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LetsRun.com Goes To Amman - 2009 World Cross-Country Coverage
Installment #4: "In America, Everyone Is Alone"
March 26, 2009

By Robert Johnson

LetsRun.com's Robert Johnson is in Amman, Jordan to cover the World Cross-Country championships. He got there on Monday night and thought he should blog about his experiences. Below you will find installment #4.

*Click here to read installment #1 about the flight and sightseeing trip to Petra click here
*
Click here to read installment #2 where I tried to analyze the junior boys race
*
Click here to read installment #3 about the US team and German's possible injury, Amman and to see exclusive interviews with Julie Culley, Bobby Curtis and Ed Moran
Photos: *2nd Photo Gallery (Amman/Runners) *1st Photo Gallery (Petra)


Days 2 and Day 3:
The trip to Petra certainly was memorable. Unfortunately from my standpoint, I tried to make sure it was memorable for everyone in the LRC community and after 8 hours of tinkering on the website, I went to bed at 4 a.m, meaning I was up from 6:30 am to 4:00 am on my first day here after a huge trip to get here. Not so smart.

As a result, I woke up in a sleep-deprived fog yesterday. But it ended up being a great day. I spent most of the day working in the press room on my junior boys preview but did find time to take a cab with some Swedish journalists that I met in the press room to the older part of downtown for a traditional lunch. A great experience. Then last evening, I went over to the American hotel, had dinner with the team and did a few interviews. This morning, I went over the to practice area to try to see what was going on.

What an experience. For some reason, the time on my phone (which doesn't work but does pick up a signal) just skipped ahead an hour when I was sleeping. The screwed-up thing is their Daylight Saving Time apparently starts tonight, but something like 20% of the phones went a day early. I had no idea and thus showed up at the practice area an hour early (I honestly only realized this like 5 hours after the fact), but because I got there an hour early, I ended up having an unreal experience.

Here's what I've learned:

I Way Overpaid For Everything On Tuesday - Stuff Is Cheap (In Certain Places)

So the first thing I did on day 2 was go up to the press room and check in as it had been closed when I got in on Monday night. They gave us a pretty sweet looking Amman press bag and I opened it up and had to laugh. My big purchase on day 1 had been a traditional Arabian scarf for which I paid the equivalent of $65 for and guess what? The Jordanians had included one as a free gift. Well, at least now I can give the free one to someone.

And yes, my brother Weldon was right. He had laughed at me when I told him I thought I had a good deal as I got a cab for 12 hours for $140. He said, "I drove across Egypt all day for only $60."

In the press center, I met a woman from Scottish athletics who is here on loan to help with the meet. I was asking her if she'd been into the downtown area yet and she said, "Oh yeah. I go everywhere in a cab. It's amazing. It never costs more than like 1 dinar ($1.40)." I was like "What?" She's like, "Yeah, cabs are basically free."

Fast forward a few hours. At 2 pm, I hop into a cab with two guys I met from a Swedish athletics website (they are here even though Sweden has no one in the meet as the one Swedish entrant dropped out) to go grab some lunch and see the old part of town. A really nice volunteer in the press center recommended a traditional place that he said was famous because the King ate there but was very cheap. Good and cheap. That's a nice combo.

Well, we take about a 15 or 20 minute ride. When we pop out, the guy in the front looks at the meter and it says 1020. He ends up paying him 10 dinars ($14). As he does so, I tell him, "I think it may only be 1." Too late but sure enough our ride back only cost us like 1.50 so it's true, a 20 minute cab ride costs about $2.


Where's the famous restaurant?

We got out of the cab and walked to where the driver pointed but were a bit confused as it looked like we were in an alleyway. There was only one place to eat so we went in  there. The Swedes thought we must be in the wrong place but I told them I bet we were in the right spot. If Barack Obama can eat at Ben's Chili Bowl (highly recommended,  by the way), then the King of Jordan probably could eat at this place.

