It isn't every day that one finds (or makes) love in a taxi, but fortunately for myself and one lucky cabbie, that day was about to arrive for the both of us.
Our story begins one night in the city of Eilat, Israel.
I was determined to see the ancient city of Petra (in Jordan) and had elected to do so on my own, forgoing the popular guided tour route. It was around 19:00 and knowing that the border closed at 20:00 I found myself a taxi to the crossing (after having attempted to find my way to the border on foot for the better part of an hour). Some shekels, twenty dinar and a few passport stamps later I arrived in Jordan and was greeted by a man calling himself Mohammed. This Mohammed (King of the Taxi Mafia) spoke surprisingly good English, and his deep voice and thick mustache made me a little uneasy as he massaged my shoulders and selected a driver for me (taxi is basically your only option to Petra when arriving in Jordan via Eilat). Bear in mind that the trip to my destination (Petra) takes approximately two hours via car so the taxi driver selection was of the utmost importance.
Moments later it had been decided: Qadir (unsure on the spelling, sorry Qadir) would be the one providing me passage to the city of Wadi Musa (the town next to Petra). And unbeknownst to the both of us, this would prove to be quite the taxi ride. Mohammed informed me that the price would be 55 dinar (you should actually be paying something like 30-40 dinar), and after a short and ineffective haggle I obliged (again, no other option). I was told that we would need to stop for gas on the way which was fine – the gas station would be a great place to buy some beer for our long ride (so I thought). Then we took off down a dark and buildingless road into the night and our adventure began.
Once we were underway I attempted to strike up a conversation and was quickly able to assess that Qadir's weak grasp of English coupled with my zero knowledge of Arabic would make this an interesting ride indeed. He explained (this all became more clear in retrospect) that we would be driving into the city of Aqabah to fill up on gas even though it was a little out of the way, and since I was paying a fixed rate with no time constraints I nodded in agreement as he pointed and asked and made sure there was “no problem” (his favorite English words). We drove through the city until we arrived at a less commercialized area where we drove down an alleyway and stopped (no gas station in sight, mind you). Qadir instructed me to stay in the car and he proceed to disappear into an adjacent doorway (to get gas?). I sat out on the street for a few minutes contemplating where we were until Qadir emerged with another man carrying a gas can and smoking a cigarette. I guess we were getting gas after all. After our tank was filled we continued our journey back through the city, north to our destination.
THE GAS STATION
About fifteen minutes outside the city we stopped at, wait for it, a gas station; because Qadir wanted some coffee (and I wanted some beer). Standing in front of the refrigerated wall of drinks (in my ignorance) I asked Qadir to recommend some local Jordanian beer; to which he replied, “Beer? No beer. Beer, Aqabah”. I didn't quite understand, but I gathered that this station was not a distributor of beer, and so I selected a Red Bull, some water and some orange-mango drink suggested by none other than our knowledgable driver and guide. Qadir paid for his coffee and to my surprise he covered my drinks as well! What a guy. Walking back to the car he asked me if I wanted beer. Telling him everything was alright he continued to press me, “You want beer? Beer, Aqabah”. It became clear that he was proposing we drive back to Aqabah to pick me up beer which I politely refused as we had already come a ways from the city. However Qadir was having none of this and after asking me again I accepted. We were going back to Aqabah.
A short time later we found ourselves once again driving the streets of Aqabah, only now we were in search of beer. Eventually Qadir pulled up next to what appeared to be a liquor store and stopped in the right lane of traffic on a relatively busy street (but he's a taxi driver so he must know what he's doing, right?). Pointing to the store he informed me, “beer” and so without hesitation I jumped out of the cab and ran into the store. Looking for something unfamiliar among the Amstel Lights, Stellas, and Heinekens my eyes soon found their way to my prize: Petra Beer. Petra was my destination and I wanted beer – it was meant to be. Grabbing a couple of Petras I headed over to the register where all of a sudden I was hit by a huge wave of anxiety as my stomach began twisting and my mind started racing. I had just left all of my belongings (passport included) inside of a taxi cab in a country I had never been to, in a place where I didn't speak the language, and in the middle of the night. Fuck me, right? Figuring that if my things we gone, then I might as well have some beer to ease the pain, I completed my transaction and dashed back outside. Qadir was sitting patiently in the cab. What a guy.
Before retracing our route north Qadir took me on a short driving tour of Aqabah, and although I did not understand most of what was said, it was nice to see what a large Jordanian city was like. Qadir encouraged my drinking in the cab (which I am unsure on the legality of) I cracked open a Petra and continued my thrilling conversation with our story's hero. At a certain point I saw that Qadir wanted to solicit my return journey's business, but he slowly became frustrated with our level of communication and he opted to phone a friend who “spoke English very good” (his English was so-so). Through multiple iterations of having me call his friend, his friend translating, hanging up, becoming frustrated again, and calling back we were able to establish that my Israeli cell phone would not work in Jordan and that I would take Qadir's number and call him from the hotel when I planned on returning to Israel.
About halfway into our drive I realized that my decision to consume large amounts of liquid had become a problem and I informed Qadir that we were going to need to pull over to relieve the tension of the situation. Leaving all my belongings in the cab once again (but this time in literally the middle of nowhere), I stepped out onto the side of the road and took care of business. Back in the cab we pressed forward and not long after I noticed something very interesting on the side of the road: snow. I asked Qadir if what I was seeing was snow and then to prove it he decided to pull over, get out of the car and bring a specimen over to me for examination. It was in fact snow. Next up was the Arabic lesson which consisted of learning the words for “friend”, “I love you”, “no problem”, “hello”, “goodbye”, and “thank you”. Qadir turned out to be a gentleman and a scholar.
When we finally came upon the town of Wadi Musa Qadir's actions told me with absolute certainty that he had not the slightest idea where my hotel was (the address listed was given in relation to the buildings around it as opposed to a street name and number). Somehow we ended up driving to some random corner where all of a sudden a man hopped in the back seat of our cab – apparently some friend of Qadir (what the hell is going on?). Another twenty minutes of conversation with our new friend, seemingly aimless driving, and zigzagging across the city we arrived at what appeared to be my hotel. We all got out of the cab together and went inside. I took a seat in the lobby and sat with Qadir, his friend, and the man I presumed to be the hotel manager while the three of them smoked cigarettes and exchanged words in Arabic with one another. When it was finally that time I wished my new friend Qadir well and after he made absolutely sure (for the twentieth time) that I had his phone number he was on his way back to wherever it was he was going back to.
Arguably one of the most eventful cab rides I have ever had. Qadir, I wish you well my friend.