All over Europe I’d seen signboards like this at train stations. This one at Frankfurt’s airport features Philadelphia, Dubai, New York, and Mexico City along with the regional European destinations.
I kept my last 5€ and instead counted my trip to the airport on Frankfurt’s S-Bahn as the concluding travel day of my train pass. At Flughafen I checked in and munched on a few of the brownies that are not welcome to linger at the diet-conscious abode of my hosts. Before long, I was flying. They served us a nice dinner, I got potatoes and lamb – good stuff! The flight was about five hours and one time zone.
At some point after dinner, as I was admiring the orange moon on the horizon, an announcement was made, and then made again in English, “Ladies and gentlemen, you may now break your fast.” I hadn’t thought about Ramadan as I ate. Given the choice, I would just as easily have waited for iftar with everyone else.
As we approached Israel, I remarked to my German seat neighbor, another long guy who had requested an exit row, that this was to be my first time outside of Western culture. It was an exciting time.
At Queen Aliyah, I cashed an American Express Traveler’s Check for $50 US into 35 Jordanian Dinars, minus the three dinars commission. This was to pay the 10JD fee for entry visa. Once I was admitted, I had to wander through the airport, looking for the Airport Express bus, which charged 1.5D to get to Amman, which is a lot less than what a cab would have cost.
On the bus I was befriended by two young Jordanians, Fauzi and Mohammed. From the bus station in Amman, I found myself in a cab full of Jordanian men, welcoming me to Jordan, showing me a few sights. The cabbie stopped in front of a hotel that he wanted me to check out. No, I insisted on the Farah Hotel that I’d picked out of Lonely Planet. Fauzi and Mohammed accompanied me there, as Fauzi wanted to grab a meal together. This struck me as weird, but harmless, so I dropped my stuff off upstairs and joined a couple of locals for some meandering through Amman at night.
I offered that I was actually pretty well-fed from the airplane. Maybe just some coffee?
Fauzi grabbed some coffees at a corner vendor. We walked along, carefully crossing the street to find ourselves next to the Roman ampitheatre, which was closed off for the evening, but it was impressive anyway. Fauzi took us to a restaurant called Rannoush on the far end of the nearby service taxi depot, where he had a pair of burgers and fries, and the three of us had fruit smoothies, which they called cocktails. As with the coffee, my readiness to pay was declined: Jordanians welcome strangers.
A little ways past 10 PM it was getting chilly and I was ready to get back to the hotel and rest. For much of the night I listened politely to long exchanges in Arabic, taking the surrounding chaos in. The restaurant was run by Fauzi’s cousin, and another cousin showed up who spoke some pretty good English.
We made our way over to a beat-up old Honda, which came to life by manipulating some loose wires inside the dash, but only started after rolling downhill a bit, allowing the driver to pop the clutch.
I hadn’t expressed my inclination to head back yet, I just figured that we were heading back toward the hotel. In reality, we just joy-rode around awhile, as young men tend to do when they find that they have a car on their hands for a change. I could dig it. We returned to where we had started, hanging out around the service taxi depot. When I expressed that I was getting chilly, Fauzi took off his American-made jacket for me to wear.
Sporting his jacket, Fauzi and I pose for a picture.
Another joy-ride later, during which the driver’s door fell open at one point, and we climbed a few steps to a dirt path to the driver’s place, and found ourselves in a large room furnished with nice mattresses, pillows, and blankets. We hung out for awhile, and I was invited to stay the night, we could drive back to the hotel, get my stuff, and stay with my new friends. I had no trouble trusting this group, but I was not eager to give up the comfort and familiarity of hotel customs and culture for the weirdness of staying in authentic Jordanian housing with my new friends that I had trouble communicating with.
Around 2:30 we went back out to the car, and got it working by popping the clutch in reverse. I have always been curious if you could do that. Some guys pulled up in a white mini-bus and engaged my friends in a long argument in Arabic, which sounded like it might have something to do with the propriety of moving an American around in such a shoddy vehicle.
