Early evening, I’m sitting in Amman airport. It’s Ramadan and the daily fast is about to end. All around me are women and children, still and silent as statues, apart from occasional surreptitious glances at watches. Suddenly, with no obvious signal, everyone moves at once. Bags are opened, sandwiches unwrapped, fruit peeled. The silence is replaced by murmurs of pleasure as hunger is swiftly appeased. My neighbour offers to share her bag of dates. I’ve not fasted, but they are so delicious, I almost miss my husband walking out of Arrivals. So begins our most unusual and wonderful Christmas ever.
We’d wanted different — and that’s what we get.A day touring the Jordan valley searching for Christ’s baptismal site comes to an abrupt end when our hire car runs out of road and sinks in a quagmire of waterlogged sand.After being checked out, but not helped, by rifle-carrying soldiers and inspected by a passing army commander in a Land Rover, we are eventually rescued by a farmer who uses his tractor to pull us backwards out of the orange mud like a cork from a bottle.
We eschew the stereotypical visit to Petra for a day in Wadi Rum, where we are driven across the sand dunes at breakneck speed by a toothless Arab. He speaks very little English, but is able to show us the pile of old breeze blocks which he swears once housed Lawrence of Arabia. All around us, Japanese tourists shudder with cold and wrap themselves in silver foil. We’re on holiday, and the sun is shining – just – so we wear our shorts and try to keep out of the shadows.
On Christmas Eve, we are approached by a taxi driver offering us a trip in a glass-bottomed boat. We agree to go the next day. We don’t really believe we’ll see him again but at 10 on the dot, he arrives at our hotel and carries us off to the shore where he hands us over to an old man and a young boy. Still rather apprehensive, with a Brit’s assumption that we will get cheated, we climb aboard a small boat and head off across the Red Sea. We watch beautiful corals glide past, along with a ruined WWII tank, although no-one can tell us how it got there. After a couple of hours, we pull in to a small beach where it is warm enough to swim and get even closer to the coral.
The young boy sets up a home-made grill and bakes a whole fish. The old man makes salad in a battered washing up bowl. They present us with plastic cutlery and then take themselves to the other end of the beach to relax while we enjoy our wonderful Christmas dinner in sight of four countries: Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The only traditional sign of the season comes at the hotel where Muslim waiters don red and white Santa hats and wish us ‘Merry Christmas’.
This is my last blog post of 2015. I’m taking a break until the New Year. So, echoing those waiters in Jordan, a very Merry Christmas to all my readers and a Happy and Peaceful New Year. See you on the other side!
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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