The Jordanian Affair

  Aug 29, 2013   Edmond

Old Jerusalem

I was walking out of old Jerusalem, when I got a call from Mr. George, the Jordanian tour company owner, who checked on me multiple times while I was touring in Israel. He informed me that Richard, who was my fantastic guide in Jordan, had been in a pretty serious accident and was hospitalized. I asked if he was ok, with honest concern. Mr. George wasn’t sure but planned to let me know as soon as he knew more. That Afternoon after crossing back into Jordan from Israel through the intense Israeli security, I was picked up by a man named Omar, whom was sent by Mr. George. Omar didn’t know anything about Richard, but as we drove through the rolling hills of the desert back to Amman, I have to admit that my concern for Richard waned just as the realization smacked me between the eyes that literally all of my possessions—my entire life at this point--had been in the trunk of Richard’s car. Before crossing into Israel I was advised to lighten my pack so that my Israeli border crossing would go more easily. My heart sank at the thought of all my shit possibly being lost. Worst of all, my tattoo machines, the holy instruments of my accomplishments traveling at that point, were in his car because I trusted leaving them with Richard more than in the hotel safe. I panicked, heart racing and on I was on my way to a full on paper bag ventilating panic attack. My livelihood abroad and any ability to continue traveling were in complete disarray, especially considering that I was traveling with less than one thousand USD’s at that point. I had planned for a job in Turkey (my next stop) or bust, and at that point, I had no job or contacts. I was on the razors edge.

I got back to my hotel feeling like the world had abruptly cracked open and I was falling inside like Indian Jones when the Holy Grail has fallen into the chasm. About 5 PM, I received a call from a lady who had just visited Richard. “He is ok. His face is pretty banged up. He is very lucky to have the minimal injuries. He will be released by Sunday.” It was Thursday, July 27th (the unholy number according to Edmond). Then she informed me she was going to the police station to recover my stuff that evening, because it was during Ramadan, that would be the only time she would be able to before Saturday, being that Friday was the holy day. I was greatly relived that Richard was going to be OK but my ultimate reaction was: Really? My stuff is at a police station? I’m going to get it back? All of it? A glimmer of hope is all I needed. All I could do was wait. . . and trust in the Universe and my Gods to protect me. Then, the thought blasted me that had I not been in Israel, I definitely would have been with him in that accident. Instead, I was in the holy land. Makes you think. So, I waited in excruciating agony wondering if the instruments of my career would be safe and unharmed.

While I waited I wondered if I could get any sleep that night; the anticipation, worry and excitement all bundled together dulled all the pain in my body, the sunburns, stiffness from walking all over and making it even seem like my clothes maybe didn’t smell so bad, after all. Why? My missing possessions, my tattoo case in particular could be only hours away. With the addition that the following day, Friday, I would visit one of the best preserved Greek cities in the world, the patron city of Apollo’s sister, Artemis, the ancient Greek city of Jerash. I was excited to bursting. But still, I wait, finally about 22:00, after no word at all; I started to freak the fuck out. I finally got to sleep around 02:00. The morning pounced too suddenly, but I was able to meet Omar to tour Amman. My panic was quieted by a giant Roman theatre in the center of town and the citadel above it. The theatre was stunning in its massive structure, form, level of preservation and the visit, itself, pure diamonds; it was the first time I had seen any ancient site that was completely devoid of tourists—except me, of course. It was one of those experiences that never leave you. In the early morning light, being in the center of that amphitheatre listening to my footsteps echo several times before becoming history them selves I stood, arms in oratory pose and recited the few lines of the few plays I knew, including my all time favorite: “the bad men do lives on after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” Which were Marc Anthony’s lines in Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. While I listened to my voice boom throughout the structure I paused and recognized the power of the amplification of the theatre in awe.

