Sunday, August 16, 2009

Go play in traffic - it's not just an expression!

I read in my spectacular Jordan Lonely Planet book shortly after arriving that crossing the street is likely to be the biggest challenge for the newcomer in Amman. Of course I didn't realize they were using the word "challenge" as the most enormous understatement of the year. Crossing the street here isn't a "challenge." It's at best an "adventure," at worst a "spontaneous suicide attempt."

It's not that the drivers here are bad. Actually, it takes an extremely adept driver to hit 100 miles an hour and still swerve neatly around a million other cars all doing 100 miles an hour while managing to avoid the hordes of pedestrians scurrying across the road.

So why not just use the crosswalks you say? HAHA! You are lucky to find a bit of driveway sticking out that you can call a sidewalk, much less a crosswalk. No, most walking takes place right next to the million cars going 100 miles an hour. And lanes seem to be optional at best.

Here's the way you cross the street. 1) You look to your left and wait until you see a break about a car's width between two cars. 2) Then you run like mad across that lane and 3) wait in the middle of the road with cars shooting by on either side of you, probably honking at you for being in the middle of the street. Then you look to the right and repeat step 2. If all else fails, stand really close to a local also attempting to cross the street and run when they run.

As dangerous as this sounds, the guidebook assured me that the drivers, though hitting the gas, honking the horn and sending dirty gestures our way from inside the cars, are not actually trying to hit us. In fact, my cousin Melissa, who's lived here for five years, says drivers can get into all kinds of trouble for hitting pedestrians. Apparently, passing a credit card's width from our abdomens is a perfectly legitimate way of negotiating the highway, though it doesn't do wonders for my blood pressure.

One time, Heather and I were trying to cross an exceptionally busy street. A security man who happened to be wandering by at the time noticed we were approaching the road with some trepidation, saw that we'd never had to dodge traffic before and graciously ran with us across the road to safety.

And I was worried about being yelled at for jaywalking.

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