One day, memories of my Jordan trip flooded into my mind. Of the 51 countries that I have visited, this particular trip was unusually memorable and was one that I have looked back on many times. The trip was very short, but the things that happened and how they happened had left me awe-struck again and again. There was a certain magic in the trip, something that went beyond the five senses, and could only be savoured and appreciated by the higher senses.
Before I went, I talked to a Pakistani colleague who knew about the desert, stating my concern about transportation. The country didn’t have a reliable public transportation, and I didn’t want to join a tour group. Taxi wasn’t a great idea because the drivers tended to have a special price that’s many times over the usual rate for foreigners, and the only person who set and reset the rate was the driver, sometimes after arriving at the destination.
My Pakistani colleague suggested that I either drive or hire a personal driver. The former was a bit difficult because GPS didn’t work in some areas, and road signs sometimes got blown away by the winds or other mysterious forces.
So that was my concern before arriving in Jordan. After arrival, my concern was: the personal driver O fell in love with me.
But in between these two times, a different solution came to me: a Jordanian named H approached me online and after a short period of correspondence, we met in Jordan and H became my “personal” driver.
After Jordan, I crossed the border by foot into Israel. There I began another unusual and memorable trip, though that stretch of my trip was not so tinged with pleasantness but rather, with unpleasantness.
The border crossing at the Israeli side was annoyingly cumbersome. A lot of time was spent waiting, without knowing what would happen next while hoping that what would happen would be the same as what I wanted to happen. Uncertainty and unpredictability.
I met a couple of Chinese travelers who chose to travel on their own rather than joined the tour group. I briefly helped them at immigration with translation. At the time I wasn’t very eager to stay with them, as I generally don’t mingle with Chinese speakers. But for some unknown reason, I stayed with them.
After clearing immigration, I didn’t know how to get into the city. The Chinese couple said to take the Arab minibus. We sat in the minibus, waiting indefinitely, as departure time was the moment when the bus was full.
Arriving in the old city of Jerusalem, not knowing which way to walk, I followed the Chinese couple. My hotel was on the way to theirs, and so after I arrived at mine, we bid farewell.
On the first day, I roamed around the city. On the second day, I decided to navigate away from the city, by bus, and I found myself in the desert, not arriving at what I expected to see, but found myself in a kibbutz that had a mini zoo and talked to an Argentinian scientist who barely spoke English but made me a ring as a souvenir after offering me a special coffee, then on my way back I touched the Dead Sea, then hitchhiked three times to get back into the city.
The third ride was with an Arab who specialized in driving strangers, and he had a Japanese girl who knew him well. Before the girl got off at her destination, she surreptitiously threw me a note that said “Be care of this guy.”
I didn’t think I would be in trouble, but as we were about to arrive in the old city of Jerusalem, he wouldn’t leave me alone. He wanted to follow me to my hotel. I didn’t agree. So instead of going to my hotel, he took me to East Jerusalem, an area that was highly populated by Arabs, to eat. After, he still insisted on walking me back to my hotel, so I said let’s go walk inside the old city, thinking that I could lose him in the maze, but soon realized that I had underestimated the navigational ability of a local.
Cat and mouse both in maze. Realizing my failure to ditch the cat, I wished I could bump into an old friend. But this place was ten million miles away from my friends, how could I ever bump into anyone I knew here?
In this moment, I bumped into the Chinese couple.
I told the cat, “I am going to join my friends, so how about we meet up again another time?” He reluctantly left me.
The Chinese couple thought that cat was my friend, but after I explained my situation, they understood why I suddenly wanted to cling on to them. And the only way I could do so, was to immediately close the gap between me and the Chinese couple, by speaking in Chinese, effectively leaving the Arab cat in limbo even though he was standing very closely beside me.
After that, another surprise came. They planned to go to Bethlehem tomorrow, and invited me to join them. So I did. Before going, I had no idea where it was, because they pronounced the name of the city in Chinese, and it did not register anything meaningful in my head. But after arriving, I realized, this was the place I had wanted to go, but totally forgot about, and even if I didn’t forget I still wouldn’t be able to go alone because the crossing was too confusing for me. So I found myself in Palestine, effortlessly.
In hindsight, I understood why I had to meet the Chinese couple, despite my initial reluctance, and was grateful that I did.
. . .
The memories of this trip make me wonder if the purpose and meaningful of our lives are to accumulate memories, but memories have to be positively charged. If we have a lot of life experiences, but they were tinged with pain and misery, would they still have purpose and meaning?
How do we make sense of our lives? How do I make sense of all the things that happened on my Jordanian trip that were beyond logic? Letting go of control? When we stop controlling our lives, life will flow magically.
And what are the residual effects of our memories? The memories of the trip propelled me to find another Jordanian penpal, and told him about my memories. Perhaps this is one the effects from the trip–a desire to re-enter the magical realm of the unknown.