I thought it interesting that my first night in a Muslim, Arab country, I should find myself waiting in the back of a car in the middle of the night, while a prolonged discussion took place as to whether I should be taken into the back of a van. I really had no idea what was going on, and became increasingly wary.
Apparently, my friends lost the argument with the two guys from the mini-bus, which I got in to with Fauzi and Mohammed. They were dropped off at their place, at which point I was offered yet another hotel, no thanks, I already have a place. Here’s a map …
At the Farah I was asked for some cash for their trouble. This was different from Fauzi’s attitude, where he’d seemed slightly offended when I earlier chipped in a dinar for gas at the gas station. I gave the guy a dinar because, hey, it was a cab ride. How about two, for transporting my friends? No … now we are getting in to let’s-take-advantage-of-the-rich-American-tourist territory. I gave him half a dinar more, and made my way to bed.
Slept in, managed the hole in the bathroom floor without any trouble, took a shower, wandered downstairs. I thought I’d check out the Lonely Planet walking tour of Amman, and struck out towards the third traffic circle, where Lonely Planet starts.
A view of one of Amman’s Jebels, or hills. This is what Amman looks like, in my mind.
I wasn’t sure that I was heading the right way, just that it seemed the right direction and that anyway, it was uphill, so I had a view coming.
I stopped for a moment to greet a kid who was just finishing the installation of a muffler on an older Saab. I found myself conversing with the car’s owner, who had a slightly exaggerated American accent to go with the fifteen years he’d spent in the hotel business in Los Angeles. The kid released the pressure on the jack and the car’s rear plopped to the ground. Raed thought Third Circle was way out there and that I’d be walking forever, but he’d happily drive me part way there.
As he learned that the tour was self-guided and that I was extremely laid-back about timing, Raed detoured way out wherever to pick up his daughter from the Montessori school. We got there fifteen minutes early, so in true LA fashion, he drove around a little so as to avoid waiting in the hot sun.
Once we retrieved the little girl, Raed drove me to Third Circle. He demonstrated Jordanian driving at its finest through a couple of the traffic circles, where you have to barge your way in and honk a lot, like a constant game of chicken. He explained that yes, it took some getting used to for a California driver.
I dug that Raed has recently returned to Jordan to settle in to middle-age. Before this, he secured his finances in the United States, and now he can kick it with the family in a cheaper country and build himself a fine house to raise his daughter in. I figure that he sees Jordan as I see Chicago: a nice place to retire to once you’ve had your fill of Cali.
The walking tour was uninspiring. To be fair, it is Ramadan and I tend to enjoy myself wandering around aimlessly, without a vague narrative and a trail on a sketchy map to adhere to. At some point I stopped in a supermarket and got a litre of pineapple juice and a can of fruit cola, just for the heck of it. I stole away in to a quiet corner and chugged the cola, away from the eyes of the thirsty, fasting masses.
Along the way I passed, among others, the Iraqi Embassy. It had a barricade around it, so I walked in the street alongside it, a safe ten feet away from enemy territory. Word.
There were some good views of Amman along the way. This means rectangular white houses with dark windows piled up and down the hills, under a blue sky, and a warm sun. At one point in the late afternoon I found myself standing on a jebel overlooking a street market below. The sound of the market mixed with the horns perpetually honking in the perpetually grid-locked traffic, and I felt like I was way up in the balcony, watching an orchestra tune itself. Though, after awhile, I snapped out of it, as I realized that the orchestra wasn’t going to perform anything for me.
According to the walking tour, I was supposed to work my way down to the Roman ampitheatre, which I’d sort of seen the previous night. I was instead sucked into a downtown market, where I was surrounded by crowds of folk hurrying along, buying and selling fruits, veggies, bread, meat and other comestibles. It was more intense than the other markets I’ve visited in Europe. The best part, for me, is the hawkers repeating their pitch over and over and over again, that they give it a musical quality and sing their deals out to passers-by. They’re like birds singing their songs of courtship, standing beside their colorful displays to attract customers.
