Sunday, January 02, 2011

Middle East Part 2: Good Luck or Nice People?

Dinner with my nice friends, Sam, Hannah, Walter, Elad, and Emily at Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem.
My super nice gal pal, Urieb at work at the Welfare Association in Ramallah, Palestine.
The nicest Medicine Man ever, at Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem.

I often wonder how I always manage to get to where I intend to go. For one, I have a terrible sense of direction. When using a map for navigation, I must turn it in the actual direction that I am traveling. If I ask people for directions, I need to write down every word that they say or I won't remember. And forget about telling me something like, "head east at the intersection." I know which direction I am heading in a city only if there is a mountain range or an ocean that I can see at all times. So, it comes as a shock when, traveling in countries where I don't know the language beyond, "Hello, where is the bathroom?" I manage to make it to my destination every time. I wonder, is it good luck or nice people? You be the judge...

East Jerusalem

It was my last day in Jerusalem, so I decided to take my time. Only a few days before I had gone to the hospital and discovered I had a sweet lung infection, so I had been taking it easy. I figured that catching the bus back to Amman could wait until later in the morning. I packed slowly, drank some coffee and sat in the sun on Hannah and Ben's balcony.

Around 12:30, Ben drove me to East Jerusalem. Little did I know, it was too late. My friend Mahmoud walked me over to the bus station (he owns a store close to there) and we noticed that there were no more buses to the border. He spoke with the bus company owner and the owner said that I had missed the last bus which had left at 1:00pm (it was 1:15), but I could take a taxi for 200 shekels. Being as I had saved 30 shekels for a bus and 160 shekels for the exit tax, the taxi wasn't an option.

Mahmoud spoke with the bus company owner and then told me I could wait and see if more people showed up late for the bus. If enough people came to fill a bus, I would be in luck, otherwise I'd have to take a taxi. I decided to wait for other stragglers.

While waiting, the bus company owner brought me Arab coffee, entertained me with all sorts of fun Arab pop music and told me stories about buses. And from what I could understand, he kept on calling his friends and asking if they knew anyone that needed to take a bus to the border. He was rounding up people for my bus!

A couple of hours later, there were enough people to fill the bus and go to the border. But there was a catch. The owner told me that since it was a special bus, the fare would be 50 shekels. As I said before, I had specifically saved just enough for the original fare and the exit tax, so I didn't have the money.

I smiled and told the bus company owner of my situation. Although he didn't look too happy, he seemed amused. I decided to go through my huge (cute!) purse and see if there were any stray shekels. It turned out that I had 39 shekels to give him. He accepted the money and sent me away with some ground Arab coffee, which is ironic because the amount of coffee that he gave me probably would cost more than 39 shekels anyway. Basically, I was off to the border only a couple of hours later than I had planned with a kilo of free coffee. Success.

Tel Aviv

It was my second night in Tel Aviv and the plan was to meet Elad at the Israel Museum for a photo exhibit after he got off of work. He had already told me which bus to take from his house, how long the ride should be, and where to get off. It sounded like a hassle-free jaunt, so I put on my high heeled boots (I wouldn't be walking much, right?) and headed out into the warm Tel Aviv night.

Standing at the bus stop, looking at the time table (which I couldn't read anyway since it was in Hebrew), I started to get butterflies. Just as I was questioning Elad's advice, the #25 bus pulled up. I stepped on to the bus and asked the driver if this bus went to the Israel Museum. He shouted, "No! Get on the #41 (or some other number I don't remember at this point)." And thrust my shiny shekels back into my hand. I pleaded, "But my friend told me this is the right bus." He laughed, "Your friend was wrong. Good luck." I was standing at the bus stop again.

I waited a few minutes for the #41 to come around. When it did, I got on and sat next to the nicest looking Israeli soldier girl I could find. She moved her gun aside and smiled. I asked her if this bus would go by the Israel Museum. She told me that it indeed, did not, but she would take me to the correct bus. At the next stop she walked me to another bus stop and told me to wait for the #75 (or some other number that I, again, don't remember at this point).

I waited alone for 30 minutes. My feet started to hurt. A dog almost urinated on me. The bus came.

I got on the bus and asked the driver where the bus was going. He quickly shut the bus door, took my shekels and yelled in my face, "NO ENGLISH!" I sat down and hoped to see the Israel Museum at some point in the next week.

As luck (or a nice person?) would have it, I sat next to a Filipino English-speaking girl who was going to the museum as well.

Only a few minutes later, a short walk and a map turned just the right way, I had made it to my destination!

Amman, Jordan

I somehow made it back to Jordan so that I could catch my plane to Dubai, then on to Kabul. It was a rainy morning and Abeer's little brother was supposed to drop me at the airport, or so I thought. As we pulled into a parking lot which was most definitely not the airport I realized was another bus stop. Amer assured me that the bus was fast and I had nothing to worry about.

I got on the bus, paid my fare, and waved goodbye to Amer. Then I sat on the bus and waited for it to fill with people (of course). When the bus was full we started to move through the city towards the airport road. I didn't figure for the severe city traffic though, and I found myself stuck on the bus for over an hour.

At about 9:20am, the bus left me off at the terminal. My plane was scheduled to leave at 10:00am and I still had to go through security, check-in, and customs. I got to the security line which was about a mile long. Standing there, I felt hopeless. Just then, a ticket agent started to shout, "Dubai! Anyone going to Dubai?" Thankfully, I waved my hand and he came right to get me. I shot to the front of the security line, then I was on to the ticket counter.

At the ticket counter, the agent frowned and told me they had sold my seat. My heart sank. At that point I realized that I really wanted to get back to Kabul, but I may not EVER get there. Then the same ticket agent who had ushered me through security said something to the other agent in Arabic. They spoke to each other for a second and then the female agent said, "Sorry, but the last seat available is in first class. Will you forgive us and let us seat you there at no extra cost?"

I stomped my foot and shouted, "No! I will not take a seat in your bourgeois first class cabin with all of the good food and wonderful service!" Actually, I smiled and took the ticket.

So it turns out I didn't miss my flight. First class on the way to Dubai was a great end to a nice trip. And the food was good too!

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At 5:46 PM , Blogger Luana Joslin-Lester said...

OMG, you are direction impaired like me. I am so sorry. LOL. I don't know how we ever got anywhere, but we did. Remember our trip to the Coliseum in Rome? I got us there even in Italian. I loved all the latest news. You kept the purple scarf. I thought you would. You are my daughter. I love you and can't wait to hear more.

At 3:36 PM , Blogger Amel said...

Hi Jaala,
It's Amel from Monterey (applied ling w/Kathi 2007). I'm living vicariously through your adventures!

Stay safe,


At 7:33 AM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Thanks mom!
Hi Amel! It has been a while; hope life is treating you well! Are you teaching Arabic still?
All the best!

At 4:34 PM , Blogger Amel said...

Hi Jaala!
Yep, still working w/Arabic; I'm creating online curricula, though.

Would love to see you when you come to Monterey!



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