AMMAN — Angelina Starkey lived a half a world away when governments began telling their citizens to stay at home. She decided to wait it out in Jordan.
For the last month, Starkey has been under a strict lockdown as the Middle Eastern country deployed social distancing guidelines created to keep people in their homes. Since late March, Jordan residents in its capital city of Amman have been restricted from leaving their homes outside of a weekday window between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Sirens go off every weekday to signal the curfew.
“I think only three times in a month have I had a face-to-face conversation with someone,” the 39-year-old said. “It’s really weird, especially here in this culture. (Jordanians) are so big on visiting each other.”
Unlike those in the United States, police officers in Jordan haven’t been shy about enforcing the curfew. Every day, new arrests are made — punishable by a year of jail time — and Starkey, who is originally from Lima, has been following the orders strictly, hoofing it on foot to local groceries and pharmacies that were allowed to stay open.
While the restrictions may seem draconian by American standards, Starkey said can see why the Jordan government did what it did. Jordanians have a smaller concept of personal space than other cultures. Crowding can be common, and families are tight knit.
For example, it’s not rare for a Jordanian family to own apartment complexes and dole out living space to adult children and adult grandchildren as they grow their families. Some such complexes have been placed in quarantine if a family member comes down with COVID-19.
As for some public spaces, stores in the capital often only have enough room for one to walk between aisles, and staying six feet apart, even in lines, can be difficult.
“It’s part of why they made it so strict,” Starkey said. “This is a way for them to say we’re serious about it.”
Starkey, who has lived in Jordan for roughly four years now as an English teacher, said she’s had instances pre-coronavirus when a fellow resident jumped in front of her when she’s standing in line because they thought she was standing too far away from the person ahead of her. Post-coronavirus, she’s had others scraping shoulders with her as she’s shopped in the aisles.
Physical and emotional closeness is just a normal part of the culture.
Meanwhile, the case load in Jordan has stayed low. The country has a smaller population than Ohio, but its case load hasn’t crested 500 total. Starkey said officials have also been testing random samples in major metropolitan areas to track community spread, and so far, most results have tracked limited spread.
Despite the low number, some cities in Jordan have been closed from traffic altogether outside of a few permitted industries. In Amman — one of Jordan’s largest hot spots for the virus — life mostly stands still. Other cities, however, are moving along at a brisker pace.
Starkey has been able to work from home while teaching English to her local students.
These days, the Jordan government has begun to relax some standards. Most retail stores are now open in her neighborhood, but she still can’t travel the country or hit up some of her favorite places.
“It’s hard to keep space in this kind of environment. It’s a lot busier now. I can tell a big difference,” Starkey said.
Starkey said she has remained calm during the lockdown, but she hopes that airports open up again soon so she has a chance to leave the few blocks she has been tied to since the coronavirus flipped the world.
“If anybody has the opportunity in future to travel abroad, they should take that opportunity,” Starkey said. “But, of course, not during a pandemic.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.