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Awkward Ride to Aqaba

2:46 pm

Aqaba, Jordan

It is HOT. Very hot. The temperature here in Aqaba, a Jordanian port, is 107 degrees. The merciless weather does not offer much in inspiration. Instead I do everything slowly, except complain about the beating sun. That comes quickly and effortlessly.

Last night after dinner, I was invited to join several of the hotel employees for a meal. I told them I was grateful but had just had dinner. I sat with them anyway as they wolfed downed what appeared to be chicken and orecchio shaped pasta in the midst of a cool lobby and the tail end of Ramadan.

The men were cordial; two were from Jordan the others from Egypt. “Can you ask them if it’s safe to go to Cairo now?” I asked. “I’d really like to go.” The gentleman, who I gathered was the unofficial leader of the crew, largely due to the fact that only he spoke English, vetoed my request exercising his executive order instead. “My friend, it is very safe. But very hot.” I wonder how he’d feel about the weather today in Aqaba.

Still, I am happy to be here. The ride down from Petra got me out of my head for a few hours. I waited an hour and half for the bus to leave and had been warned earlier departures had no set schedule. “It just leaves when it is full of people,” the concierge had told me. For a moment, I felt like I was in Sicily, where the same laissez-faire transportation policy was also well intact. At least entertainment was provided as I watched the town drunk get into a rather humorous, if not mildly staged confrontation with one of the chain smoking bus drivers. Italy is another land where things happen when they happen.

When the grimy Toyota Coaster was finally en route I was jolted several minutes into the journey when the woman behind me began screaming at the man seated across from us. I knew immediately that she was uncomfortable with his constant ogling because I’d felt the heat of his eyes on me as well. He looked to be in his mid-30s, sat lazily, the same way a bully might on some yellow school bus in middle America where everything shuts down to watch a little pigskin. I saw in my periphery as he used his touchscreen as a front to artlessly take inventory of the crowded bus. The woman managed to put him in his place, but at the cost of making the rest of the ride rather awkward, if not tense.

Of course, there was a brief respite when we were stopped by a Jordanian military officer who took the ID’s of all the men on board. I was quite calm even as the whereabouts of my passport remained a short mystery, allowing me time to theorize why we were being stopped in the first place.

As the bus pushed off once again, I remembered how the night before I discovered I’d missed the deadline for a reputable film festival I wanted to submit two of my short films to. I can’t remember exactly why I passed up the chance a few weeks before. Probably because I didn’t know much about the event’s prestige, or the submission fee seemed a little bold. Either way, I was kicking myself well into my sleep even after watching an episode of the Netflix hit, “Peaky Blinders.”

The melodic sounds of “Allah Akbar,” being chanted as an improvisational score just beyond my window, while watching a drama that took place in post-war Birmingham on the verge of the 1920s was perhaps as distinct a contrast I’d seen or felt in quite some time. I wondered briefly if I was the only person in all of Petra who’d ever seen the show before questioning what difference it made.

My morning stroll throughout Aqaba had me reflecting on quite a lot in my life, particularly my shortcomings. I thought a lot about my failures as a son, a brother, which is to say as a man. For some reason as I sat underneath a canopy facing the Red Sea, regret after regret seemed to blow into my mind like tumbleweed as it does from time to time, though the winds are usually kept at bay.

Still, I felt anxious about getting back in that moment and fixing whatever fictional mess my mind has suggested I ruminate on. I’m sure by tomorrow it’ll be ancient history, but probably just as hot.

Today, I thought about Tamam, the 20-year old Bedouin girl at Petra and the advice she offered, “Money never makes people friends. I am happy without money. Even if you don’t buy anything from me,” she said.

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