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The Magical Land of Juice

Some posts weren't meant to have pictures.

I wasn't expecting to get drunk on my flight to the Middle East. I didn't answer the first time that the snappily-dressed flight attendant asked me what I wanted to drink. I just stared at the full bar in front of me, like a kid in the door of a candy shop being told he can have anything he wants. "What are the options?" I asked. The man started listing off the drinks: "Beer, wine" I stopped him. Yes, I can see that. What I wanted him to say was "Beer is $10. Wine is $15" etc. "I'll have a 7up." Like that kid in the candy store, I didn't want to believe it. As if I said "I'll just take a lolly-pop" and the person encouraged me: "You can have anything." Everyone around me was having Red Label neat and it wasn't even noon! Two teams of flight attendants continuously worked the isle to make sure everyone constantly had a drink.

As our plane came in for the connection I could see designer coastline and manicured sand dunes. I love flying into Dubai. All the shape and order leaves me awestruck. Perhaps that's because I was flying there from Delhi, and last time I was coming from Tajikistan. The men sitting behind the desks at immigration were all wearing blindingly-white kanduras(Islamic robes) and white keffiyehs(headdresses) held down by black aghals(cord). The equipment was all post-modern and chrome-plated, with adjustable retina scanners and cameras from every angle. It looked like something out of A Brave New World. My passport crashed the system. While I nervously waited for it to come back up, I watched people pass by at the counter next to me. One man stared into the camera as if he was expecting a "And we're live in Five... Four... Three". I tried not to laugh. Eventually the system came back on line and they passed me through.

Did I say that I love flying into Dubai? Well I don't. I like flying over Dubai. The only reason I was flying through Dubai again is that on my last trip through, FlyDubai lost my bag and it took a week of non-stop effort to get it back, and then after months of hassle they gave me a voucher. After exiting customs I started looking for the FlyDubai counter so I could check in for my next flight. I couldn't find it. I spotted an information counter and went up to ask.

Me: Excuse me; where is FlyDubai?
Info lady: Terminal 2
Me: How can I—
Info lady: Taxi.
Me: There's no—
Info lady: No shuttle. You have to take a taxi.

Ugh, only in Dubai would you have to take a taxi from one terminal to another. Actually, I may have had to do that in the Philippines once. Anyway, what was I supposed to do? Change money? Use an ATM? Just so I could make my connection? No, not me. I had four hours—how far could it be? It turns out it was 7km away. The weather outside was a weird hot-cold. When the wind blew it felt chilly, but I realized I was sweating from carrying my pack in the sun. After a while I decided I'd try to thumb a ride. Cars had been whizzing past and I figured there'd be no way anyone could stop at that speed. The very first vehicle pulled over. I ran up and got in. The man was on the phone but he broke from his conversation to say that he wasn't going to Terminal 2, but he could get me close. After he finished his conversation he started asking me the usual questions. Eventually it came to my nationality. "American" His knuckles became more defined on his hands wrapped around the steering wheel. A kind of sneer came over his face and he said with a clenched jaw: "Oh, I'm your enemy. I'm from Pakistan." I see. I started trying to explain that I'm not enemies with anyone and that I hate war. "Yes, friends helping" He said. He was trying to imply that it's good that we could sit together in a car as friends. He had a look about him which made me suspect that he wanted to dislike me but his hospitable nature wouldn't let him find a way. He dropped me off and explained how to walk the rest of the way to the airport, and with a smile he said good bye.

The FlyDubai terminal continued to bewilder me. I drank water from a fountain and then went to use the bathroom. Two adjacent corridors showed silhouettes of people in long robes. One was red and the other was white. Hmmm, I wonder which one is the mens? I went into the one with white robes. Ok, look for urinals, look for urinals, oh god, I'm in the womens room. No, there's some hidden urinals. Fwhew. I passed through immigration again, which included a talking hologram explaining things I could and couldn't bring in. The flight had a runway boarding, and as I stood in the back of the queue I looked up at the moon. All of a sudden I had one of those magic moments. Everything else ceased to exist except for me and the moon and the top of the night sky. There was no noise, there were no lights; just one of those surreal feelings. I had written in my journal about how I don't get those feelings anymore but I sometimes find myself in situations where I recognize that I should. I thought it auspicious for the next chapter in my journey.

