Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Back from Petra - Part I

I don't know how many posts this trip to Jordan will turn out - but I guess the best place to start is from the beginning.

There were 11 of us in a minivan (which started out in Maghar up in the Galilee) going to the Jordanian border at Aqaba - 4 Moslems, 2 Christians, 1 Druze, 4 Jews. Of course, before the trip, everyone I know had been telling me "watch out" "be careful" because going into an Arab country is always scary for Jews who are, well, frightened of Arabs. I smile at these poor souls and say "thank you" for their warnings. But for me, the Jewish wanderer, it's just another exciting and wonderful adventure into the unknown.

Four hours after leaving Jerusalem we ended up by the Israeli/Jordanian border. Passing over to Jordan from the Israeli side was uneventful. But when we got to the Jordanian side, they held our group for nearly three hours because one of the East Jerusalem women held Jordanian citizenship and Jordanians are not allowed through the Aqaba border (only the Allenby border near Jericho). It took alot of cajoling and persuading the border people that we needed to be at this conference tonight. We weren't about to leave this poor woman behind as the rest of us were allowed entry.

I would have not have minded the long wait so much if this border had an exciting duty-free shop or a restaurant for God's sake. One of the Moslem men told me that at the other border crossing at Beit Shean, there is a really big duty-free shop like the kind you find in Baghdad. Sorry, wouldn't know 'bout that. Not yet, anyways. We wandered over to a place where a sign said "cafeteria" but when we walked in they seemed to stock only 4 different kinds of chocolate bars and some soft drinks.

"Any food here?" we asked.

The guy behind the counter smiled weakly and said "Food?" as if he hadn't seen food since Turkish rule ended decades ago.

But the bathrooms were nostalgic for me because they were the no-toilet type - the "you squat and wash the poop down with water from a bucket" type that we all know and love from India.

I went to the bank to change money. There, lying on the couch, was the cashier/teller.

"Ahlan Wahsahlan" I smiled at him for guiltily disturbing his siesta. I gave him a whole bunch of shekels which he gave back to me in 58 Jordanian Dinars.

"You could have gotten a much better rate in East Jerusalem" said my friend. I'll know for next time.

After I had done all my errands (after all, there was nothing much else to do there except perhaps buy more chocolate bars), I joined our group who had since settled in the border manager's air-conditioned office, seated comfortably in ornate couches and plush seats - old and worn - they once saw a better day - but still ornate in the Arabic fashion. We joked around with him, teaching him a bit of Hebrew. He was very kind and pleasant and patient. This was probably the busiest day he had in months. Perhaps he was happy he had been kept busy because in the middle of his room, in front of his desk, was a 21" t.v.. I especially enjoyed watching the Jordanian Action movie channel he had on. Plus, I added another word in Arabic to my stash of Arabic words that I know which was - Jowiz safar (passport).

Finally, after 2 1/2 hours of calls to the ministry of the interior and other assorted officials, Ms. East Jerusalem was let through and we were only too happy to be on our way to Petra in an old van - with as many flies as passengers.

It took two hours to get to Petra and we watched and photographed the sunset from the van windows. The desert changed to a more green mountainous terrain and when the sun set we got to the Petra Panorama hotel. All of us went to check in and when the reception people took a look at me and then their eyes went over their list of people they had to place in pairs in our respective rooms - they kind of mumbled between themselves and checked in others before me. What was going on??? Seems the event organizers didn't recognize my Hebrew name and had me rooming with a guy.

"Is he young and cute?" I asked. In the end, they put me together with a Palestinian woman, which thrilled me somewhat because I felt it would be more meaningful to room with a Palestinian woman rather than with someone us Israelis have no conflicts with.

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