I wandered farther along into a flea market, gazing at furniture, telephones, probably-pirated CDs and VCDs and whatnot. I saw a Commodore 1541 disk drive in the same pile of random stuff as a dirty Commodore 64. Nostalgia!
There are a lot of guys in the streets who have a handful each of mobile phones for sale. One guy who spoke good English, bade me over to sit by a friend of his, who was doing just this. He explained that basically these guys were selling these phones really cheap, that they’d gotten off of other folks who had fallen on hard times or had otherwise found themselves without need for a particular cell phone. Other vendors, like the furniture guys, were selling stolen goods. Sure.
He wanted to offer me a cup of tea, but alas, it being Ramadan and all, this was not possible. If I made my way back in an hour …
“Im shah Allah,” I said. If Allah wills it. Like the American, “Well, I’ll sure think about that, and let you know.”
I wasn’t sure where I was, and I wasn’t eager to backtrack, so I walked up a jebel to get a look around. Great view, but I was still lost. I ended up asking directions from a series of curious locals, asking where “Romani” was, referring to the Roman ruins, as “downtown” where my hotel was, didn’t register. Near the end of this detour the sun set and when I poked my head around a doorway to get a better look at yet another friendly welcome, I saw a bunch of guys had a meal set up, to which I was invited.
Now, I’d already had some tap water today. One lady warned me that I’d suffer horrible, horrible diarrhea. Raed said that he’d had some diarrhea when he first moved here, no biggy, though bottled water was cheap enough. Now I was drinking lemon juice from shared glasses and eating, among other things, vegetables, and everything else that I’m supposed to avoid, for my health. But how am I supposed to figure out and decline what’s going to make me ill, in the face of Arabic-speaking hospitality? Never one to refuse a free meal, and possessing, as I do, an iron stomach, I dug in.
We were in a dark little courtyard surrounded by stacks of older televisions. As far as I could tell, they were a crew of work-mates, sharing their iftar mansaf. One guy spoke some French, and we were able to exchange a few words. The meal, mostly chicken on yellow rice with flat bread, was filling. When the lemonade ran out, I recalled my pineapple juice, producing it to a round of applause. As the meal broke up and men began to scatter off, I once again bade them thanks, and continued on my way back towards the hotel.
Culture shock? Maybe a little when everyone wishes to welcome you to a bright, sunny country where you can’t decipher the alphabet.
Near the very end of my expedition, I was able to pin-point my location on one of the Lonely Planet maps, when an Iraqi refugee appeared before me. He was an English teacher hoping to get refugee status in the States, and he just wanted to assure me that the Iraqi people hated Saddam Hussein and looked forward to the likely war that would bring about his demise. What did I think?
Sure, I said, George Bush wants what he calls “Regime Change” and if Saddam pisses off the inspectors, as he has always done in the past, then war is the likely result. But Bush won’t go to war without the proper pretense of inspections.
It is one thing for my president to want war. It is another thing for me, my countrymen, our Congress, and our allies to support him. It seems incredible to me that any person should desire so strongly for America’s bombs to fall on his country to get rid of his tyrannical leader. What do I think? I suggested that what I wanted all the more, what I would pray for as he prayed for war, was that the Iraqi people would organize themselves so that they need not rely on my own inconsistent nation to act in their favour. The Iraqis need to be able to fix their own problems, and that one Iraqi with one bullet in the right place at the right time could spare the world of Saddam Hussein with far less pain and suffering than another war with America.
At the Roman Ampitheatre with Fauzi, and another friend whose name escapes me.
