To Hire a Man or Not

Sign to Wadi Rum Desert Highway Jordan

Planning our excursion into the Wadi Rum desert of southern Jordan and Petra, we debated whether three women traveling alone in Jordan should drive or hire a male driver.

One advantage would be having someone who speaks Arabic.  However, that advantage was greatly offset by my experience with male drivers who drove too fast.  Too fast meaning 120 kph through tunnels marked for a 50 kph speed limit.  Even when asked to slow down, many pretended not to hear me.

None of us smoked.  Not only does the car smell, but I’ve had drivers who, after a couple of smokeless hours, light up even after I asked them not to.

The final advantage was freedom to manage our daily schedule.

When we decided to drive ourselves, my husband officially named us Thelma and Louise.

I booked a mid-size car since the SUVs were double the price.  I figured if the highway was good enough for broken-down Corollas, we would be fine.

Obviously the Eurocar manager felt differently.

Handing over our confirmation and my driver’s license, he looked at me.

“You are driving?” he asked.

“Yes, I am a very good driver” I said smiling.  “We are driving down to Wadi Rum.”

“I am going to drive too,” Louise said handing over her passport.  “Here is my license.”

Reviewing our documents, he made a phone call.

“I upgraded you to a SUV,” he said.  “No extra charge.”

After all the paper works was completed, he gave me his personal mobile number.

“If you have any trouble, please call me directly,” he instructed.

“What a lovely man,” we said, as we walked to the car.

“I was praying we would be upgraded to a bigger car,” Louise said.

Our SUV was an old Pajera that looked like it had been in at least three accidents.  It took nearly fifteen minutes to carefully walk around the car to note every single scratch and dent.

Driving out of the airport, the Pajero rattled so much, I stopped to check whether the back gate was open.  On the dashboard, a yellow light came on but I could not get the manual out because the drawer was broken.  Within a half an hour, the A/C turned off.  We could not seem to get it back on and after an hour pulled over at a restaurant.  I called Mr. Eurocar while Louise checked out the restaurant.

Three, roaming-charged telephone calls, I figured out the problem.  The A/C button had gotten turned off.  By then I was certain Mr. Eurocar’s confidence in our driving skills had gotten even lower.

To be continued…….

ABOUT THE NEW ALIA AIRPORT

The new airport opened on Mother’s Day in 2013.  It is a breeze to float through immigration and collect the baggage.   I think the visas are 20JD.

In baggage claim, if you are facing the Duty Free shops, there is an ATM in the right corner – something Investment Bank.  I withdrew 250JD and was given a mixture of 10s, 20s and 5s, not just large bills.  I thought that was fantastic as most taxis want small change.

The rental car companies – Eurocar, Budget and National? are outside Baggage Claim.  There are a couple more banks and ATMs in that area.

You can book your car reservation online.  You can also book a car and driver through them.  Eurocars has an office in Aqaba also.  If you hire a driver, they will send one up from Aqaba to pick you up in Wadi Rum.  Drivers were 75JD a day.  Whether or not they would be amenable with our dozen photo stops or detours to sites was a question.  You can also book a driver through the Movenpik in Petra.  It was also 70JD.

Note the return time is 6am.  If you arrive later, then you will be charged an extra day.  That became a negotiating point when we returned the car.  Otherwise renting a car was relatively easy.  There are petrol stations all along the Desert Highway (Highway 15).  Coming from the Gulf, the gas seemed expensive.  42JD for 55Liters.

ABOUT THE CARAVANSERAI RESTAURANT

In Sad As-Sultani, about an hour and a half south of the airport, we pulled over into the Caravanserai Restaurant.

This tourist gift shop cum restaurant was clean and set up for large groups.  We ate their “plate” with the choice of chicken or lamb.  It included a huge plate of bread, hummos, rice, spicy salad and cooked vegetables.  We ordered water and coffee.  It all came to 10JD and was very acceptable.  I am comfortable recommending it.

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Over the Rub al Khali

over rub al khali in gulf air jet

Flying over the Rub al Khali, Louise and I flipped through Gulf Air’s September magazine and talked about the articles.  A travel writer, Louise used to be the editor for the magazine.

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There was an article about the Sharabi sisters.  The daughters of an American woman and a Bahraini man, the three women are artists.  Yasmin is the curator at the Waterline Gallery.  She is one of my yoga teachers.  Her husband organizes the increasingly popular, FarmFest concerts.  Recently I texted him after I saw his smiling face featured on a local billboard.

Ah, the small world of Bahrain.

Taxi Arranged

Horse drawn carriage in Jordan by Eva the Dragon 2009

Off to Jordan tomorrow.

Between my travel companion, Tanya, and me, I think we have all the necessary transportation arranged.  I just hope my hair doesn’t get too mussed up.

On the one hand, when traveling as tourist who is trying to pack in as much as possible, it is nice when the journey and transitions are as painless as possible.

On the other hand, a completely smooth and beautiful trip results in fewer stories to tell.

So the question is – do I set my intention for ease?  or a good story?

Girls, Dogs and Gratitude

give a girl a break film video Jenny Laura dog training school mentor

Last night, during dinner with my writer-friend, I raised the issue about which medium tells a better story – writing or video.

A reader since childhood and now a writer, I cannot imagine life without printed words.  My kids’ generation, the Millennial generation, don’t know an Internet-less world.

