On the Saturday before Eid started, a group of us decided to go on a trip to North Jordan to see Jerash, a city with the most roman ruins, Ajloun, which has an ancient desert castle, and Um Qais, another ruins sight with a great view of the Sea of Galilee. However, none of these places are within walking distance. This meant we needed a car. It also meant one of us ex-pats was going to have to drive in the madness that is Jordan traffic. Mostly because I'm missing a few brain cells, I volunteered.
The day before our trip, we stopped by a rental car office and strenuously negotiated a car for one day. They let us drive it off the lot. We had no car insurance whatsoever, and (don't tell them this) but I was driving with an expired Texas license because I haven't received my new one in the mail yet. Fortunately they couldn't read English very well in the shop, and dates go DAY/MONTH/YEAR instead of MONTH/DAY/YEAR like in America, so we had all kinds of confusion going for us. Regardless and contrary to popular judgment calls, they let me rent a car.
Let me explain something. Although several of my American friends will disagree, I am actually a very good driver. I accelerate fast, and I break late, but unlike my brother (who always gets to drive my Dad's when Dad won't let me), I have never had an accident. I have also driven in foreign countries before: France and Ireland. Ireland was tricky because of that whole wrong-side-of-the-road thing. France was tricky because the two-way roads are all roughly the width of half your car. Jordan is tricky because, once again, everyone drives like a maniac. So it was with some degree of trepidation that I slid behind the wheel. Driving out of town on highways is one thing. Driving in the heart of Amman, with disorganized traffic circles and crazed, fasting drivers is another.
My first hurdle was driving on to the street and around the corner to the gas station. However, a large van was parked (illegally in the US, completely normally for Jordan) in the middle of the road to my left, so I couldn't see anything. I gritted my teeth, gripped the wheel and made a Hail-Mary turn out on to the road.
We made it. I zipped out into Jordanian traffic, swung around the under the road and missed the turn to the gas station. Fortunately there was another road we could take back to it just beyond. I pulled in, the guys ripped us off while pumping gas, we went back and gave them a talking to, and our first car-owning challenge was met.
And I drove home. It wasn't really that bad. Sure, it required about a thousand times the concentration that driving in America requires, and I had to remember to curb my natural impulses to use turn signals, stay in lanes and be nice to people. But it turns out I'm pretty good at turning up my road aggression and swerving around other cars.
The trip north was extremely uneventful, car wise, besides the stares and ill-disguised astonishment that a woman was driving (the north is more conservative than Amman). In fact, I was driving and my female friend was in the passenger seat while the two guys sat in the back. That must have blown their minds.
I was following another friend of mine in his car, so all I had to do was keep on his tail. That was easy on the highway. In the evening, however, we had to head back into Amman to return the car. It had rained for about five seconds that afternoon, which did not wash the car; it merely turned all the dust into mud. Funnily enough, my windowshield wipers worked about as well as our stove does at home (not very), and soon I was staring out of a smeared concoction of glass, dirt and mud trying to stay just behind my friend’s taillights. Then we entered the city.
The traffic went from three or four other cars on the road, to every car in Amman trying to merge in front of me. Cars were passing a centimeter from my car, going 80 mph. I was swerving, cutting people off, passing people by centimeters myself as I tried in vain to stay directly behind my friend. We entered a traffic circle, one of the most annoying and disorganized parts of Jordanian traffic, and that’s when the rental place decided to call and ask where their car was.
So I’m frantically trying to keep my friend’s car in sight while negotiating around eight cars trying to merge into me from different directions, while driving around a traffic circle, while listening to a man yell at me in broken English. I was not a happy camper.
We made it to the rental place. I parked, calmly got out of the car and suffered a complete mental meltdown. As in, my brain was mush. I literally was so tired from concentrating that hard that I could not form complete sentences.
So all-in-all, my first driving experience was a success.