I had considered spending the next day and a half at Petra, returning Sunday to catch the red-eye flight I was scheduled to ride to Bangkok. The morning found me reluctant to leave my bed. I think that I’m too used to solitude, and where I can have all that I’d ever care for as I walk down the street in Europe or America, such is not to be had in Jordan, where I am obviously from somewhere else, and most people are eager to exchange good wishes, be it a smile, a nod, a wave, “hello”, “Welcome to Jordan” and others. Particularly those who speak some English, are all the more eager to hear from an American. In the quiet comfort of my bed, I get my mind to myself, and my dreams, and there’s no need to figure out how to get a service taxi or a minibus by asking overly-friendly folks for directions … and the ol’ immune system gets extra time to insure the body against whatever challenges the diet has introduced it to.
Until the phone rings. Fauzi is here. Well, okay, I secretly wanted to get out of bed and see the country that I’m visiting. I did the old toothbrush thing and met Fauzi and Mohammed and another guy in the lobby. We walked over to the Roman ampitheatre, which I’d neglected to visit the day before. This time we got to climb around and take pictures.
Those Romans sure built a lot of columns. It is believed that these held up storefronts facing onto the market area, at right.
We took a cab somewhere where Fauzi had hoped to meet a friend, who wasn’t there. Another cab to the bus, and off to Jerash. We wandered around these ancient ruins for a while, Fauzi and I, then we rode another bus over towards Ajlun Castle, only we ended up in a barbershop, more Fauzi friends, where he made some calls, and then hitched a ride in a pickup truck to his Uncle’s house, nearby. The sun was coming down, which steals time from visiting castles on account of iftar.
Like Fauzi’s father, Fauzi’s uncle also spends time working in Chicago – airport taxi, or in the summer, ice-cream truck. Back in Ajlun he keeps his family in a nice house, where he can treat the occasional guest to a lavish iftar feast. Fauzi and I, in the parlor, were treated to mansaf – chicken on rice, with bread, veggies, and yogurt, with water, tea, coffee, a plate of fruits, and some sweets that are served only during Ramadan, that taste like the folded-over pancakes that they resemble. I had remembered to pack some Frankfurt brownies this morning, and these I shared with Fauzi and the kids, who romped around the guest room with us for the evening.
A few times, one of the young boys tried to drag me into the family area, I think, to see the computer, but I resisted, because I knew enough about the culture that male guests stick to the parlor, so as not to intrude on the domestic modesty of the family itself. I recounted this much to my gracious host, and he agreed with my assessment of the situation. It pleased me to have been a proper guest, in this regard, in order to complement my host’s excellent hospitality.
Our host, at right, expounds at great length, with considerable gesticulation, on some subject in Arabic. Interesting enough to watch …
After this, we went to another friend’s place nearby, where Ronal, a guy who spoke English with ease, made an appearance. I was put considerably at ease with the ability to really communicate with somebody for a change. We went over to yet another house in the same town where the guy had been playing with his TV but dropped that in favor of being a stunning host, plying us with fruit drinks, teas, and a nargila, from which we smoked a smooth, flavored tobacco. All in all it was an extremely pleasant evening.
To get back to Amman, someone called someone’s uncle to borrow a pickup truck. The fee for this was negotiated to JD12, which struck me as a fair amount of money, though it was cheaper than a cab. It is possible that I could have spent the night in someone’s parlor, and caught a cheap minibus back the next day, but I suppose that given my refusal two nights before, they figured it polite not to press me with such offers. Ronal drove us to Amman at top speed over Jordan’s steep rolling hills, four guys in the back seat of the crew cab, and me in the front next to Ronal, without seatbelt, holding on to the “Oh Shit!” handle and reassuring myself of the statistical unlikelihood of us dying a horrible death, however insane Ronal’s driving.
At some point in the trip I peeked over at Ronal’s instrument panel. Ronal asked if I was checking his speed, and I explained that I was actually checking the gas tank, and I explained that the American custom is to fill someone’s tank when you borrow their car. Ronal explained that this was unnecessary, given the 12JD. I’d have only wanted to do this myself had I more money than sense. The point for me was that a lot of what I had been experiencing was unfamiliar to me, and reaching out to establish the occasional cross-cultural equivalency reassured me.