The man sitting next to me on my flight from Dubai to Jordan quickly started up a conversation. Eventually it came to my nationality again. "Oh. I'm you enemy." Pakistan again? "I'm from Iraq." Oh. The man was very nice. He told me that he was a civil engineer and that his father owned the largest construction company in Iraq, but due to the war they are based out of Amman. After we had been talking for a while he asked me where I was planning to stay. I told him that I had planned to stay with a friend (a girl I had been in contact with from CouchSurfing) but that I hadn't heard from her in days and I didn't have any of her contact information so I was just planning to figure something out when I got there. He offered me to come stay with him. I was getting in late and I knew the airport was 30km from town and that it would be very hard and expensive for me to find a place that night. I told him I'd take him up on the offer.

My Iraqi friend waited for me through immigration and baggage claim. As we were walking out of customs a man came near to me and said: "Boo?" I took a second, then turned. "Boo, from CouchSurfing?" I was facing a guy who looked like a normal African-American youth. "Umm, yes" I replied. I hadn't told anyone but my father about my flight details. I had only told the girl from CouchSurfing a rough time I expected to get in, and she never even confirmed that she could host me. But there she was, and standing with the guy who first approached me. "Oh, my friends are here." I told the guy from Iraq. "I told her I didn't think you'd come" the guy who had called to me said. "I've been asking every white guy if they were Boo." He continued. "Well I'm glad you came. I can't believe you're here." We walked through the parking lot and got into their car. He started driving to the city.

Guy: My name is Osama Hussein. You can just call me Ozzy. You know Rawiya.
Me: Ok. It's nice to meet you. Thanks again for coming to pick me up.
Ozzy: No worries. Do you smoke?
Me: Um, not cigarettes.
[Arabic between Ozzy and Rawiya]
Ozzy: So you smoke other things then?
Me: Yeah, that was the implication.
Ozzy to Rawiya: See, I told you. I like this guy.
Me: You speak with an American accent. You sound like... [I started searching for the word. The place actually. He had a distinctly American accent, but it wasn't a neutral accent so it sounded like he was from somewhere in particular, but I couldn't place it.]
Ozzy: You can say it: I sound like a nigger.
Me: Um, no. That's not what I was trying to say.
Ozzy: Yeah. It was.
Me: I was just trying to say. Well. Where did you learn English?
Ozzy: Hip-hop.
Me: Really?
Ozzy: Yeah. I'm Rawiya's ex-husband by the way.
Me: Ok.
Ozzy: That doesn't upset you?
Me: No. Why should it?
Ozzy to Rawiya: See, I told you he was cool.

His English was astounding. I still amazes me that he learned from hip-hop, but after our time together I've come to believe it. We got into Amman and the first thing we did was stop for dinner at a place that was open 24hrs. They said it was one of the best places in Jordan for what we were getting. It was amazing. We had a hummus-like dish called fattet, and a giant pile of falafel and vegetables. When it came time to leave, I tried to pay. "No. In our culture you are the guest and we must pay for you." I've heard that time and time again on this trip. I learned that if I tell people that my culture is American and that I feel obliged to pay, they sometimes let me. "I know." He said. "You know what we call it when we all go out and split the bill? Going American." Huh. "We call it 'Going Dutch'." I said. "Do you wanna get high? Or do you want to sleep or something else?" Ozzy asked. "Nah man, I'm cool. Whatever."

We started cruising around the streets of Amman listening to American pop music on the radio. Royals came on. "Have you heard this before?" Ozzy asked. Had it not been for my older brother's visit I certainly wouldn't have. "If it doesn't involve a seven foot clown, I don't think I want to hear it." I replied. I'd been shielded from American pop music during my stay in South Asia. If "Blurred Lines" and "When I Was Your Man" is what they're playing these days, I'd rather have "Saree Ke Fall Sa" and "Nagada Sang Dhol". Where are the pop songs with lyrics I can relate to, like Starships and Titanium? The car's interior got smoky. Everything in Amman was so modern and clean and open 24hrs. Cars obeyed traffic rules and nobody honked at anybody!

Ozzy: You wanna smoke some kush?
Me: Hmmm, I'm not really sure what that is.
Ozzy: Really? Really? It's from America. You can buy it anywhere there.
Me: Hmmm, well I've never heard of it. At least not by that name. What is it?
Ozzy: Scooby Snax? It's like a spice. You know, for cooking.
Me: I've heard of people getting high off nutmeg.
Ozzy: Nah, it's not that. It'll get you super fucked for like 15 minutes.
Me: Ummm, maybe.
Ozzy: Alright. Cool man. I just gotta swing by my guys house.

