There’s something about seaside towns. They’re more laid back and chill than other places. Aqaba, Jordan is the epitome of this – a hip little town on the Red Sea. As hip as you can get in the Middle East and the Kingdom of Jordan.
I will be living and volunteering in Wadi Rum for a few weeks with a Bedouin tour company through Help Exchange. Before my desert adventure begins, I decide to take a few days to recover from two days of overnight flights and further discover this jewel on the Red Sea. A year ago I spent a day and a half in Aqaba, but it wasn’t enough.
Situated only a few kilometers from the borders of Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Aqaba is a popular destination for both Jordanians and international tourists and is Jordan’s only seaport. Its population is about 100,000.
In the confusing cultural spectrum of the Middle East, Jordan is very liberal and Aqaba even more so. You will see international visitors – and Jordanian tourists – strolling the streets in shorts. And there are liquor stores in Jordan. Liquor stores! Only minutes from Saudi Arabia and yet so different.
But upon arrival, liquor is not on my mind. My first task is to purchase bottled water. I’ve spent too many trips curled in the fetal position on the bathroom floor to risk the tap water.
An Egyptian friend once told me that there are four prices for anything in Egypt. The price Egyptians pay. The price other Arab non-Egyptians pay. The price a tourist pays if with an Egyptian tour guide. And finally, the the price a tourist alone pays.
This tiered pricing structure holds true not just in Egypt, but many places in the Middle East and around the world. It generally doesn’t apply to many places in the Arab Gulf States like Dubai or Doha, but it certainly applies in Cairo. It is generally not an issue in Jordan, but yesterday I paid a half Dinar for a 1.5 liters of water – about $0.75 – and today I paid .35 Dinar in the same shop, but a different shopkeeper.
I have no problem with this pricing structure. I fully support it. It is in place in many countries around the world. Indian citizens pay a fraction of what relatively wealthy tourists pay to visit their historic sites.
The Mr. Terry price at the corner shop or street side stand falls somewhere in the middle of the four price tiers and depends on how much work I put into it. I use the following strategy to get a better price, but I use it just as much to fit in.
I have written about this in the past. It’s the mock talk on my cell phone. I’ve become quite addicted. It’s become a real comfort thing. I don’t like looking like a tourist. This keeps taxi drivers at bay, allows me to take in the atmosphere and enjoy the place – albeit sometimes with a cell phone stuck to my ear. But it also helps get me a better price.
Sometimes when I enter a shop or approach a street vendor, I have my phone out and hit a ringtone as if someone is calling and the conversation with my imaginary friend plays out something like this:
Imaginary Friend: “Salam allaykum” (Peace be upon you. The standard Arabic greeting)
Me: “Wa-Allaykum Salam (And peace back to you. The standard response). Kayf-Halek, Habibi?” (How are you, my beloved?) Habibi is used commonly between men in the Arab world. Think ‘dude’ or ‘friend’.
Then, I’ll just pepper the “conversation” from my menu of limited Arabic.
“Al youm” (Today)
“Kaef Ahmed?” (How’s Ahmed?)
I throw in another “La” and a few “Aiwas”
Then a “Teyb” (OK – like “OK, let’s go.”, but not “Tammam” which is “OK” as in response to “How are you?”)
“Themanya” (Eight – just because I like how it sounds)
I’ll always end the conversation with:
“What? I don’t understand, habibi? Speak enlgish….OK, well, I’ll see you tomorrow.” (I do this to reestablish that I am basically english speaking in case the shopkeeper starts talking over my head.)
All the while during the conversation, I’m browsing in the store, checking out the stock, seeing where everything is and making my selections. It takes the pressure off, but it also establishes me as not your average tourist, but more of an expat who has lived here because I have a local cell phone and talking the language.
It saves me some Dinar, Dirham or Riyals, but it also starts an interesting conversation with the shopkeeper who wants to know more about me.
Bad karma? Maybe
Did anyone get hurt? Not yet
Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled. – Mohammed
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