Working men enjoy their iftar meal at a restaurant near my hotel.
Today I decided to deliberately relax. I slept in, yet again, and then wandered down to the Roman ampitheatre, and found a quiet little café overlooking the ruins, where I was charged 2JD for a chicken wrap and lemonade, while the sun was still in the sky. I shared a few bits of chicken with some fellow non-Muslim stray cats, who hung around the place begging tourists for food. The quiet, mid-day relaxation was what I find “normal” for California, and this helped me to relax and catch up some on the journal.
As the short afternoon rolled along, I found one of the last remaining sunny spots on some steps near the forum. I exchanged a few smiles with another guy who set his letter aside and politely asked me for a conversation.
He was a Christian from Iraq, with a degree in Computer Engineering, waiting in Jordan to see if he would be awarded an EU visa, where he might have a chance at a more rewarding career than in Iraq. Of course, he’d rather try his luck in America, but as many had already lamented to me, the land of opportunity is pretty hard to get to these days.
He has my sympathy. I explained what I knew, that UK had the most restrictive immigration, and that he would be at a disadvantage in somewhere like Germany, where the economy is actually pretty slow right now, and they prefer people who speak German.
I tried to reassure him that I ran into several foreigners working in Germany, most notably at the hostel, and that he may be able to get by working somehow, perhaps near tourists, until he could land the tech job he wanted.
He was far from home, but I figured it beat staying in Iraq. We talked some politics. He said that when he saw the towers go down on 9/11 that it saddened him in such a way that he wished a disaster would have fallen on his own house instead. I tried to wrap my head around this and figure out if I felt the same way. I apologetically offered that the same could soon happen to his home anyway. Sanely, he did not seem eager for this to happen. He did offer that, for whatever excesses or stupidities one might criticize America for, if the same military power were in the hands of a Muslim country, the result would be one thousand times worse, and that religious fanatics would not hesitate to use unconventional weapons on infidels.
I combined this opinion with the reminders of World War II that I had just experienced in Berlin, and I too suddenly felt grateful that America’s military power belonged to a nation with such relatively benign motivations. On this trip, when I’ve found myself trying to account for the perceived evils of American foreign policy, I’ve come to figure and explain that in America, we have most everything we need, and we are bordered by two large oceans and two very friendly, peaceful, neighbors, and we are happy enough in our own country, that we really don’t care too much about the rest of the world, and we’re not too interested in running the bloody show, so when we find ourselves with this responsibility, we do an understandably half-assed job.
My companion then offered me the opinion that the Arab world is being held back by Islam. My own opinion is that we have Christian fanatics in America, but they’re fairly marginalized. A few centuries ago, when Europe was occasionally run by fanatics, a lot of evil and stupidity went on in the name of Christianity. Europe’s example suggests to me that religious autocracy is something the Arab world will also outgrow. He responded was that Islam was structured so as to facilitate fundamentalism; Unlike Christianity, whose Bible is a third-hand account of Christ’s word, translated a few times over, Mohammed wrote the Koran himself, in Arabic, giving the words greater unambiguous authority. Muslims who wish to emulate the prophet, who had several wives and waged war against non-Muslims, have greater “moral authority” to perpetrate their evil than do their Christian peers. I had to admit that I was pretty ignorant of the Koran, and thanked him for providing me with a new idea to study.
This was the only day I did not join anyone for iftar. I managed my way back to the hotel, and had a piece of flat bread that one of the TV guys had pressed on me the day before, washed down with a 300 fils Sprite.
I met up with Fauzi again, who had to go over to the courthouse, so I went with him, since I didn’t really feel like planning my own itinerary, and besides, how many tourists visit a courthouse? As we entered the courthouse, Fauzi asked me to give him 20JD. This is a pretty hefty sum, and its not like the courthouse was charging for admission. Fauzi was a little anxious and he didn’t have the English to explain why he needed 20JD, but it was Fauzi, and he had earlier said something about helping out a friend, so I handed him the cash.
