Are you a good witch or a bad witch? That’s how I translate the dropped jaws and curious eyeballs following my every step. I might be hairy, I might be tanned, but the local Arabs that have filled this boat to the brim can tell I am from a land far away. It’s fine though, and I embrace my new found celebrity by looking around and smiling. Most respond in kind.
My voyage from Egypt to Jordan had a 7hr delay before setting forth. It’s now 11pm, if there was a reason for the belated departure, it wasn’t in English. Such first world problems.
To pass the time I bury my head in my travel guide and continue to read about this cradle of civilisation, The Middle East. It’s been amazing so far. Every day in Egypt was a lifetime adventure and here I am lucky enough to be heading deeper into ancient territory. I never get too long into reading a page before the book turns into a hand fan….such is the stifling heat. I’m sweating in places I didn’t know I could and my clothes are sticking to me like velcro. I need a break. Easier said than done……there are a lot of people in this room. Have to move fast.
With the glares of many poking me with a stick and sweat dripping like water torture, I strap my massive backpack on, channel my inner Moses and begin to part this sea of man in half. “Pardon. Excuse me. Move!” Success. I finally reach the corridor and in the distance I see what looks like an exit sign (it’s green anyway) above a white door. Like a ghostbuster stepping over speed bumps, I begin walking slowly over the sleeping bodies of children and the elderly laid on the floor. I’ve never worked so hard for fresh air. With the door now in reach, I push it hard with the palm of my hand and am greeted with the refreshing relief of a salty, sea breeze.
The scene is different out here. It’s peaceful, dark. The Red Sea looks black, the stars above are neon and the lights of Saudi Arabia glow in the distance. I’m far away. I take a seat and absorb it all whilst listening to the waves splash against the side of the ship. I say hello to a small group of males that walk pass and realise that my accent probably sounds more alien than Australian to them.
After some time, I decide to collide with the heat once more, move on back inside to freshen up and get a drink. Out of three basins in the cramped and fluorescent lit bathroom, the only one free was the one in the middle. Like a pool, I dive in head first to wet the back of my neck, my hair and clean my sweaty face. As I clear the soap and water from my eyes I notice that there are now feet on either side of me getting washed. It’s almost prayer time.
I move onto the canteen area awkwardly trying not to smack anyone in the head with my backpack.
As I get closer to the bar, this whole experience unexpectedly changes for the great when I suddenly feel a hand tug at my t-shirt.
I turn around to find three middle aged men sitting at a round table behind me. They’re all smiles. One is dressed like a soldier, one a sheik and the last guy looks like a mechanic. He had greasy fingernails.
“Excuse me, where are you from?” asks the tugging soldier. “Australia.” I respond. He sits back in awe and replies, “Auuustraaaaaliiiaaaaa.”
This is cool.
After we introduce ourselves, I take a seat with them and we do our best to communicate in their broken English and my non-existant Arabic. My soldier friend jostles to the bar to buy me tea, giving him money was no option. The sheik begins to peel me fruit that was in a plastic bag…….”It’s from my tree! My tree!” He proudly declares.
Over the next 90 minutes we pass the time with little language, many emotions and a map. We connect and educate each other on our countries. It’s an experience filled with goodwill, trust and mutual respect between strangers that I will treasure forever.
They suggest towns to visit in Jordan as well as in their home country of Syria. The Arabic pleasantries I was taught were also invaluable.
Before I leave they are sure to give me all their family’s numbers and addresses so that I can visit them if I make it to their home town of Aleppo.
It was a tremendous snapshot of true Arab hospitality.