Friday, November 30, 2012

International Adventures: Getting Lost

Last weekend, I went to Amman twice, once to go to the malls and once because I was invited to dinner at Mohammed's house. On a grand total of 2 round trips from Madaba to Amman, I got lost, and badly lost, three times. I know that in an earlier post I bragged about what a good sense of direction and visual memory I have. These experiences have tempered that, somewhat.

Last Friday, I set off for the Mecca Mall in Amman after doing some preliminary research in The Rough Guide to Jordan. I had a reasonably good idea of where it was, and thought, in the inimitable words of Jeremy Clarkson, "How hard can it be?" I mapped my route out of Madaba to Amman using the King's Highway to head north. I expected that that route would lead me to the Airport road and then on to the west end of Mecca St. where the mall was located. Imagine my surprise when the road I expected to continue ended in a T intersection somewhere in the center of Amman. I tried to find my way, but ended up stopping at a rental car agency to ask for help. I assumed that the agency, like those in America, would have maps to hand out to customers. I was quite wrong in that assumption. Between the woman who spoke English, and the young man who had a sense of direction, but only spoke Arabic, they put together a hand drawn map that was somewhat useful.

Using the hand drawn map, I promptly navigated myself in a large circle, ending up right back near the rental car agency. At least my visual orientation senses were delivering some information, even if it was a bit unwelcome. I tried again, this time with a slightly different result and found a place called City Mall on the King Abdullah II road. It turns out that City Mall and Mecca Mall are within a few blocks of each other. At the City Mall one of the guys at the information kiosk gave me a large folding map of Amman which I regard as one of my treasures now. I walked around both malls, mostly to get an idea of what sorts of stores they had, so that if I found myself wanting something, I would have some idea of where I might find it. I bought a meal in the food court and then prepared myself to go home. I thought I had a good idea of where I wanted to go, but somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn and ended up back in the same neighborhood where I had first gotten lost.

It was then that I pulled out my trusty iPhone and used the Maps app to figure out where I was. It was able to show me where I was on a map of Amman and it was, indeed, not even close to where I thought I would be. I asked the iPhone to give me directions from where I was back to Madaba, but it threw up its proverbial hands and said, "I can't do it, Jim!" (best said in Star Trek Scotty's Scottish burr). BUT, using the iPhone and my new-found paper map,  I was able to navigate back to the road I had come in from Madaba on. I made it home, eventually, but was quite humbled by getting so easily and badly lost twice.

Last Saturday, Mohammed, Shorooq's brother who had helped me to get internet access at my apartment, called to invite me to dinner at his house the next day, Sunday. We made arrangements to meet at the Pizza Hut parking lot about 100-200 meters south of the 7th circle at 4:30. Amman has a series of rotaries/roundabouts that they call 'circles'. They start in the center of Amman and are arranged more or less in a line heading west with the 7th circle being pretty far out to the west.

Using The Rough Guide and my paper map, I worked out my route. This time I was going to use a different route from Madaba to Amman, what is known locally as 'the Naur Road'. I had been on this road a few different times during my cab rides to the Allenby Bridge checkpoint on my way to Jerusalem and I could see where it hooked up with roads in Amman. All went well for the beginning part of the drive, but as I approached the 7th circle, I could not find the Pizza Hut parking lot. The main reason for that is that I had suffered a navigational brain cramp and had made my way to the 8th circle!

Luckily, I had my local cell phone with Mohammed's number in it. Eventually, we figured out where I was and got hooked up at about 5:00 pm.. I followed him to his house and we had a wonderful dinner together with his extended family. He told me that he would bring me back to the 7th circle so that I could get home easily from there. That was a good thing, as he had taken me on a very roundabout route to his house (to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic) and I would never have found my way out of  Amman from there.

Good as his word, Mohammed took me back to the 7th circle and gave me verbal directions back to Madaba. The route he was suggesting was the one I had taken a disastrous wrong turn on on Friday. Yikes! I also knew that I was on a road that could eventually lead me back to the Naur Road. When I saw the sign pointing to Naur, I followed it. In the dark, roads look different than they do in the daylight, but I had been careful on my way in to check my visual landmarks. When I got to a completely unmarked intersection that I recognized, I confidently took the left turn and a couple minutes later was rewarded with a sign pointing to Madaba. I navigated all the way home without one wrong turn. Finally, my confidence was somewhat restored as I had now taken my own route home and had done it sucessfully.

One of the things that helps me with navigation is carrying a mental map of the area in my head. It helps me to know where I am, more or less, in relation to where I want to go. At this point, my mental map of Amman has way more empty spaces in it than I am comfortable with. I know that, with experience, I will begin to fill in those gaps, but these first few experiences (remembering General Patton's maxim that good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement) have been somewhat painful and humbling.

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About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.