Archive for cabs
The Levant: Part Six
The closest I came to gunfire was just after we crossed the border into Syria. They told me it was dangerous, but I thought it would come from the cities, from the police, from around the crowds, and not on the road that cut up from Beirut through the mountains and back down again toward Damascus, Ash-Sham.
Leaving Lebanon at Masn‘aa, we would first reach Haloua, the town whose name means “sweet”. I had passed through each country’s checkpoint without an issue, accepted into Syria without knowing my destination, with nothing but my visa and tempered American smiles.
I sat in the back of the taxi. Just me, and the driver’s fat friend in the passenger seat. They had gained interest in me with the altitude, but lost it quickly when I told them that I wasn’t at all ethnically Lebanese. We entered into Syria and the fat friend lent me his phone, or rather rented it, fidgeting angrily when I had spent too long trying to make out my friend’s directions to a meeting point. Tension mounted as he demanded eight thousand lira, almost six dollars, for a five minute call. The scruffy driver took his friend’s side. Pressure.
It all seemed a bit too easy, but for sixty dollars I had hired a driver from the Hussein Bridge Border Crossing to take me into downtown Amman, and later, to the airport —more than two hours of total driving. Plus, I’d have three hours to see the Jordanian capital before my flight back to Abu Dhabi. I put my duffel in the trunk, jammed my backpack into the back seat and slid in the front.
Salim was from Palestine and had lived almost everywhere his visa would let him. He lit a cigarette and spoke in better English than my Arabic.
“How’s Abu Dhabi?”
“Abu Dhabi’s okay,” I told him. “Hot. Jordan’s so nice in the wintertime.”
“I don’t like the cold.”
After an hour and a half and several bouts of involuntary napping, I opened my eyes at the city limits, where swaths of identical square houses cover every inch of hillside. Where Jerusalem stone is white, textured, the façade of Amman is yellow and brown, its flat boxes textured only by pressing against and climbing over one another like a cubist painting.
A study once revealed the hippocampi (thought to be major memory centers in the brain) of London cab drivers to be much buffer than those of non-cabbies. Abu Dhabi taximen are a step above. Or sometimes not.
The huge blocks in the city, spaced about a kilometer apart, are interlaced with a patchwork of little unnamed backstreets that run like neverending parking lots through garages and alleyways. Addresses, then, in this city free from zip code and street number, take a much different form. Our western obsession with the numerical exactness of the address is replaced with the “rural route”, which relies on landmarks and major street names: Apartment X, Geneva Laundry bldg. Khalidiya Street, across from Kentucky Fried Chicken. ّWell that’ll get you going in the right direction. After all, the “ad” in address means “toward” — isn’t that enough?
I had lost sweat and (metaphorical) tears to settle in Abu Dhabi. Today, I gave the blood.
Every visa-carrying visitor/resident of the UAE must get a relatively unintrusive medical check-up in order to stay in the country. A positive AIDS or TB test will send you back where you came from.
Trying not to concentrate on the needle, I stared at my Arabic entry permit and tried to think of puns using the word “Sheikh”. Sheikh down. Sheikhspeare.
Afterwards, I was called into an x-ray room to have my chest examined. She asked me to fold my collar upwards, she said to get it out of the way. I still think they take pictures at the same time — every American with a popped collar — as a bargaining chip in case of strained relations. “We have pictures of all of your citizens looking like guidos. Now let’s negotiate.”
On the digital screen above the machine I saw my name, and beneath it “W CHEST PA”. I’m sure that means something to a doctor, but to me it was eerie. My small hometown in Pennsylvania neighbored the town West Chester — W. Chest., PA. How much can they tell from my ribs? Read the rest of this entry »