We arrived in a part of town that Ozzy told me was the ghetto, and parked our car by an intersection. Ozzy and Rawiya started speaking in Arabic, then Ozzy made a phone call, also in Arabic. "This your homies crib?" I asked in what I'm sure is way-not-cool, dated slang. "Homies? Man I ain't got no homies. As 2PAC said 'I need a homie that know me when all these muthafuckin' cops be on me.' And when those muthafuckin' cops be on me, ain't nobody know me." I came to learn that Ozzy had done a couple stints in jail/prison. "I guess this guy is my closest thing to a homie. I was just telling Rawiya that we're here because I can smell myself and I feel bad." A man approached the window, Ozzy cracked it and handed something out and the man quickly handed something in. Much to my surprise, one minute later Ozzy was spraying himself with body spray. Huh, I couldda sworn that was a drug deal.

We continued to cruise around smoking and listening to music. "You want anything man?" Ozzy asked. I was getting quite parched. "I could use something to drink. Not alcohol. Maybe just water or juice." We pulled up to a market. "What kind of juice?" Ozzy asked. "Anything. I guess orange. Or wait, do they have mango?" I rushed. "Yeah man, anything you want." Ozzy ran inside. "This Kush stuff; do I wanna smoke it?" I asked Rawiya. "Smoke it, but just a little. If he tells you to take three hits, take one. The last time I smoked it I felt my soul rise out of my body. It wasn't bad, just intense." Ozzy came back with a bottle of mango juice for me, a can of some other juice for him, and some chocolate for Rawiya. "This is the kinda juice right here" Ozzy said, pointing to his can. "Oh, well you shouldda told me." I replied. A little while later we came to a larger market which I subsequently learned to be a Safeway. "I shouldn't go in there like this. I'll wind up buying a whole cart full of juice." I joked. There were isles upon isles of juice. There were juice sections within the juice sections, and Ozzy knew his way around the juice. At least, that's how it all seemed at the time. We got the last two cans of the juice that Ozzy liked so much, and a package of cookies and then went back to the car.

"You wanna shake it. There's chunks in it." Ozzy told me. I shook the can and took a sip. It was delicious. "You gotta tilt the can up to get the chunks out." He told me. He was right. I tilted the can and a bunch of chunks fell into my throat and I gagged. "You'll get the hang of it." Ozzy laughed. "I see that I have much to learn from you in the ways of juice." I responded. We continued driving around. Sometime after 1am, Rawiya and I dropped Ozzy off and headed to her place. Ten minutes later we arrived at a derelict building that looked like it was abandon before it was finished. She parked her car and we went inside. Rawiya opened the door to her apartment, then quickly shut it and jumped back. She rushed downstairs and I followed her. "What's up?" I asked. "There's people in my apartment!" She told me. "What? What kind of people? How many?" I inquired. "I don't know. I just saw their shoes and the TV was on." She tried calling the landlord but his phone was off. We went back to the car and she explained: "I just got this apartment three days ago, but I haven't stayed here yet because every time I came by I only heard the loud voices of men and I'm a single woman." Ah, I see.

We drove back to Ozzy's house and picked him up. We drove around a little bit then parked in a nearby brown-field. Ozzy walked home and Rawiya and I slept in the car. When I woke up in the morning the windows were frosted/fogged over. It had been about 4°C|39°F overnight. We went back to Safeway to use the bathroom, then picked Ozzy up. "Did you wake 'n' bake?" Ozzy asked. "No, not yet." I told him. "Well lets get on it." he said as he started rolling a joint. We picked up the day where we had left it the previous evening. "You wanna meet the Jordanian mafia?" Ozzy asked. "It's the place where they grow all the weed. It's near the dead sea." He continued. "Ummm, sure" I said slowly. Is this gonna be one of those nights where I get messed up and sneak into Palestine? "You're gonna start feeling your ears popping." Ozzy told me as we drove on. "We're going to the lowest point on earth."

As we neared our destination, Ozzy made a phone call. We arrived at a driveway with a couple guys standing at the entrance. Someone came up the driveway and spoke to the men and we continued toward the building. We all got out and followed our escort around the side of the building where we took off our shoes and went inside. We entered a gloomy square room of graffiti-covered concrete walls that were built with just slightly too little mortar. Four men sat on dirty scraps of carpet around the edge of the room, with broken-china ashtrays scattered about. They all got up to greet us, and Ozzy kissed them on the cheeks in turn. They motioned for us to sit down, so we did. The room had no windows and only a dangling incandescent for light. A large space heater sat toward the center of the room, with all but one coil missing. Ozzy and Rawiya began speaking to the men in Arabic, and occasionally different people would look at me. "He says he wants to talk to you, but he can't." Ozzy told me, referring to a guy with long hair pulled back into a knot.

