Last year I took a two day short sight seeing trip to Jordan. The idea was to rent a car from the airport and look at everything that was possible in two days. We went to the Dead Sea (the novelty dies down in 15 minutes once you realize that only thing to do is float on your back. period), Petra, Jerash, Aqaba, Wadi-e-Ram, mount Nebo (where you can receive welcoming texts from Israeli cellphone services on your cellphone) etc.
My colleague was harassed at the immigration on why did he come to Jordan (both of us had a green passport and advance clearance had already been taken by Jordanian Embassy from their Interior Ministry before granting us a tourist visa) however we were let off after half an hour of meaningless questioning.
While driving along the Dead Sea we came to many check posts commanded by Jordanian Army with a tank, a jeep mounted machine gun and a few soldiers. Dead Sea is as wide as Indus River and Israel is on the other side of it. At every checkpost they would address us with Arabic salutations i.e., Alhamdolillah Ala Salama (thank God for your safety) or Yateek Al Afiya ([God] gives you wellness). Though not used to speaking in Arabic we would reply in English. As non-western and non-arabic tourists, the officers would be surprised to find us in that area. They would ask us for our passports and inquire where are we taking that road. On finding a suitable reply they would let us proceed never checking the car nor the trunk (not that it contained anything).
After six checkposts, we got used to the routine. When we approached the seventh checkpost, before the car came to stop by the officer, my colleague who was sitting on the passenger seat slightly bent down to open the dashboard and take out our passports. From the corner of my eye I could see that the officer on the machine gun mounted jeep suddenly became alert and took the aim of my colleague. I whispered under my breath in a very strict tone “Bhench##$. Leave whatever you are doing and sit back slowly”. Luckily he did as he was told. The officer on the road came to my side of the window once the car stopped completely and followed the same routine of questioning and passport. The guy on the jeep remained alert all the time with the gun loaded and aimed towards us. Finally, when the officer was satisfied, he let us go and the officer on the jeep relaxed. This was a close call. I told my colleague to never do anything so stupid unless specifically asked for by the officer.
From now on we moved inwards into the country to go towards Aqaba (newly developed sea port on red sea) and again the same routine of checkposts every few miles. Finally, at one of the checkpost we decided to use Arabic. Whats the use of knowing a foreign language if you can’t use it. We thought, what the hell, we might get some smiles out of the people. So at the next checkpost, when the military officer said Alhamdolliah ala salamah, we replied Allah sallimak which also means the same thing. Then he asked where are we going and we said Aqabah. Then he asked for our documents and we brought out our passports. He asked us to step out of the car and stepped back to the check post never turning his back to us and though not shouting yet announcing that yehki bil arabi..yehki bil arabi (they are talking in arabic)…everyone loaded their guns…we froze…their superior officer came and asked us where were we going. Ordered us to open the trunk and went through our backpacks as well as dashboard and even had someone look under the seats. After some more meaningless questions he let us go.
From then onwards, our communication in Jordan even where the guy didn’t know an iota of English was in English or sign language.
The trip otherwise was wonderful