Surprises in Jordan: Ligiah Villalobos Reflects on the Unexpected
It’s been exactly one week since we’ve been back from Jordan so I’ve had a chance to reflect back on this amazing trip. As I was thinking about what I would write about for my last blog post, I started to remember, not just the big things that made this trip so special – the beautiful people of Jordan, my quick but unforgettable visit to The Citadel, the incredible response to our movies at all the screenings, or our magical day in Petra – but also all the random and unexpected little things that made the trip unique, hilarious, delicious…and so much fun! So let me tell you about those things:
1) John Stewart was on the same flight as me from JFK to Amman. How random is that?! At first I was convinced he was going to Jordan to do an interview with Bassem Youssef (considered the John Stewart of Egypt), who had recently been arrested for making fun of the President, but released a few days later due to public pressure in Egypt and around the world. Later on I found out that Stewart was actually in Jordan scouting locations for the film he will be directing this summer, Rosewater.
2) Freshly made baba ghanoush every day! The smooth and silky dip made out of roasted eggplant. Fantastic!
3) Making a new friend on the flight and before I even landed – Salah Zalatimo, a young Palestine entrepreneur from NYC who is about to launch a recipe-sharing website called SooSheff.com. Salah told me The Dead Sea at sunset was not to be missed and he was right. But more on that later.
4) Turkish coffee. I don’t drink coffee but the way it’s served in tiny little cups reminded me of Cuban coffee. And I have that memory because it surprised me how I kept trying to make connections to my Latino culture while I was there.
5) Traveling in an armored vehicle to all of our locations for safety reasons. Not my first time traveling in an armored vehicle, but I had forgotten just how heavy the doors are and how hard they are to open.
6) Pineapple and kiwi juice shots each morning. Not sure why the hotel served it in shot glasses, but it is the best fruit juice I’ve ever tasted.
7) The GPS system in the vehicle that let Washington, D.C. know where we were at all times and made me feel like I was in a James Bond movie.
8) Spicy stewed tomatoes, lemon-infused roasted potatoes, tomato and walnut salad and homemade pita bread, fresh from the oven at Rajeen, an Armenian restaurant across from the Rainbow Theatre. A meal I will never forget.
9) Seeing filmmaker, Laura Nix and Sundance reps, Meredith Lavitt and Anne Lai in The Dead Sea, at sunset, effortlessly floating because of the high concentration of salt in that sea. And then seeing them cover their entire bodies in the dark mud from the sea that left their bodies as smooth as a baby’s butt! Where else could I have possibly experienced that? Nowhere.
10) Getting free bottled water at the hotel – first time ever, yet finding out that water is so scarce in Jordan that Jordanians only get water pumped into their homes once a week.
11) Traveling with an injured hip. Ay dios mio! But that injury allowed me to experience the ancient version of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, by having to ride A Horse, A Camel & A Carriage to make it down to Petra and back. They weren’t the most comfortable rides of my life – the trek was terribly bumpy and dusty, but boy, did I laugh! Trying to hold on to my purse, while I took photos on my IPhone, digital camera and Flip Cam on that horse, was hilarious. Trying to get my injured leg over that wide camel’s back was ridiculous! And holding on for dear life on that carriage with Jill Miller, while we bounced up and down all the way back to the entrance, was hysterical. So definitely not the most comfortable rides…but memorable for sure! And the horse’s owner did serenade me in Arabic the whole way down, which was lovely and sweet.
12) The chocolates from Ghraoui Chocolatier.
13) Seeing two of the actors in my writers group and Larry Wilmore, who serves on the Writers Guild Foundation Board with me, on Jordanian television! John Huertas in episodes of Castle, William Mapother in the Sundance movie, Another Earth, and Larry as the “Black Correspondent” on The Daily Show, – all airing on TV that week with Arabic subtitles. Also getting an email from my brother Efrain, who was traveling in Colombia that week, and another one from my friend Juan Carlos Alarcon, who lives in Brazil, BOTH letting me know that my film La Misma Luna was airing on TV in those countries. It reinforced for me the power of the medium we work in and how the images we put out there as filmmakers do matter because they travel ALL OVER THE WORLD.
14) Dates stuffed with peanuts. (Thank you, Laura!) And yes, if you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a Foodie.
15) Finding out from my sister Lluvia, that my beautiful young niece, Joelle, had been following my whole trip through the photos I posted on Facebook and the blogs I wrote for Film Forward. I don’t think she’s even interested in filmmaking, for her, it was about experiencing a new culture through my eyes.
And that’s really one of the amazing things about this experience – how a cultural exchange through Film Forward has a domino effect. It not only touches those of us who experience it first hand, but also those who will hear about it from us, and the hundreds of students, teachers, volunteers, refugees, audience members, drivers, interpreters and translators, and Embassy personnel.
Hopefully along the way, hearts and minds will be changed about the prejudices and misconceptions we hold about one another. And that shift will allow for a new kind of dialogue to be born.