There’s a saying, “Life starts where your comfort zone ends.” For me, life started on January 12, 2014. It’s a day I will never forget.
I didn’t sleep too well my last night in Aqaba – ironic as I had a king size bed and four fluffy pillows. I was spending my last night with my fully equipped bathroom with sort of hot water, depending on the time of day. I had a balcony overlooking the Red Sea. There was a pool on the roof.
Wadi Rum village is one hour’s drive west of Aqaba. In the desert. The desert gets very cold at night. There are no rooftop pools in the desert.
I wasn’t beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into – I was a good week or two into the process. I started to doubt my decision even before leaving Canada. When I told people, “I’m going to live with the Bedouin in the Jordanian desert for a few weeks,” the looks and comments I received were not unexpected, but made me further question my sanity.
I had a vague idea of what life would be like in Wadi Rum. I knew I would be leaving my western comforts, but that was part of the intrigue and excitement and what made it an authentic experience. And the comforts were only a small part of my anxiety. It was new country, new culture, new people, new temporary ‘job’ – albeit unpaid. But this is why I do these things – it’s a personal challenge. I knew I would have these feelings of doubt and fear. For now, I would pack them up and put them in my suitcase, easily accessible if I needed them.
I needed a taxi to take me to Wadi Rum Visitors’ Centre where my host, Ahmed, would meet me. My cousin, Philip, says I should write a book about my travels. I could write a book about my taxi driver experiences over the years. I’ve never had a bad one. Someone else could be placed into my body and past experiences and say they’ve never had a good one. It’s all about how you look at things.
One thing I don’t mind paying top dollar for is the convenience to get where I want to go locally. I’ve taken a mini bus in rural Turkey with elderly women clad in babushkas. I’ve ridden overnight trains in India. I’ve experienced public transportation in a dozen countries, sometimes surrounded by caged chickens and rice bags in the aisle. All of these were great experiences, but sometimes you just need to pay for a taxi.
I always do my research before arriving at a destination and know what a reasonable rate is for a taxi ride. Of course, there is the local rate and the tourist rate. I generally pay the tourist rate. These guys are just trying to make a living. An extra $5 to me could be as much as a half day’s pay to them.
I liked my airport to downtown Aqaba taxi driver. He liked me. I spoke a little Arabic and, based on my research, paid top dollar – plus a generous tip. My driver’s name was Alla’a. He gave me his business card when he dropped me off at the hotel and we agreed he would pick me up at the hotel on noon Sunday, January 12th and I would pay an exorbitant price.
There’s Terry time and there’s Middle Eastern time. I’ve accepted this, but when you are picking up an ATM machine, you could at least show up on time. Granted, I only give Alla’a fifteen minutes, which is about thirty minutes early in the Middle East. I ask Abdul Aziz, the hotel doorman and all around good guy, to call Alla’a.
Two minutes later Alla’a shows up with a smile and all is forgiven.
Between my limited Arabic and his slightly better English, after an hour in Alla’a’s taxi I feel like I have been interrogated by the KGB. I learned many years ago there’s no question too personal when in the Middle East.
During our drive from Aqaba to Wadi Rum, Alla’a and I discuss my purpose in Wadi Rum and that Ahmed will meet me at the Visitors’ Centre and take me to the village.
“Which Ahmed?” he asks to sift through the many Ahmeds running tour businesses in the village.
“Ahmed Olgah Zalabeyh, Rum Stars & Bedouin Adventures,” I clarify.
“Ah, I know him. Good guy. You have his number?” Alla’a asks and I show him the number in my notebook to avoid any confusion in the translation of the numbers. He dials several times with no luck, holding the phone to my ear with the Zain Mobile Lady’s recorded voice saying something in Arabic.
“Not good number,” Alla’a tells me.
He asks for my notebook with Ahmed’s phone number. With his mobile in one hand, my notebook in the other, his knee driving the car, and me reading the numbers in Arabic, he finds the problem. In the Middle East (and Europe, I’ve noticed) they make their 1s like 7s, so he misread one of the numbers.
At this point Alla’a’s knee is steering us off the road and I grab the steering wheel.
“La, la. No problem,” he says, slowing down and pulling off to the side of the road while calling Ahmed.
Ahmed contacted, we continue to the Visitors’ Centre gate and I anxiously wait for him to take me to my Bedouin home and office. I hope there’s an attached conservatory for my butterflies.
What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country … we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits … this is why we should not say that we travel for pleasure. There is no pleasure in traveling, and I look upon it more as an occasion for spiritual testing … Pleasure takes us away from ourselves in the same way as distraction, in Pascal’s use of the word, takes us away from God. Travel, which is like a greater and a graver science, brings us back to ourselves. – Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1935 – 1951