Civil servants hustle to clock out on a Sunday afternoon, and get home by sunset, to enjoy iftar with their families.
I followed him around, at first, as he ineffectually wandered around the bureaucracy with some paperwork. Before long, he dropped me off with a cousin who worked at the courthouse, where I sat and watched a handful of guys processing records. One chubby guy had a little bit of English that he was happy to exhaust on me. The guys all seemed pretty good-natured, and I figured that in another time or place, their counterparts would be working the IT help desk in some similarly complex organization. I spent some time reading, getting up to stretch my legs once in a while. Around 12:30, I figured that in a normal universe, I’d be out to lunch with the guys, but this is Ramadan. The courthouse was bustling with activity, so I refrained from sipping on my water, as I had no idea where I’d be able to do so out of sight of anyone on fast. Thinking on it more, it occurred to me that I was sitting in a bustling courthouse on a Sunday.
It must have been a good two hours or more, before Fauzi returned around 2 or 2:30, as the day’s work was winding down. I got the impression that he’d not met with much success, but the best he could explain to me was that he’d had to “do work”.
We ended up on a packed commuter bus back, and my presence on the bus through the slow chaos of Amman’s rush-hour traffic seemed an amusing novelty to the other passengers, some of whom offered me their seats, which I thankfully declined. We hung out at Rannoush, the restaurant he’d taken me to on our first night together, which his cousin runs. Fauzi wanted to head out of town to another cousin’s place for iftar, and from there to the airport at 7, when he had to go to work. I spent some effort trying to explain that if we could drop my bag off at Royal Jordanian’s office at Seventh Circle, I’d really appreciate it, because then I wouldn’t have to drag my bag to his cousin’s house and then to the airport, and on top of it all, I could check-in and reserve a nice seat on the airplane. But did this work out, logistically, with also getting to his Uncle’s house?
That Fauzi kept interpreting my “7th circle” to mean “7 pm” underscores the difficulty involved in trying to express this complicated query. With the help of some diagrams, and Rannoush’s proprietor, who spoke a bit more English, Fauzi agreed that seventh circle sounded like an awfully good idea. So, we would head over to the hotel, and grab my bag.
Except then Fauzi wanted to call his Uncle to explain that we wouldn’t be able to make it. So … I tried again … Fauzi … we can get my bag and then go to your Uncle’s and skip the seventh circle if it is out of the way … ?
At the hotel, Fauzi explained that he had to run over to his place, can I hustle back and meet him at Rannoush? Okay, but first let’s go to the hotel’s reception desk together, and they can probably interpret for me what you needed the twenty dinars for … oh no, that’s just for today, I’ll give it back at my Uncle’s house. … well, okay then, I’ll see you at Rannoush.
Rannoush’s cook slices meat, to prepare for the evening rush.
I hung out with Fauzi’s cousin, who was preparing the place for the iftar rush. His cook sliced the kebab, preparing schwarma to go. Rannoush is between a bus depot and a service-taxi depot, so they do a brisk business with the working men who break fast on the go. He offered me some food, and was pleased when I declined, explaining that it was no great burden for me to wait a bit longer like everyone else for the sun to set. I was a little anxious about my shortage of dinars after Fauzi’s loan this morning, and as we waited for Fauzi to return, his cousin confirmed my impression of Fauzi that while he has a “white heart” he is sometimes not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I prefer to attribute difficulties to ignorance before malice, the ignorance in our case compounded by language and cultural differences.
Fauzi returned pretty late, at which point we did not take off for his Uncle’s place. I guess it was too late for that, which was fine with me because I’d worked up an appetite for schwarma and fries, washed down with a fruit cocktail smoothy, compliments of Rannoush.
It was getting near 6. Time to catch a bus to the other bus depot, where the Airport Express leaves from. Of course, I could have hung around Amman a few more hours, and caught a free Royal Jordanian shuttle from seventh circle as late as 10PM, since my flight wasn’t scheduled until one or two in the morning, but I didn’t mind dropping JD 1.50 on the Airport Express to ride with Fauzi.
