Saturday, July 16, 2011

Time and Rain in San Jose: Dusting off old Memories








     This afternoon, as I sat overlooking a soggy central square in San Jose, Costa Rica I contemplated what to do for the next few days till my motorcycle is repaired (Wednesday at the earliest).Though I will likely devote at least one day to bus rides and a national park possessing monkeys and exotic birds, much of the down time will be spent searching for something cheap to do.
   I've taken up residence at a strange hippie commune of a hostel close to downtown (last night there was some sort of secretive "pacifists" meeting(?!!)), the rate was a rather steep $25 a night but my room and attached bathroom are private and the wireless internet connection while in the commons area is strong so computer use is rather easy.
   I have, for a while, been contemplating writing down some of the better stories from my ,shall we say colorful, past and perhaps this is the time to begin. The first of these I'll post has already been written. It transpired in sunny Jordan, the two years between then and now leave my mind ambivalently uncertain whether it is recent past or ancient history, however, there is no doubt that I am not the same today as I was on 9-9-9.

                                 A Straight Road, A Crooked Innkeeper, and A Crazy American:
                                                            Israel in the Middle East



9-9-9    6:20 P.M.
    I am in the ancient ruins of Petra’s Central Temple.  The searing sun has hidden itself behind a massive rock formation adorned with marvelous architecture.
    It has been a trying couple of days.  Monday after a tedious trip I was led to a hotel my travel guide warned was often rude to patrons (amongst other gripes), however, tired as I was it seemed prudent to at least examine the room.



    The proprietor of the Valentine Inn called for a petite Polynesian looking girl to show me the room.  As I followed her up a set of stairs then down a corridor, she made small talk, asking of my origins, travel plans and name.  We reached the door of the room I stepped inside, though it was reasonably clean I was a bit disheartened by the apparent lack of air-conditioning.  As I searched the walls for an A/C unit my guide hastily approached me and asked in a firm but conciliatory voice, “Please help me"