Several joints were rolled and passed around. "This is his weed room." Ozzy told me. Puhleez, I think I know a Middle-Eastern drug den when I'm sitting in it. Occasionally Ozzy would translate something one of the men had said for me. "They like Israel here. Look." He pointed at the wall. I somehow hadn't noticed the large Israeli flag spray-painted on the wall opposite me. Hmmm, the star only has five points. I guess they don't like Israel that much. "So Ozzy; you're a website administrator?" I asked. "Yeah" he replied. "What do you actually do?" I continued. "Well, what's your background?" He asked. "Website development" I told him. "Oh. I'm your enemy. I'm a designer." Man, I sure have a lot of enemies.

I was starting to need to pee pretty badly. "Ozzy, do you know if there's a place to take a piss?" He spoke to the men in Arabic: "This guy will show you. Just follow him and go freely." Of course I'll go freely. Why wouldn't I go freely? Uh oh. In the words of my friend Joshua: Shit's about to get weird. Isn't it? I'm gonna be led into the center of a crowded fairground, or to the base of a giant palace or something, aren't I? The man brought me to the edge of the driveway and the road, and motioned for me to hop over a low wall. As soon as I was over I got rushed by puppies. Cute little puppies were dancing and barking around me. I could see their mother sleeping a few meters away. I guess they didn't want me going near her. I pointed in a direction and the man nodded his head. I walked a bit, then he shook his head. We played "hotter and colder" until I finally found the spot he wanted. I did my thing then went back to the weed room. Sitting in front of everyone, and in front of the empty space I had left, were muthafuckin' juice boxes! God I love this place.

We sat and smoked some more, and then a man came in holding three stalks of marijuana and set in down in front of the men who's den it evidently was. Oh god, I hope I don't have to smoke my way out of this situation. We smoked another joint or two, and then got up to leave. As soon as we got into the car, Ozzy began: "You know the guy with the long hair? Did you see his piece? He's the head guy." Oh, that's nice. Perhaps you should have told me that before we went into his house. The man with the long hair certainly didn't strike me as a mafia boss, not that I actually know what that should look like. The way he kept his elbows close to his torso made him seem insecure. At the same time, he kept his back straight and his shoulders up, and that made him seem in charge. I guess he just didn't need to grab space with his body to assert dominance.

"Do you wanna go to the dead sea?" Rawiya asked. "Sure." I said. We drove a bit and then pulled off on the side of the road and Ozzy and Rawiya did a Chinese fire drill. Ozzy explained that there's a checkpoint up ahead and since he's got a record it's better if Rawiya drives. "If the cops try to pull you over, it's better to just run ...if you got somethin' on you. That's what I always do." The checkpoint was uneventful and we got to the dead sea. Despite it being overcast and cold, it was beautiful. "Do you want to go swimming?" Rawiya inquired. "Isn't it a bit cold?" I replied. "You can go to a hot spring afterward." She told me. I decided I should do it. I got my swimming suit out of my bag which was still in the trunk, and then the three of us started descending to the sea. Rawiya had a bad back, so her and Ozzy decided to wait up at the hot spring for me while I went swimming.

I changed into my suit and ran down to the shore. I walked out a little ways into the water and then threw my whole body in. Man, floating in the dead sea is crazy! Then I decided I should do a bit of swimming. Then I decided I should get my head wet. Then my eyes began to burn uncontrollably. I hadn't opened them underwater, but droplets from my face were getting into them and I was completely blinded. I tried to touch down; I couldn't. I couldn't see which way the shore was and began to freak out a little. I started swimming and eventually touched down. I blindly walked my way back to land and eventually regained sight. I put on my shoes and ran up to the hot springs. "Did you go swimming?" Rawiya asked. "Yes" I panted. "Aren't your eyes burning?" She asked. "Yes, very much. It's terrible." I replied. "Oops, my bad. I was supposed to warn you about that before you went in." Ozzy interjected. I walked over to the hot spring. There was a pool just beneath the highway, coming from a pipe under the road. Beneath that was a waterfall. Both the pool and the waterfall were completely surrounded with garbage. I'm talking Indian train track garbage piles. Eh, I've bathed in worse. Besides, I have to rinse off this salt. I went down to the waterfall and shampooed up my hair. This waterfall will be perfect for rinsing my hair. OH GOD, IT's HAPPENING AGAIN!!! IT BURNS! Well, shame on me. I really shouldda known better the first time.

