Luggage packed. Early dinner eaten. Bus timetable checked. I will be getting a coach at 5 pm and travel for 5 hours to get to Aqaba, the city at the southern end of Jordan popular for diving in the Red Sea. Arriving there at 10 pm would give me enough time to get my 8 hours of sleep at Aqaba, which means I can wake up early in the next morning for a quick tour of the city, and head to Wadi Rum desert at noon. I have already checked the location of the coach station in Aqaba, and have intentionally booked a hotel at a walking distance in case there are no taxis after 10 pm. It’s all been planned. It’s all been double, triple checked.
I reach the coach station and ask the man standing outside, ‘Aqaba?’ He nods and tells me it leaves at 6 pm. I go inside to get a ticket and ask the staff, ‘Aqaba? 6?’. He nods and gives me a ticket. I am not the only one having arrived too early for the bus. Two Arab girls in the early 20s, and a small boy about 9 years old are sitting a few seats away from me in the waiting room. They are giggling constantly throughout the whole two hours of waiting time. It is a tedious wait, sitting on a plastic seat with only a ticket booth and an analogue clock on the wall to stare at.
‘Aqaba?’ I ask once again when a coach finally arrives 10 minutes later than the scheduled time, and the man repeats another ‘yes’ with a hint of suppressed smile on his face. I realise ‘Aqaba?’ is the only word I’ve been uttering at this coach station, and I get on the coach feeling a little too silly. The giggling trio is already seated at the back of the bus, but as I sit myself down at the front row they immediately gather all their bags and change to the seats on the opposite side of mine. The closer proximity between us induces them into more uncontrollable fits of giggles, and I feel amused at that I’ve been the source their entertainment all along. Feeling completely nonchalant rather than irritated, I offer them my lemon sherbet from England hoping to make friends. Our language barrier means we go no further than the exchange of names, but at least the I have passed over the stiff wall of being strangers and I feel more at liberty to stare back at them and satisfy my curiosity in who they are.
They told me they were siblings, but they do not look alike at all. The little boy has a doll-like round big eyes, but is too sleepy to be mischievous. Slouched across the two rows of seats he is mostly asleep throughout the long coach journey. The girl sitting on the window side doesn’t talk much but smiles shyly everytime I look at them. The taller girl, who is called Safa, has been giggling the loudest has an animated voice. Soft black material with brown leopard print at the hem is wrapped around her slim figure bringing out her fair skin more than any other colour would have. The way she makes sure her little brother is comfortable and takes care of all the affairs tells me that she is the eldest of the three. Her elegance in her demeanor and uninhibited youthful laughter, her motherly tenderness over her siblings and the dental bracelets she is wearing is combined together and bring out a peculiar charm about her.
The allegedly 5 hour journey lasts for 7 hours all I’ve eaten for the day is some pitta bread with hummus for breakfast and a small portion of pasta for early supper. Feeling my energy draining, I scoff down the KitKat chocolate bar Dody from the hostel gave me and fall into sleep. When I wake up an hour or two later, Safa taps on my shoulder and gives me a handful of crisps. Thirty minutes later comes another tap, and she gives me a carton of juice. This goes on several times until all her snacks run out.
Travelling alone, I can do, eat, and go wherever and whatever without anyone’s wishes to adhere to. Coupled with this liberating independence, a child-like dependency is what I continuously experience. I often encounter situations that are part of Jordanians’ everyday lives but is foreign to me, and I am standing there alone like a fool until someone comes along for guidance. I am always slightly embarassed by my helplessness, but it also makes me much more grateful of all the kindness people shower me with.
I couldn’t be more glad when the bus finally reaches it’s final stop at 1 am. The passengers quickly disperse into the empty town and I get my map out trying to locate my hotel which must be near by. I say I shall walk but Safa insists I get into the taxi with her. I try to gesture with my hands that I don’t have far to go, but Safa resolutely says ‘taxi’, so I get in.
The famous resort city is eerily quiet. Warm humid breeze strokes my cheek as I gaze at the endless rows of palm trees. The song Everything I do, I Do it For You is playing on the radio, and the voice of Brian Adams sounds huskier than I remember. Safa chats to the driver in her characteristic melodious voice. The drive is so much longer than I had expected and I realise what a terrible mistake it would have been if I had stubbornly insisted that I’d walk to the hotel thinking it’s only 5 minutes away. What could I have done in this empty city, without a faintest idea of my whereabouts and no-one around to help me? It’s a daunting thought.
The taxi finally stops in front of a tiny building, where a man with a moustache is waiting outside with a big broad smile. I already booked the hotel, so he must have been waiting for his last guest to turn up. It is so late into the night and I feel awful that he had to wait for so long. But there is not a trace of annoyance or irritation. He spreads his arms wide open and his eyes make a crescent shape. He comes down the steps and with an Arabic accent that I am now so familiar with, he warmly greets me saying, ‘Welcome to Aqaba’.
DAY 4: 21 September 2013, from Amman to Aqaba