    My petite guide went on to tell me of her misfortune.  She was Philippine, her name Abigail, her employment in Jordan, a modern form of indentured service.  The proprietor of the hotel held her passport, overworked her, assaulted her, and withheld her pay.  She pleaded for me to take her  to the Philippine Embassy in Amman.   I agreed, but first wanted to visit the ruins of Petra.  We walked back to the lobby and Abie whispered, “Please sir, please don’t tell them.”  I was convinced her story was true.
    Upon my asking the nightly rate of the room the proprietor responded, “Sit, sit and drink.  Bring him a coffee.” To this I asked to retrieve my travel guide from the car using its less than flattering review to bargain with.
    After striking a deal for two night’s room and board, I procured a bottle of Scotch and ventured out onto the balcony.  There was quite a diverse collection of folks lounging around the seating area.  A few Brits, an Asian lady, a brother and sister pair of Belgians, and there was even a fellow from Atlanta, Georgia.  I started pouring drinks and before I knew it everyone was around one table exchanging stories and laughing.  It was a great time.  But as the hours grew later, our group dwindled.  In the end a Belgian, Peter, and I remained.  Having emptied the first bottle of Scotch, I went in to retrieve another.
    Though most of the rooms were accessible from the exterior, my room required passing through the lobby which was locked.  After beating on the door for what seemed to be quite a long time, the innkeeper’s very rough looking henchman answered.  He informed me that the door was to remain locked and I need to go to my room for the evening.  I found this unacceptable.  The pesky Jordanian bellhop attempted in vain to argue with me as I marched upstairs to my room.  I hastily snatched the bottle of Glenlivet  and headed back outside.  As I reached the front door, I noticed Mr. Congeniality had walked away having left the key in the lock.  This was a tantalizing opportunity.  The devil on my left shoulder said, “ Go ahead take it.”
    The angel on my right shoulder then said, “Yeah, man.  Take it.”  And with that the deed was done.
    I showed my plunder to Peter and we had a good laugh followed by a drink.  It did not take our host long to appear searching for the missing key. 
    He matter of factly asked, “Where is the key?”
    To which I answered, “What key?”
    I saw the anti -American sentiment mounting in his eyes as he pointed and stated, “The key in the door.”
    I told him, “I only have the key needed to get in my room.”
    He asked again, and my answer was as redundant as his question.  Peter and I watched as he left in a tizzy.  After finding another key and locking the door, he produced a bedroll and laid down next to the door.  Another good laugh was had and we speculated on the future confrontation.
    The next couple of hours spent in conversation with Peter were some of the best I have ever had.  We covered it all, politics to religion.  Alas, all good things come to an end and though scotch remained, we were finished.
    Having said goodnight to Peter, I stashed the pilfered key and went to the locked front door.  Initially I knocked, but the door Nazi remained silent.  As my frustration increased so did the persistence and firmness of my knocks.  Nothing, my knocks changed to kicks and finally, a response, he sat up and looked at me as I kicked, telling him to open the door.  He shook his head as if he could not understand.  I went from lightly kicking the glass of the door to straining my thigh kicking its aluminum frame.  The entire assembly was shaking in the wall as I bluffed to my adversary intentions of breaking the door down.  Erring on the side of caution, he swiftly rose and unlocked the door.  By this time, there was a definite look of concern, if not outright fear, on my sand dwelling friend’s face and he was very non-confrontational as I entered.
    Feeling a tad haughty, rather than going to bed I remained in the lobby using the computer a while as I swilled upon my Scotch.  I stumbled up the stairs to my room around 4 or 4:30 am.
    I was awakened from a dreamless sleep by persistent knocking around 8:00 am.  I answered the door to find Abie going above and beyond to insure I did not miss breakfast and the first microbus ride to the ruins, or so I thought.
    As I walked down the corridor, somewhere between drunk and hung over,  I noticed my walking, talking indentured alarm clock looked stressed, however, she said nothing.  We reached the lobby and Abie retreated, informing me she was getting me a coffee.  I was then quickly accosted by the owner and quizzed over the missing key.  “Do you have the key?” he asked sternly, pointing at the door.
