Published: February 4th 2012January 22nd 2012
Walking along the street of downtown Aqaba, my nomadic friend, Louis, and I were taking in the sites of this Red Sea port. It had been about an hour after our crossing into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and twenty-four hours following our arrival in the Middle East. The day prior was spent exploring Tel Aviv by foot. A blend between a laid back New York and a bombed out Beirut, this Israeli metropolis was truly the Manhattan of the Middle East. But after a night of cocktails on the Mediterranean beachfront, and a five-hour bus ride through the Negev Desert, we were now in a whole other world. The temperature was unbearably hot, as it tends to be in this region late August. And other than the few clusters of local men, soberly sitting on top of cardboard cutouts, the streets were completely bare. Looking to my friend I said, "this place is practically a ghost town." He lifted his head towards a festive lamp hanging from a light post, decorated with a crescent moon and star, the symbol of Islam. As I looked around, these were everywhere, adorning the streets. "Shit," I said, "it's Ramadan!" And now it all made sense. Due to prohibitions on food, water and anything else passing your lips during sunlight hours, the majority of locals were taking refuge inside. Louis and I both laughed at our ignorance. When traveling to the Arab world, you'd think we knew it was presently the holiest month in the Islamic calendar... Clearly we were ill-prepared!
For Louis this stamp was number sixty something in his passport. Not much of a big deal really, he'd seen it all before in one form or another. But for me, this was trip number two. And though still new to international play, I was quickly learning how to read between those p.c. lines in travel guides, deciphering the true meaning of each politely written word. When a city is "urban," it's actually ghetto. When a people are "prideful," they're really just ethnocentric. And when a town is "unexceptional," it's honestly falling apart! Infrastructure was at a low in Aqaba, as buildings were missing entire sides to them. Agricultural attempts were being made by young gardeners planting trees in the sand. Covering the strip we were walking down were small shops, selling half-off hijab and cartons of cigarettees; reflecting local fashion and regional pastimes. I was in culture shock, and loving it! Far from being pretty, there was a certain third world charm present here that left you feeling intoxicated. Life was hard, emotions were raw and the people were more in touch with the roots of our human ancestry. It's only after you put the austere sophistication of the West aside, that you can start to have real world experiences. Places like this are where the adventure truly begins.
Walking by the local playground, I noticed a young mother, dressed in a Burqa, with her child. As I watched her spinning on a merry-go-round, I couldn't help but feel connected to her. Sure, there were overt differences in custom and belief, but they were merely superficial. Beneath those differences, and under her Burqa, we were more alike than not. We both felt the same attachments to our loved ones, we both experienced the same hassles of daily life, and we were both seeking out the same existential meaning in life. The social structures dictating our relationships may have been different, as well as the jobs taken and ideological vehicles used. But at our core, we were the same. Finding joy in my quasi profound thoughts, I wanted to share them with my travel companion. As we walked towards the Red Sea promenade, I turned to Louis and articulated this sense of unification. "I truly feel that the only way you can ever see the face of God, is through seeing the many faces of humankind." He looked at me, with a you gotta' be kidding me
expression, and chuckled. "Yeah, you're right. Except it's the many faces of Satan, not God!" As a true citizen of the world, Louis had said on several occasions that the more places he traveled to, the more he disliked humanity as a whole. But I wasn't about to let his misanthropic worldview get me down. Looking towards the water, I subtly smiled to myself as he continued to mock me. It just didn't matter though, for I was in the midst of an Eat, Pray, Love
moment. And there wasn't anything that could ruin it for me... until something did.
A German tourist, in his late sixties, came running up to us. Dressed in nothing more than swim trunks, he was yelling in a mix of English and his native tongue. And close behin him were a group of pissed off Jordanian kids, screaming in prepubescent Arabic. Louis's fluency in German helped us put the linguistic pieces together. Apparently the Jordanian kids had started to throw rocks at the German man, and as one of the kids pointed to his exposed nipple, it was clear why. Clear that is, to everyone other than the German tourist. Having just returned from a quick swim in the Red Sea, he was obviously unaware of what month it was, or region for that matter. Though not Iran, this was still the Middle East. Modesty is a must! Flaunting your bare chest around these parts, will get you stoned, and possibly by children. Where was Amnesty International when you need them? Surrounded by the German tourist and Jordanian kids, Louis and I had found ourselves caught in the clash of civilizations! Taking the role of diplomat of peace, I stepped between them and put my hands out. The German tourist continued on with his multilingual rant as one of the kids, the leader of the pack I assumed, tugged at my sleeve. Looking down at this militant pipsqueak, he gestured for me to slap the German on the side of the head. "No," I said while shaking my head. "We don't need to resort to violence." But my message of peace wasn't sinking in. The third kid was examining several rocks on the ground, looking for the largest one, as I sternly reiterated the word "no." Louis, getting upset himself, tried to calmly tell the German to cover himself up. But it was pointless. The German was so consumed with shock and rage that he couldn't listen. Our attempts at mediation were going nowhere. A police car driving by caught the German's attention. He quickly ran into the street with the stone throwing children chasing behind. Looking at me, Louis yelled, "we need to get the hell out of here!" As the German hailed the patrol car down, we knew that the cops would most likely take the side of the children. Not wanting to get dragged any further into this cultural debacle, we quickly turned in the opposite direction. It was then that I realized I'd been wrong. We aren't all alike. Children in the West don't typically throw stones at tourists. And there went my Eat, Pray, Love
moment, right out of the window of a seventh story building, only to get run over by a Mac Truck upon hitting the ground!!! http://acrackinyourhalffilledglass.com