We live in a country where public libraries do not exist and books cost more than most people’s daily salary.  YOUTUBE is free and pirated DVDs can be purchased for less than a cup of coffee.  Instagrams to family 2,000 miles away are cheaper than a phone call.  Twitter is the source for local, breaking news.

Visual and graphic communication are the future.

Inspiring stories about young women who overcome emotional and financial barriers to creatively express themselves are the topic for the GIVE A GIRL A BREAK contest.

Through video, three, young females filmmakers offer their stories both as an artistic expression of themselves as well as highlighting how a small bit of support helps other reach for their dreams.  Created in Los Angeles, these girls had access to lights, cameras, computers, actors and great locations to create their short-films.

On the other side of the planet, a smaller exhibit highlighting women and communication took place.

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Graphic communication was the focus of the EIGHT DEGREES OF DIFFERENCE exhibit in Bahrain.

Eight, Bahraini women presented their graphic design, video and digital photography projects.  They focused on life-affirming topics such as gratitude, family communications, healthy eating, and imagination and on clear communications through maps, typography, signage and even graffiti.

Milling with the audience composed of Bahrainis, Pakistanis, Africans, and Europeans, it became obvious to me that the women’s messages transcended culture.  Whether one spoke English or Arabic, the visual exhibits spoke a language everyone could understand.

ABOUT GIVE A GIRL A BREAK

team alana matching making skills

My best friend Jenny is featured as the inspiring mentor to Laura, a young woman in this film TO THE RESCUE.  Watch TO THE RESCUE and the other two finalists and vote by JULY 2nd.

Always is sponsoring Give a Girl a Break.  Three aspiring female filmmakers are vying for a Talent Grant to help them pursue a career in film.

ABOUT EIGHT DEGREES OF DIFFERENCE

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June 26-27, eight, female students at the Bahrain Polytechnic Institute displayed their third year projects.  The depth and quality of their work was evident.  I was so pleased to see how Bahraini women envision effectively engaging others using modern methods.

Bahrain’s Specialness – Free Hugs

Bahrain Free Hugs Arab artists peace

Many times people ask why we live in Bahrain, and by extension the Middle East.

In Bahrain we get Free Hugs.

All people from the Gulf countries are very warm and affectionate with their families and friends.  When Arabs greet each other, it is not a simple “HI”.  There is an entire ritual of multiple hugs and kisses while asking about the family’s well-being.  When I offer my hug and kiss to a friend, it looks anti-social compared to theirs.

But in Bahrain, that love extends beyond the family to the other people visiting and living on the island.

Ulafaa (meaning partners), an artist-led group, gave out Free Hugs during the Market 338 last month.  The Free Hugs campaign began in 2002 when Juan Mann started hugging strangers on Sydney’s street.  Helped by the Sick Puppies song and video, Free Hugs has gone global.

free hug Juan Mann Sydney

As I look through the Free Hug photos and videos from around the world, I think Bahrain was the first country in the Gulf, if not the Middle East where Free Hugs were given out.  A tiny drop of hope from Paradise that inshallah will radiate throughout the Middle East.

Good ideas do spread.  It is true that one person can be the creative force for positive change.

free hugs hug the world tshirt1

Messing Around with Bad Deeds

Ad in Thursday’s newspaper

“Haraam” people say here when something bad happens.  Technically, haraam actions are those that violate Islamic prohibitions.

The kiraaman kaatibeen are the angels who sit on our left shoulders and record our haraam or bad deeds.  But, it is not only angels who notice haraam things.  If I tell a sad story, such as a friend having breast cancer, then the listener will say “haraam” to express their agreement that it is a sad situation.

When I first moved to Bahrain I remember chatting with a Bahraini store clerk.  It was clear he was unhappy with his job working in the mall.

“Haraam”, he said without a smile when I told him my family had just moved here.

“You think Bahrain is haraam?” I asked.  “Why haraam?  You have a job.  The government pays for your schooling and health care.  You live with your family.  Bahrain is a nice, peaceful place.”

“The whole Middle East is haraam right now.  I don’t know when things will get better,” he told me.

I walked out feeling bad for him and his hopeless outlook.  Bahrain was his country and he was young.  He was not willing to give up everything and take the risk to start over, as a nobody, somewhere else.

This region is filled with expatriate workers who take a huge risk to come here.  Most laborers are so poor and with little hope for work in their own country, that, for $150 per month, they pay an agent a job-finding fee and leave their families to pick up garbage.  Nine years later, I remembered my conversation with the young man when I read about two Bangladeshi, street cleaners killed by a homemade explosive, hidden in a trash bin.

The angel on my shoulder cringed.

“Haraam,” he said.

Too Smart For Words

A new shop opened up in a local mall.  As soon as the sign went up, the authorities were called and the police raided the shop.

Years ago, Mojo worked on a project selling motor lube oil in Saudi Arabia.  His research brought him to the buncture shops, as the small car repair garages are called.

He couldn’t figure out what buncture meant and finally asked one of the managers.

The man looked at him like he was so naïve.  “When you get a nail in your tire, you get buncture.  You take it to the buncture shop for fixing.”

Oh – the Puncture Shop.  There is no P in Arabic so P comes out B.

The shop’s owner explained the sign was not what she ordered.

The male sign maker was certain he was smarter than the female shop owner.  He knew when she ordered “Born Fashion” it should really be spelled “Porn Fashion” in English.

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