|the narrow mountain alley leading to the Treasury|
I used to believe that if I lived in the time of Lewis and Clark, I would be the first to volunteer for their expedition. After one night out in the wilds of the Jordanian mountains I might be reconsidering my application. “No Richard, you need a real job! Apply dammit, apply!” I can hear my Father yelling in the background.
Strategizing our departure from the Petra, we decided to wait until the gates opened at 7 AM, and then proceed out as other tourists entered to avoid being arrested for our overnight activities.
“We came, we saw, we left. Sooo lame,” I informed utterly confused tourists as we walked the trail away from the Treasury during the first few minutes of the park’s opening.
“I thought we were the first people in line,” remarked the British woman to her husband.
“Mommy, how did they get so dirty?” asked their little girl.
We arrived at the park entrance, trying to sneak out as casually as possible, but the guard got very excited upon spotting us. “You are the American!” he exclaimed.
“The American?” I responded, feeling as though I had just been picked out of a police line-up for a robbery I DID commit.
“You spent the night here last night?” The evidence was all over my clothing. I nodded. He animatedly shouts Arabic into his walkie-talkie.
“The tourist police will be here shortly, please wait here.”
The police. After us. In the Middle East. And we knowingly broke the law … This would bode a lot worse if not for the fact that the guard seemed genuinely happy to see us.
Ten minutes later the police haven’t shown up. Zuzka walks away, then doesn’t return. Yoni and I are confused. We begin to look for her, and not finding her, I hire a cab for a couple dinars in hopes of chasing her down. On the second time up and down the hill we spot her. She’s furious with us, apparently having told us “let’s go,” and neither of us following. She refuses to get in the cab. I leave Yoni to deal with her, agreeing to meet them at their hostel in an hour or so.
I walk into my hotel. (the hotel owner who I described in this post) Mahmoud’s jaw drops when he sees me. “That wasn’t nice,” he states.
I am momentarily confused, Mahmoud explains: “Last night I made dinner for you. The park closes at 6. I thought you’d be back by 6:30 at the latest. 7 o’clock arrives, and you still aren’t back. No doubt he’ll be back at 7:30. 8 PM and you still are not here. He MUST come back by 8:30, there’s nothing to do in this town for God’s sake. 8:30 comes, dinner is totally cold, I haven’t eaten because I am waiting for you. 9:00, I call tourist police and report you missing.”
“I spent the night in Petra,” I explained, “Surely someone has done that before.”
“No!” bellows Mahmoud, “Aside of the fact it is illegal, No one else is stupid enough to pay $50 for a bed so they can sleep out on a dusty cliff with scorpions.”
As if on cue, two policeman enter the hotel. They point to me and utter, “The American!”
I haven’t done anything that bad, have I? They aren’t going to cut off my feet for stealing a few extra steps in Petra after closing time? I mean, this isn’t Saudi Arabia, right??! Hell, they already tried to gas me. I stand frozen, no place to run, no place to hide.
They walk over to me, and honestly, are beyond polite. They explain that I was reported missing, and that they just wanted to make sure I was alright. Tourism is one of Jordan’s few forms of foreign currency, and they take the protection of travelers very seriously, not wanting to have their reputation as a safe destination stained. They laugh when I tell them I spent the night in Petra, shaking their heads at the crazy American Cowboy. They leave soon after.
Mahmoud shakes his head. “You make me worry about you. You big asshole. I wake up at 2 AM and call to find out if you came in. I don’t sleep.”
“I’m really sorry Mahmoud.” Really I was. How could not be for putting out someone who cared for my well being and had made me dinner. “Is it okay if I go shower?”
Mahmoud dismisses me. I go upstairs and allow the cool water to wash away the dusty sin from my heinous crime. Re-birthed, I walk downstairs.
Mahmoud’s cell phone rings. He immediately switches to English. “Why should I call you? Police call you …” Suddenly I wonder if he’s talking about me. “No, no, you big asshole,” he yells into the receiver. “Okay, okay, I call you next time. Bye-bye big asshole.” He hangs up.
I couldn’t imagine my poor, overly worried Mother reacting to the news that I was missing in the Middle East, on a trip that she begged me not to go on, telling me she had a “horrible feeling” about it. Turns out that while working with the American army in Fallojuh, Mahmoud had made friends with CIA operatives and had also called them to report that I was hadn’t turned up last night. They were mad that they weren’t the first people he called upon my return, and that it was rather via contact with the Jordanian police that they became aware of my reappearance.
For my part I can only thank God they didn’t call my Mom.