     I responded, “No.”  Which was true in a roundabout way.  Unsatisfied, the proprietor’s inquisition continued.
    I attempted to point out that I was locked out of my room to little avail.  Finally, I relented, fetching the key from the balcony.    I passed Peter and his sister who were in the middle of breakfast and offered up a woeful shake of the head.  Peter grinned and I continued on my way back inside to face the music.  I was intercepted by Abigail and handed a cup of thick Middle Eastern coffee.  She then quickly disappeared.
    While handing the key to the laird I was informed I must leave.  I had been there less than twelve hours.  It seemed my trip to the Philippine Embassy was to be moved forward.  Needing to buy some time, I complained I deserved a refund having paid for two nights.   The innkeeper gave a begrudging nod of the head dispatching his minion.  As his flying monkey collected my reimbursement, the owner continued with his condemnation, complaining, “You think you can do whatever you want?”  My frustration, having built to critical mass, I responded assertively as possible, “Fuckin’ A right, I paid for a room and  I’ll get into it when ever I please!”
    He then stated, “Get out, get out.!”  The lackey quickly reappeared bearing one fourth of what I originally paid.
    Possessing more persistence or math skill than they credited me with I asked in my most indignant voice, “ What the hell is this?  I’m not going anywhere until I get a full refund for at least one night’s rent.”
    The owner blasted back, “You owe me for the coffee!”
    I snickered and stated, “I didn’t ask for this, tastes like piss anyway.”
    I seldom lose when if comes to battles of will and soon received what I wanted.  The innkeeper followed out the door onto the balcony reiterating his contempt for me as we passed the breakfasting patrons.  I turned looking intently at him as he yelled, “Get out, get out!”
    My retort as I pointed was “You sir, you are a taker!”
    “It’s true.” This from a middle aged British lady as she covered her full mouth.  A more ringing affirmation I have never received.  Hastily I collected my things from the room and made a bee line for the car. Then pulling into a dead end alley beside the hotel I was approached by one of the maids and told that Abie was on her way.  I told her “I’ll slowly go to the end of the alley and turn around, tell Abigail to hurry.”  Hurry she did, carrying a bag nearly large as she.  I opened the passenger side doors from the inside.  She shoved her baggage in the back, shut the door and nimbly slid into the front seat.  As we pulled out of the alley I saw we weren’t the only ones in a car. The bastard had wheels.  This was going to be FUN!
    The chase is always my  favorite part of a story.  There are few things in life which I enjoy more than driving fast and I relished the opportunity to demonstrate my skills behind the wheel.  Initially the hotel owner in his Toyota having missed the chance to block our exit fell closely into line behind us.  We approached a series of down hill corners which grew increasingly steep and tight.  My Hyundai had a commendably gutsy V-6, however, suspension dynamics and handling must still be a bit of a black art in Korea and we found ourselves in slide after slide each one more lurid than the last.  I looked over at my passenger clasping tightly her oh shit bar as we drifted through a particularly long tight left hander, smiled broadly and said “don‘t worry, this is fun.”  She forced a  smile in return which was betrayed by the rest of her countenance.  Though I did not slow down, our pursuer had disappeared from the rear view mirror.  The direction of the roads in town made little sense and I found myself lost, Abie, having seldom left the hotel was of little help.  Delighting in the thought of my adversaries undoubted frustration over losing his chattel to the infidel, I neglected my inner compass, turning from  street to street.  Remembering I’d followed a cabby down the hill to the Inn the previous evening I knew to go back up.  The only problem was that the hotel was up hill as well, and as Murphy’s Law would have it, we turned up back at the Valentine Inn.  The owner. still in his car. once again gave chase.  Taking the same route descending as earlier, this time there was less sliding and more corner speed.  The second chase was over as quickly as the first, but this time I found my way out of town.  After about fifty kilometers of two lanes, we reached the four lane running north and south the expanse of the country.  Amman, here we come!

