How the worst moment of my trip to Jordan became the highlight
The worst moment of a great vacation came on a sunny afternoon in the Jordanian countryside. It was the midday lull of Ramadan in early April, and the winding road away from Petra was deserted as we drove south. All but the young man who strolls defiantly down the alley a hundred yards ahead of him, a lone figure soon joined by two others.
I slowed down and got close enough to see not young men but 10 or 12 year old boys walking where they shouldn’t be. It was not good. I fished between them carefully, but, as I gave him gas, they slapped the sides of the car, hard. Then:
The entire rear window shattered in a hail of shrapnel. I hadn’t seen the rock that one of them had on hand.
There were four of us: my sister-in-law Tyrie in the passenger seat, my wife, Ann, and her 16-year-old son, Harry, in the back, wide-eyed and covered in sparkling shards. In the rearview mirror, I could see the boys running in the opposite direction.
“Follow them,” Ann shouted.
I backed up, spun the wheel and was closing the gap when the boys split up: two on a steep road in the village, one in trees and out of sight.
It’s funny how different people react to travel disasters. I was already immersed in the annoyed but resigned phase. Should we miss our next stop on the itinerary, a night at a desert camp two hours south? Maybe I could tape bags to the back window?
But Ann had been a Peace Corps teacher in rural Botswana and spent her career as an international development consultant in remote villages around the world. She wasn’t giving up.
“Let’s find a house,” she said. “Someone will know who they are.”
I raced down the road to a quiet, closed two-story house. Most families cower during the long daytime fasts of Ramadan. As I knocked, I turned and saw Ann, Tyrie, and Harry running full speed, in three different directions, through the village. One of the boys had reappeared and was barely visible a few hundred yards away.
“Wait,” I said weakly to no one.
The door was opened by a schoolgirl, looking polite but wary as I explained, in a mixture of English, pantomime and traveler’s Arabic, that we had been mugged: Please, auto , police, shukran, shukran, shukran (thank you).
Moments later, her older brother came out, followed by three women fixing their hijabs in place. I pointed to the ruined rear window and the boy still just visible with Harry well behind him. “Do you know him?”
They watched the figure before he rounded the corner and a woman called out a name. She took out her cell phone.
In the village the hunt was on – sort of. Harry had lost sight of the only boy, so he stopped to eat the vegetable wrap he had in his hand before the glass shattered.
But Ann was asking local moms for help. Tyrie had spotted a boy entering a yard. Ann knocked on the door, which opened to reveal a teenage girl flanked by a multitude of astonished children, then their mother. The mother nodded and pointed to a house across the street.
There another mother in the side yard invited Ann for tea, but just then a third woman next door called. The news was spreading.
“He went over there,” the woman said, pointing. “Try there.”
There was no answer at that door. The track was cold.
Ann, Tyrie and Harry all walked back up the hill to where the crowd around the car had grown. Over a dozen neighbors tsk-tsked on our glass pile. A stocky man named Abdullah, who had learned English in the kitchen of a Marriott hotel, took charge.
“You are all safe,” he said. “A broken window is nothing.”
He offered to make us tea and lunch, but not even the water would pass his lips until sunset, still seven hours away.
I asked the teenager in the house if he would call the police. Abdullah pulled me aside as he dialed the number. “Maybe we don’t need the police,” he said. “We can help you.”
I join the Avis office in Amman, where the manager is concerned and reassuring. He promised to send another car immediately, despite the approximately four-hour drive from the capital.
But he was clear on the cost. “You will have to give us 200 dinars for the glass,” he said, or about $395. “Cash or credit card.”
Suddenly, three boys, aged 10 or 12, were pushed in front of the spectators. Abdullah threw questions at them. Their Arabic was provocative. Two started yelling at each other.
Abdullah turned to us. “Is it the boys? »
It seemed so. They had changed their clothes, but the faces resembled those that had emerged from the pavement. And yet, how can you be sure? The four of us consulted each other without a word.
“It was boys like that, that age,” Ann said. “But we can’t be positive.”
Abdullah thought, then said, “It was them. They said so.
Things started to work themselves out without our help. Two men removed the remaining glass from the window. Another measured plastic sheets and tape, and a fourth vacuumed shards from the back seat.
The three women invited Ann and Tyrie into the house for some shade and a visit. One called her English-speaking sister in Amman to interpret over FaceTime. They offered coffee, tea and, as the sun went down, part of the iftar feast being prepared in the kitchen.
Outside, Abdullah motioned to a nervous mustachioed next to the crowd to come.
“He’s the father of one of the boys,” Abdullah said. “What do you want to do?”
It would be the father, Abdullah had said, who could go to jail.
“What is fair?” I asked, spreading my hands. “It was very dangerous. My family is very upset.”
“You have to buy us the drink. And the boys have to apologize to my wife,” I said. “If so, we will not file a complaint.”
The father nodded, looking relieved, and picked up his phone. Abdullah led the boys to where Ann was sitting with the women. They spoke in Arabic and Abdullah said, “They tell you they are sorry.”
Ann let them, for creating such fear, for taking such risks. They obviously didn’t hear all the words, but the outrage of a former teacher and mother of three didn’t need to be translated. The three Jordanians nodded.
At this time, a patrol car pulled up. Abdullah informed one of the officers, who came to see me, apologized for our misfortune and confirmed that I was not making an official complaint.
“It’s your choice,” he said. But you would still have to come to the station, 10 minutes away, to make a report.
Twenty minutes later I was in a conference room with five officers and the three fathers. They wrote a detailed account of the encounter, smiled knowingly when I described Ann conscripting the village women, and apologized, again, for our troubles. One of the agents called Avis to confirm the cost of replacing the glass, which they all considered to be outrageously high.
But we all signed the document, and the fathers pooled their money and gave me four 50-dinar notes. We shook hands solemnly. But the first smiles appeared.
We headed south to Wadi Rum, where we bought a new car and immediately resumed the pleasures – the food, the scenery and the warm welcome – of touring the Middle East.
The worst moment of the summer vacation had become one of the best.
The Washington Post
See also: The 10 people who can turn your vacation into a nightmare
See also: No plane, take the bus: My nightmarish journey back from Europe