Date: 27 January 2015
Location: the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. Waiting for my mud to dry. Getting mud all over my iPad screen.
Marriage proposals: 4.
“Close your eyes and come closer.”
Yeah, no, I don’t think so buddy.
Nadir had warned me about persistent tour guides (and, having survived India, I can gild mine into the hardest of hearts and coax my lungs into the loudest ‘la’a, shuukrand!’) but he hadn’t warned me about this!
It had started innocently enough. I’d wandered the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Jarash utterly alone for over an hour. Just goats and guides and me. (To protect the tourism industry only guides licensed to specific sites may escort tourists. General guides and prohibited to enter sites such as Jerash, Mt Nebo, Kerak or Petra.)
Then, while chasing a temple cat in the ruins of the Temple of Artemis I’d come across two young Jordanians who wanted to practice their English. Abdul and Shar were twenty three, had matching British accents, were studying French literature at the local university and offered me charcoal coffee from a tall silver flask. Colour me charmed. They introduced me to the elusive temple cat, Artemis, and explained that they hated her because she only liked girls. They showed me the underground cellars and the private north theatre. Then, in front of the place where the Romans performed public hangings, Shar tried to kiss me. (Romantic.)
“You will say that you have to be in true love to kiss – but this is true love!” He declared earnestly.
Perhaps the boys in Australia lack a bit of game. Their Jordanian counterparts have a bit too much.
Giggling, I quickly escaped back down the collonaded walk and the hippodrome to the safety of the car and Nadir, who scolded me for being too nice to the boys.
Coffee and Bounty bars later, we were on our way to the Dead Sea.
I was promised that the Dead Sea is always good 10 degrees warmer than Amman. I was dubious, but this proved to be true. While it was Northface puffy vest weather in the capital, it was bikini weather at the sea! I spent a truly weird afternoon by the Dead Sea. The thing to do is to cover yourself in the sea’s mineral-rich black mud and bask in the sun as it dries and cracks. Then you can swim in the ‘sea’ that is ten times saltier than any other body of water on earth while looking out at Israel. It is crazy fun. And surprisingly hard to stand up! I’d been warned by Nadir at least twice not to get the water in my eyes as it would feel like ‘a thousand peppers in my eye’ and, if I did, not to rub them and to sit down immediately as I’d get dizzy. Of course I got water in my eye. Of course, it did feel like a thousand peppers and, of course, I rubbed it and made it worst. Of course, getting dizzy, I stumble about and, splashing, worsened it still. Idiot.
But my skin was silky soft for the effort. And the photos — oh my gosh so funny.
Of course, as with any trip to faraway lands, there has been sour with all the sweet.
I’m watched constantly. I hate that.
There’s also that awkward moment where you’re in conversation with a stranger and want to leave but he says, ‘Please don’t be scared. Not all Arabs are what you see on TV. I won’t rape you or blow you up. Sometimes we just want some company.’ And it breaks your heart a little.
Or when you bust out a dancer’s pose for a silly photo and get warned, ‘Don’t be doing yoga in the Middle East. Men will look at your body. It’s not safe.’ I hate that, too. Ok, point taken and I appreciate the heads up. But it makes me feel… ashamed of having and using a body. How different to India where the mind, soul and body are celebrated!
Tuesday ends with a long drive back to Amman. My ‘tour’ is just Nadir and I for a week, which has the potential to be awkward as a single female and exhausting as an introvert. However, he’s Jordanian so incredibly polite, an expert guide and has excellent, American-accented English. So far so good. Plus, we share a love of bad 80s music so I — miraculously — fall asleep to the sounds of Survivor, Foreigner and Genesis on the long drive, waking only when Nadir pulls over at a roadside stall to buy us schwarma. Also, he let’s me eat in the car. Winning. (/Foolish, as you’d know if you’ve seen me eat.)
*Inscribed in Ancient Greek on on 3rd century tombstone by the Dead Sea, ‘Be Brave, Occe. No one is Immortal.’