                                                                                                               -Intermission-
   -Intermission-
                  

 There’s nothing quite like a desert highway, ribbons of asphalt narrowing as they stretch onto the horizon.  It’s with this setting that my story continues.  Amman lies some four hundred kilometers or two hundred fifty miles ahead.
    Now there is no shortage of police presence in Jordan.  On the four lane you pass a station every forty or fifty kilometers.  At each of these the cops would run radar and monitor traffic.  Upon deciding to stop a vehicle they would walk out onto the road wielding a stop sign resembling a giant lollypop and wave them over.
    At the first of these police stations Abie and I passed on our way north, we were stopped.  Realizing I had not been speeding, I had a good idea what was in store.  The two spindly Jordanian coppers peered inside as I rolled down the windows.  Immediately they asked for my passport.  They’d found their man.  “Out of the car, please,” one of them stated.
    After I emerged the other policeman then in an innocuous manner took me gently by the arm and said, “This way.”  He was leading me over to what must have been the only Crown Victoria in the entire Middle East.  I’d been somewhat lulled by these law dogs’ subdued natures, however, the sight of this Detroit behemoth gave pause and I looked back at my rental car to see the first police man placing his A K-47 in the back seat then begin to climb behind the wheel.
        “Fuck this!” I thought, jerking my arm from the grasp of the diminutive Jordanian officer.  As I ran to the Hyundai wagging my finger I said  “No, no, no.  You’re not leaving in my car.”  The policeman relented and rode in the back seat as I drove he and Abie to the police station across the highway.  I felt good about the fact that Abigail and I hadn’t been separated but pensively apprehensive over what was in store.  The architecture of the police station fit the stark desert scenery like a glove.  It was a white and tan concrete structure, having austere features which exposed  its soulless character.  “God, working here must suck,”  I contemplated as I entered, Abie and armed escort in tow.  Every eye in the house was trained on us as we walked by.
    Abigail and I were taken to an office with a sole occupant.  We sat on a couch along the right side wall, there was an empty desk to our right and on the other side of the room, in front of us there were two more couches.  One which was inhabited by an unusually tall local.  He was clad in a full white robe and topped with a flowing kaffiyah The years of sunlight had not been kind to the man, his leathery wrinkled skin likely making him look far older than he actually was.  One of his green eyes was locked upon me in an intent stare, while the other wandered eerily in no discernible pattern.  His expression was clinched and unwavering as if he were being assaulted by ulcers of which I was the cause.  This man did not like me.
    After a brief span of time the police captain arrived with a few officers and assumed his position behind the desk.  Initially speaking to Abigail in Arabic their conversation became increasingly aggressive.  I just shook my head and began talking to myself.  They switched to English and it became apparent that the police were accusing me of kidnapping.  Abie continually went over her story, always ending with “He is good man, he is helping me.  He is taking me to the embassy in Amman.”
    To which the captain would point at me and say, “This man, this man is a good man?”  This volley went on for a while and then finally they changed the story.  Telling Abigail she left the Valentine Inn with her American boyfriend.
    “This was unbelievable, just how deranged are these people?” I thought to myself as I laughed aloud.
    The phone rang.  The captain answered. The call was brief and one sided.   He replaced the receiver into its cradle and conversed with the mean old bastard in the kaffiyah prompting his exit from the room.  He appeared unhappy.  This was surely a good sign.  No American for lunch today!
    The captain then left the room as well.  One of the rank and file policemen sitting across from us took the opportunity to whisper “Is OK.” My head  throbbed as I thought of water.
    The captain returned.  There were further tales of Abigail and the American boyfriend.  Mercifully, the phone rang once again interrupting the senseless use of oxygen.  The phone was passed to Abie, she went over her story for the faceless visitor, said thank you, then passed the phone to me.
    “Hello?” I said.
    A voice questioned, “You are helping the girl?  Taking her to the Philippine Embassy in Amman?”
    “Yes,” I responded, “this is crazy!”
    The voice on the other end continued, “I am sorry.  Continue on.”
    I pulled the phone from my ear and the captain threw his hands up and out disgustingly shooing us from his sight.
    I quickly found myself back in my now beloved Hyundai and wasted no time putting the Justice Center in the rearview mirror.
    The remainder of the trip north was spent getting to know Abie and telling her about myself.  It was interesting, the music on Jordanian radio was good and I shared in Abie’s blissful optimism.  It was nice while it lasted.
    Finding the American Embassy was the first order of business.  Walking through the security in front of the consulate, I could feel my optimism begin to falter.  Politics is not a game with which I have much luck and the law of statistics weighed heavily on my mind. Upon entering I took a number and watched the others around me trying to discern how their days were going.  Most looked as if they were experiencing mild annoyance in what might be obtaining a replacement for a lost passport.  One lady looked particularly pleased, for what I can’t imagine.  And there was one man who appeared to be in complete misery, the kind reserved for the passing of a family member or beloved friend.  It was a reminder that things weren’t that bad, however, they could always get worse.