I dried off and we got back in the car. We started driving back to Amman when Rawiya shared the good news: "A friend of mine from CouchSurfing said we can stay with him tonight." I was happy to hear it. We dropped Ozzy off then went to meet our host. Ali greeted us at the car just outside his apartment. He had a very roomy place with five large couches and an extra room. Ali was nice and responsible and the three of us went out for some traditional Middle-Eastern deserts. *Sigh* The madness is finally over. At least, that's what I thought...

The next day Rawiya and I picked up Ozzy and continued to drive around Amman and smoke. Rawiya told me that her dream was to be a trucker. Hmmm, where have I heard that before... They asked me if I was interested in drinking and I said sure. They took me to the duty free shop where as a foreigner I could buy cheap booze. I bought a large bottle of whisky and we got back in the car. "Do you wanna drink this at the mafia bosses villa?" Rawiya asked. "They're all sitting around a fire. Do you like fires?" Do I!? She called the mafia boss to let him know that we'd be on our way. Ozzy was driving in his usual inattentive and aggressive manner. When the cops tried to pull us over, he ran. Ozzy pulled the car into the nearest gas station and when the cops caught us there, he told them that we couldn't stop because we were almost out of gas... which was partially true since the tank was always near empty. It was a car that Rawiya was borrowing from work and they only ever had enough money for a few liters at a time. The cop let us off! People in Jordan don't fear the police and they never try to extort money out of you. When we arrived at the villa behind a large mosque, the fire was just getting started. On the couches on the back patio sat the man with long hair, a teenager smoking a hookah, a kid of maybe thirteen, and a young man with a gun in a holster over his breast. I sat down between the mafia boss and the other guy with a gun. Ozzy and Rawiya sat on the couch opposite.

We drank and smoked and carried on. At some point I was telling Ozzy how I really like the mafia boss and I feel very comfortable around him, and then both him and Rawiya laughed and said that he was literally just saying the same thing about me! Both before and after that incident I realized at times I was jokingly pantomiming the mafia boss as he sat beside me gesticulating some story in Arabic. I suppose he probably doesn't get many people that are willing to do that. I read an email on my phone from my father "Have a good time and obey local customs whilst in the Middle East." Then a new man arrived at the party, carrying a large machine gun with a clip nearly as long as the barrel. He shook hands with the mafia boss then stepped closer to me. He leaned in for a kiss on the cheek, so I gave him one. Hmmm, other side? The man still waited. Third times a charm? The man smiled and moved on. "Three kisses. That's what you guys do here?" I said to Ozzy. "Yeah. I'm really impressed: you did it well." I gave up on expecting Ozzy to tell me important information before I needed it.

I was happy that the guy with the large gun didn't hang around too long. After he left, a Palestinian guy with a huge bag of kush showed up. The guy with the gat strapped to his chest asked me if I had any American music. I took out my iPod and speakers, which I luckily had with me. Rawiya explained that it was actually the villa of the guy who asked me to put on the music, and that he was an interior designer. He was the first interior designer that I've met that carries heat! Everyone seemed to enjoy the music and both guys sitting on either side of me did a little dancing in their seat. Eventually however, the mafia boss said that he had had enough music and asked me to turn it off. The owner of the villa told me to leave it on. Ok, who should I listen to? How about the guy with the gun. They both have guns! The mafia boss or the homeowner? Oh god. I left the music off. The bottle of whisky ran dry. "No more? Can you get some more?" The mafia boss gestured to me. I looked at Ozzy and Rawiya and could see that they were ready to call it a night, so I shook my head no. He understood. We said our goodbyes and went back to Ali's.

The part of this story that I haven't been able to work in, is the lifestyle of Ozzy and Rawiya. In a few words, they behaved like the American poor. Rawiya had been homeless for the couple days before I came to Jordan, and that's why she hadn't answered my messages. They were both clearly living below paycheck to paycheck, and yet every purchase and every meal was a battle for the bill, and they almost always beat me. It was the first time I was hosted by a homeless CouchSurfer. And you know what? Every time Rawiya saw a beggar (which wasn't too often), she gave them money. I've never really lived out of a car, or with poor people in a modern city. It was a very humbling, touching, and enlightening experience. Ozzy and Rawiya are trapped in a culture that doesn't accept them. They'd be nothing extraordinary if they lived in America, but unfortunately they don't. As for my initials impressions of the Middle East: I love it! The food has been amazing and everyone has been soo nice. I can't wait to carry on this story and see what happens next!

Soundtrack: Ain't No Sunshine (Michael Jackson)

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