Fauzi then asked me for another 5JD. He’d asked for 5JD to get on the bus for Jerash which shouldn’t have cost more than 2JD, even if I was covering Fauzi as well, or a round trip which we didn’t take. The cross-town bus fare wouldn’t have been more than half a dinar apiece, so I explained to Fauzi that this was my last 5JD, you see, after which I’ve only a 2JD to pay for the Airport Express. See?
But 5JD was too much, so Fauzi bought a pair of candy bars to get bus change. One for each of us …
I saw this at the bus depot and thought that if I worked for National Geographic, this is the classic sort of picture I would take, so I took it. I don’t know what this stuff is or what I’d do with it, but I love the picture.
Now … which bus? This question shouldn’t have been so hard, but if Fauzi was pressed to get to work on time, maybe he wanted to get clever with the routing. We caught a bus that dropped us off out at some traffic circle that was not the depot for the Airport Express, where we walked over to a bus stop on the road to the airport, watching various other airport buses go by, but not ours.
Eventually, a service taxi stopped and Fauzi said we could take it. “How much,” I asked Fauzi, since I only had the 2JD on me.
“Three JDs,” he replied.
Now, this is awfully cheap for a ride to the airport, where service taxis don’t go, though I’m still not quite sure why service taxis are cheaper than regular taxis, so 3JD was not entirely implausible. “But Fauzi, I only have two JD.” Fauzi stumbled a moment, and then said okay, which I took to mean that he’d cover the rest, which only seemed fair anyway considering that he was ahead at least that much after the five at the bus station.
The ride to the airport was pretty pleasant, speeding smoothly down the highway. Along the way I passed my 2JD over to Fauzi, so that whether the fare was 3JD total, or 3JD a head, he could take care of things when we got out. On our way into the airport the driver stopped to solicit a 10JD ride into Amman to a trio of Chinese businessmen, who politely declined. Soon after he dropped us off at the terminal, and asked for his 5JD. Fauzi handed him my two, and the cabbie got upset with him, alleging that Fauzi had mis-quoted to me, or at best mis-heard the agreed-upon fare, which was 5JD, which was really good considering that he normally charged 10JD. Fauzi, the cabbie declared, was no good, and at this point in the game, I was inclined to agree.
What I should have done at this point, was to sweetly ask, in the presence of this somewhat bi-lingual cabbie, “Fauzi, what of the 5JD I gave you at the bus station?” After all, even if we weren’t splitting the 5JD fare, Fauzi would reasonably expect to have 1.5JD budgeted for the Airport Express, and he was at this point taking no initiative to fix what seemed an awfully big problem.
Even though at this point I was really dubious of Fauzi’s intentions, there must be some Asian ghost in me who wanted to see my frustratingly hapless “friend” not lose face, and restore harmony between us and the cab driver. I offered the cabbie the 5€ that I’d saved by using my train pass to get to Frankfurt airport. At about .7€ to the JD, 5€, 2JD should work out. The cabbie agreed to take this payment.
At this point in the game, I was pretty upset with Fauzi. Jordan has a reputation for simple hospitality rather than sophisticated cons, which is what I’m supposed be wary of in Thailand. “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity,” I quietly reminded myself yet again. The best understanding I have of the situation is that perhaps Fauzi had some other trouble going on, and we didn’t make it to his Uncle’s house, which left him to abuse our friendship. Poop happens.
Queen Aliyah International is peculiar, in that you can’t pass through security to check in and get a good seat until two hours before your flight, so I had the chance to kick it in the waiting area with a disgruntled Slovenian who was also annoyed with the 5JD exit tax you pay on top of the 10JD for a Jordanian Visa, on top of the airport being silly, and Royal Jordanian rescheduling its flights every day, as both of our tickets had different times printed on them, for the same flight, during the 1AM hour, and we were now scheduled for an “on-time” departure at 2:40, though I’d been told 2:30 when I reconfirmed my ticket the day before.