    After a few minutes of contemplation I was beckoned to a window.  The lady helping me was intelligent and well spoken.  My story was easily understood and all too familiar.  She asked the name of the hotel and when I told her, “ The Valentine Inn,” she replied, “Oh, yes, we know them.”  She went on to enlighten me as to the particulars of Abigail’s predicament.  Since Abie was there working in a business agreement she was bound to stay and finish said agreement, the terms of which were sketchy at best.  There existed a buyout of roughly $3000.00 but Abie was penniless and I wasn’t much better off.  I was told that with this hanging over her head, the Philippine government wouldn’t issue her a new passport.  There had for a while existed a moratorium on Philippine labor in Jordan but this had been lifted a few months previously.  And the trade of human capital was again in full force.  As I thought of the worthlessness of the Philippine government I asked aloud, “What sort of shit is this?”
    To which the envoy responded, “It’s the Middle East, man.” with an expression underlining her helplessness.   I expressed my thanks and salutations and walked away feeling rather impotent.  I returned to Abie in the car and told her the bad news.
    Ever the trooper, she held hope that someone at the Philippine Embassy would help her.  I was far less optimistic.
    Finding the Philippine Embassy was quite an ordeal.  There were multiple addresses and the real one was almost impossible to find, which was just as well, as they would prove to be as useless as a football bat.
    The Embassy was overrun with twentyish year old Philippine girls that possessed keen interest in our situation.  They followed us around wherever we went much to Abie’s chagrin.  The severity of her situation was becoming apparent.  She did not care for the prospect of joining this contingent of refugees living at the Philippine Embassy in Amman.
    We were shown to the diplomat’s office and our newly found friends followed.  The ambassador entered the room parting the sea of youthful Philippine girls.  He was bald, portly and possessed a slimy quality reminiscent of Jabba the Hut.  When he spoke, the girls hung on his every word.  It was evident he liked the attention.  He placed the blame for Abie’s situation on her employers and the Jordanian government  insinuating that his hands were tied when it came to issuing another passport.  To which I called B.S. citing that were I in a similar situation the U. S. government would quickly and easily issue me a replacement passport.
     With sluggish disregard the pustular bureaucrat continued on with his off base ramblings.  I tuned the Jerk out and thought of the food that, due to Ramadan, I could not have.  Mmm, two all beef patties, look at that waste of space, special sauce, how stupid does he think I am, lettuce, he smiles.  Cheese, and chuckles, pickles, looks at the girls, onion, Abie starts to cry. On a sesame seed bun, you fucker.
    I’d seen enough , got up and walked out.  What to do?  If I were to make it back to see Petra before departing Jordan, I needed to leave Amman the following morning.
    It’s difficult to not feel deflated when even your best is not good enough and I felt awful.  Another failure.  Poor Abigail.  I couldn’t do a thing for her and now I had to leave her.  What was I going to say?  What could I say?  She was about to be alone in a land of greedy blood thirsty wolves.
    Abie and I left the Embassy as the sun was setting, it had been a heck of a long day.  We found a grocery store followed by a hotel.  I gorged, flipped through the hundreds of Jordanian television stations, finding no shortage of Allah, half were religious, and finally fell into a deep sleep at about seven thirty p.m.,
    Sleep was great, I dreamed I was in another car chase and though it was far closer than the real ones I had had the previous day, I still got away in time to rise with the sun.
    During the night Abie had talked with a guy at the hotel who could supposedly get her work and a place to stay.  This made me feel a bit uneasy, but he seemed nice enough.  He asked if he could catch a ride with me to Petra where he would bargain with the innkeeper for the passport.  I agreed but thought it to be an exercise in futility.
    He got off work at eight a.m. I hugged Abigail, said goodbye, and departed south.  My new passenger talked incessantly and smoked nearly as much.
    During the three and a half hour trip I did quite a fine job disregarding the idle chatter.  Thinking of the past couple of days I was unsure whether the world was a better, or worse, place due to my actions.
    I reached the Valentine Inn, my passengers exited as I told him “good luck”  I then hastily departed.
    I found Petra to be an amazing place. I spent what was left of the day hiking around this marvelous city and as I hiked I pondered. Though debatable, on many fronts, the effect I’d had on the world over previous days, whatever my role, that of saint or sinner, an adventure it surely was.  One worth writing down.

P.S.
    I have managed to keep up with Abigail and the unraveling of the rest of her story. After further complications involving the Jordanian judicial system she has been reunited with her family in the Philippines. (we are Facebook friends)





2 comments:

  1. San José-- you're not far from the Hotel Don Carlos. It's a neat, historical place... not for you to stay, but it's worth checking out if you've never seen it. Tiles inside make a map of the city, souvenir shop, interesting decor, good coffee, former president home.

    Interesting Jordan story!

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  2. Hey Israel,

    just read your petra story. to me it felt like a movie...a good one.

    hope your days in san jose are happy ones.

    i'll be playing a song, i wrote for/about you at the wackelstein festival here in austria this sunday.

    take care buddy,
    bruno

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