After we told them we wanted everything, they brought out the traditional food which was pretty good. We also had 4 cokes and then got the bill. 5.50 ($7.70). Not per person. Total. We tried to give the guy 5.50 per person and he was like "No, no. You paid." I was stunned by the price and also stunned by his honesty (as I've since learned that some people will let the dumb tourists overpay). As a result I gave him a 2 dinar tip ($3.40). You would have thought he hit the lottery.

The Key To Saving Money - Don't Foolishly Overpay / Carry Small Bills And Coins / Stay Out Of The Hotels And Tourist Areas
While stuff can be very cheap, the problem is making sure you don't overpay for it, as it's tough to know the price of anything if you don't read Arabic. While my waiter was totally honest, I've since been in a lot of cabs and maybe a third of the time, they will try to let you pay more than 1 or 2 dinars. Last night, when I asked a guy, "How much?" He didn't really speak English but basically motioned at me and it was clear the answer, "Whatever you want to pay," as he knew I'd given him at least a few dinars. Twice the cabbies had claimed to not have the right change. Very convenient.

Additionally, I had dinner in a hotel and it cost 14 dinars which is almost $20. Burger King cost 5 which is $7. Those types of places aren't cheap.

Speaking of dinner at a hotel, last night, I went over to the American team's hotel and had dinner there. After dinner, I went upstairs and hung out in the lounge and interviewed Julie Culley, Ed Moran and Bobby Curtis. Click here to read all about it.

The People Are Very Friendly Here And Social/Friendly
So this morning I go over to the big national sports complex where there are two tracks and a mini-forest right in the middle of town. The forest is very small but they have a  lot of loop-backs to make a 2k loop. The national sports complex is gigantic. They have all of the national federations - taekwondo, football, even chess - and stadiums there (two football stadiums). Click here to see photos of the trip there.


Americans???

The Americans were supposed to be practicing at 9:30 and I got there a little late (or so I thought). The cab driver dropped me off at the front gate. Calls were made and no one knew where in the gigantic place the Americans were (Well, they weren't there as I was there an hour early). So this random stranger who works there goes and gets his personal car, we hop in and he drives around for at least 30 minutes trying to find them with me. After a while, he says "We'll go get coffee and wait for them." We go into the taekwondo federation and a very attractive woman is in charge.

She speaks perfect English and the three of us have a coffee together. We talked about life, politics (Bush isn't their favorite but neither are any of the other countries apparently - they love Jordan), etc. It was really neat and I was struck how in America, no one would have a cup of coffee with a stranger. As we talked, the guy did proofread the women's report that she had typed up for the upcoming Asian Taekwondo championships. It was kind of funny as she said the one she did in English was perfect and that was the language she preferred to work in. He kept correcting the Arabic one which was kind of funny in my book.

Quote Of The Day - "In America, everyone is alone."
The guy who was helping me apparently was a big deal at the complex. The interesting thing was both his brother and sister live in America and the woman's sister just married a Marine and  just moved to Washington, DC. I asked her if  her sister liked America and she said yes but added, "In America, everyone is alone."

Bingo. In America, there is very little interaction with people on the street. Here, that is totally not the case. As we drove around the complex looking for the Americans, the guy would stop and greet everyone he saw - roll down the window and shake their hands. As we walked into the office, I was struck how as he walked in about 15 feet, he realized there were a bunch of people in a conference room to the right and behind us near the entrance. There were maybe eight people in there and instead of just walking past them, he turned around, walked into the room and greeted everyone in there.

As we were finishing up the coffee, which we supplemented with the women's chocolate bar, the guy gave me a call and said the Americans had just arrived. Did I want to go? I was having such a good time that I almost said no, but I ultimately went to the practice area and was glad I did.

He dropped me off at the practice area and there was never any question that I'd pay for the coffee or the 45 minutes of him driving me around this complex. It was just a great gesture.

The little wooded practice area was interesting as you saw runners from all the major countries there at once. The thing that struck me was how intimidating it was to see the Kenyans. They were all wearing identical Nike track suits and they were running quite quick on their run. I talked to one of the Kenyan coaches about who was the best and he said, "Cross-country is a team sport."

To read more about the athletic side of things, see my installment #3 on the American team and German Fernandez .

  

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