Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to Smuggle Cigarettes into Jordan

One intrepid soul in the school of yellow fish pulls over to the side of the road. The man at the hotel desk said one-fifty was a good price to the bus station, but this guy says three hundred. He won’t budge, so I step into the river of yellow, and another taxi pulls up. “Okay! Okay! One fifty,” says Taxi Guy Number One (TGN1). 
As soon as we pull away from the curb, he says, “Two hundred.” I don’t think so. When we near the bus station, he asks where we are going. Amman. He proceeds to drive right by the station, past a pack of rabid taxi drivers who all run up to the car shouting, “Beirut? Amman?” My window is open, so I say, rather innocently, I might add, Amman? The closest man turns to everyone else, and shouts, “Amman!!” and it’s like we just poked a hornet’s nest with a stick. Everyone goes bananas. 
We continue driving while a couple guys try to chase us down on foot. Okay enough. Pull over, now. Now, I say, more firmly. A taxi pulls up beside us, and the two drivers make hasty agreements, looking very anxious to get going. They want to continue doing business much further away, “…because there are police here and police there. This man will take you to Amman for one hundred U.S. dollars.” I’ll give you 2500 Syrian pounds (about $50). “Okay,” they relent. “Let’s go.” Boy, they’re jumpy. 
While we are putting our bags in the trunk, TGN1 tries to convince me that he deserves two hundred pounds for setting up the deal. And oh, look, the police have come to join our party. 
One of the policemen pockets TGN2’s registration and tells him to drive us back to the station. As we pass all the other drivers, they laugh and shout at TGN2, playfully, mockingly. At an office at the back of the station, police arrange another driver for us, we put our bags in a new car, and drive off with TGN3. Apparently, drivers need proper permits to take people across the border, so I’m a little bit curious as to where we would’ve ended up with #2.
TGN3 reminds me of the older cop from Crime Story, except with white hair.

Two miles out of town, the driver pulls over to the side of the road and gets out his cell phone. I clear my throat loudly, and off we go again. From now on, he makes his calls from the comfort of a moving vehicle.
Near the Jordanian border, we stop in at the duty free shop (or something?), and TGN3 comes out with an economy size pack of smokes. The bulk of the package goes in the trunk, while a few packs end up under my seat.
At the border, Jordanian guards invite us out of the vehicle. The car is inspected inside and out, and very thoroughly underneath. We pay our forty Jordanian dinar (JD), the guard smiles warmly, and into Jordan we go.

As we close in on Amman, roadside activity increases. Someone on the side of the road has a rack full of leather jackets for sale. Another has loaves of bread, and another a lineup of stuffed animals, arranged from smallest to largest.
Driving on the busy freeway on the outskirts of the city, we stop abruptly, and TGN3 gets out of the car and races across the street, our car still running. He talks to a guy who is waiting beside a car on the other side, and points to us a whole bunch. Then he gets in that car and takes off. Okay.
TGN4 now cautiously makes his way across to our side, rolling clumsily over the concrete median. He gets into our car and says, “Hello!” with a big smile. Do you speak English? He shakes his head. Good luck getting to the bottom of this one. He drives us into the centre of town, and tries to convince us that we should get out at a bus station that is no longer in use. Not bloody likely. He and I go into a nearby shop looking for someone who can translate for us. Turns out Syrian taxi drivers are not allowed to cart people around Amman. He could take us here, why not the real bus station? My translator shrugs his shoulders.
TGN5, the friendly and chatty Jordanian version, talks our ears off the whole way to our next stop, where we get into a funky minibus with burgundy velour and matching tassels. We sit in the very back and have a conversation with a young man who is studying tourism at school. At least I think that’s what he said. It’s hard to tell over the screeching music that seems to plague buses in the Middle East. Bad action movies, CDs, or the radio, volume is the only requirement, and all volume knobs go to eleven.
A truck goes flying by us as we walk to the Miriam Hotel. A teenager hangs precariously out of the window. “Welcome to Jordan!” he shouts and waves. 
On our way out for supper, we run into the Lowthers, and on our way back, find Bonnie and Adrian hanging out in a cafe. We have some ayran (still gross) while we compare taxi stories.
My family sleeps comfortably, while I write and organize photos.

What next? I wonder.

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