the chance of personal involvement. I will not blanket the effect of violence on the Jordanian population. The point is, embassy emails and take-ten segments, are the highlight real, not the constant reality.
I have been in Amman three weeks, three to go. There are still photos to take and phrases to learn and camels to see (but not touch... A thousand curses on MERS). When is the big what if. For now, I'll just float through, soaking up language, living history, and loving life.