5JD to exit, huh? I didn’t even have 5€, just the two dinar coins I’d saved as souvenirs. Fauzi came by as I tried to nap on the concrete floor, and explained that he’d have come around earlier, except it was busy and he’d been in trouble for showing up late. I asked him about the 20JD he had earlier claimed to owe me, explaining that I’d need 5JD to leave the airport. He looked uncomfortable, and then his boss called him away.
Later on, another of Fauzi’s friends dropped by, curious if I remembered him. Yes, I did. Fauzi’s pretty weird, huh? Yes, he is, and I told him about the 20JD, and the spot I was in. He seemed genuinely concerned, and said that he’d talk to Fauzi if he could.
11PM rolled around and I was let through the metal detector. The “airport tax” guy said he could only take cash, so I had to go back to the unsecured area to cash a traveler’s check around the corner. Along the way I hustled past Fauzi, who was standing idly around the corner from where I’d been waiting the past few hours. “Why are you going this way?” He seemed concerned that I was misguided or perhaps, in trouble.
“To cash a check to get the 5JD so I can get out of here,” I snapped, accusingly.
I exchanged one of my 50USD American Express Traveler’s Checks for 5JD, and the remaining $38, which immediately reassured me: here I was, in the middle of the Middle East, struggling against bad mojo, and now, after two months on the road, I had two new tens, an old ten, and three single, comfortable, familiar US dollars. I shifted from moderately pissed off to feeling pretty darned good, which the guy who subsequently stamped my Visa picked up on, himself cheering up at the prospect of a happy foreign visitor. He smiled and noted with pride that he was a Bedouin.
There was still more waiting at the terminals, which smelled of curry, because at our gate there were two flights boarding for India. The smell was different, and welcomed by my nose: my own pants smelled like dust, with just the slightest hint of dirty sewers. This was not offensive to me except that it was an alien sensation that made me feel uncomfortable, like I was wearing Amman on my legs. The idea that an entire developing nation might instead smell of curry, overpowering the essence my pants had acquired, struck my fancy. I wasn’t eager to soak up this new idea, though, because I was bound for Bangkok, and I’m inclined to hope that Thailand has a slightly more comfortably Western flavour.
I figured a cold Coca Cola would be just the thing to refresh my spirits for the remainder of the wait. There was none at the duty-free shop that everyone has to walk through to get between terminals. What a pity. I found, of all things, a Popeye’s, but they only had Pepsi, and my discerning American palette wanted Coke, dammit!
There was a coffee stand which had a menu item for “Coca Cola products .60JD”. I interrupted the guy’s phone call, holding a dollar between my hands.
“Do you accept the almighty American Dollar?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I’d like a Coke, please.”
“I don’t have any.”
Which seemed like a weird thing to expect to find at his coffee stand in the first place. So, I contented myself with the water fountain at the gate, only after spending some time waiting for the gate to open, in conversation with an Indonesian Muslim returning from his pilgrimage to Mecca, who wanted to explain that Terrorism is not Islam, just crazy, wrong, fundamentalists. I was willing to accept this, but when he told me that I might find God if I looked, I explained that I never had found God, and had come to believe that all I’d likely find if I did look was only whatever I expected to find, on some level, which wouldn’t necessarily be God, so I’d just as soon not queer things by looking for something beyond my understanding. This argument I trimmed considerably, as I wasn’t eager to engage in a deep philosophical debate on the nature of God with a Muslim just returning from Mecca, who would have to contend with my foreign philosophy in a foreign language, with the established understanding that people who adhere too strictly to the their understanding of Religion can do so to a fault. I wasn’t eager to to interfere with the hazy goodwill he seemed to be feeling from his spiritual buzz.
At this point, I was ready to wait for the hedonistic paradise of Thailand, where lovely women run around in public, and people wouldn’t ask me if I believed their economic and social progress was being held back by religious conservatism. My kind of place.