My best Oratory Stance in the vacant theatre in Amman

While we were leaving the Roman theatre, Mr. George called and Omar and I were summoned to the hospital. It was then I knew something was horribly wrong and my heart hit the floor and what I thought was panic before was now shaky hands, darting eyes and my imagination racing right up until I arrived at hospital. I fucking hate hospitals and avoid them at all costs, which made the panic worse. Inside we found Richard with his son sitting near the side of his bed. Richard’s face was mangled: two black eyes, bruises and scrapes covering his face, from forehead to chin, black stitches across his broken nose, lips and chin. He apologized right as I walked in and he grabbed my hand. I sincerely explained that what mattered was that he was ok. Richard had become a friend of mine since I got to Jordan. After talking about all the obvious things, we got onto my stuff. Next to me in plastic bags, dirty and packed in with everything else he had in the car were my clothes and books. But no tattoo case! It took a while for them to tell me; in fact, they waited until Mr. George came into the room to let me know that Richard’s wife, his son, and Mr. George’s daughter all searched the car and couldn't find my case with my machines. My heart raced then imploded inside my chest, I could feel tiny pieces of it sprinkling onto my toes. This is it. My entire circumnavigation trip is resting on this very small black plastic case containing my livelihood, my ability to eat, to travel, and to be the great and wonderful Saint Edmond Lovecraft. Theories started spreading among us: maybe they didn’t look under the carpet in the trunk, where we stashed it next to the spare tire, maybe the police grabbed it, but left all my other stuff that was packed on top of it. Richard’s son insisted he had checked. Richard had called a policeman friend of his to try to help locate it. Maybe the police realized it was important, being a suspicious looking black-hand case, and took it elsewhere. I’m pretty sure during the discussion I heard the Arabic word “Inshallah,” or “God’s will” twenty times. Allah wasn’t going to be helping me on this one, I was fairly sure.

Apparently the accident was caused when a Hummer and a Dodge Ram were racing to get to the days feast at sundown for Ramadan and basically pinched Richard in the middle causing Richard to hit an off ramp median head on. The car Richard was driving was totaled.

After the hospital, and my spinning head, sick stomach and woe weighing heavily on my shoulders, we went to Jerash. At first I was upset that my missing machines would ruin my lust and excitement for the city. I arrived an hour later or so after the drive through the desert and Jaresh lived up to its name as the best preserved Greek city. I forgot my woes long enough to enjoy this great ancient streets and temples. Giant columns were everywhere I looked, lining streets that stretched as far as I could see. The temple of Zeus towered above all other structures. Between that and the temple of Artemis, I got to experience the best temples I have ever seen; so many details still in tact. The cool thing about Jaresh is that you can actually enter the temples, and I sat with Zeus and then with Artemis for a good long while. It was in Artemis’ temple that the arrow struck me, be it Apollo’s or the Goddess herself, but suddenly I knew that all would be exactly perfect, as it was meant to be. Like my holy phantasm had just laid its hands on me, or maybe it was the Gods themselves. Whatever it was my steps started to bounce and the thought crossed my mind: Saints are never defeated so easily, I smiled a giant grin and started racing through the city like a child in fucking Disneyland. As I moved though the dry overgrown weeds through strange structures and columns I found an old dirt path, still white with tiles packed into the earth, some of them kicked out and spread across into the weeds. I was climbing around massive blocks of carved stone and stood in awe at the size of this ancient city. It was more impressive to me than Pompeii, mostly, because Jaresh hadn’t been buried by a fucking volcano. On the way out I climbed back up to the temple of Zues, thanked my Godly Grandfather for all I was thankful for and stood between Columns 4 to 5 times my size in thickness and just stared at the city of Jaresh in the heat of the Jordanian desert, watching the dust whip around as my imagination filled it with what it must have looked like in its day.

Endless rows of columns along the streets of Jaresh

The Temple of Zues

The Temple of Artemis

When we were finished, we raced back to the hotel in Amman before dark and the vigil began anew; I sat hoping for the phone call to tell me my machines had been recovered. I fucking knew that they would come back to me; I felt after Jaresh that I had the power to will it so, but at the same time a nagging doubt. Those fucking negative voices in my head. If my machines were gone, it’s going to be difficult to broach the subject with Mr. George. Hopefully, somehow, they could reimburse me and claim it on insurance. But that seemed like a long shot. I had two days left in Jordan and that wasn’t much time for the recovery operation. I wasn’t too put off about the timeline honestly, at that point of my journey in Jordan I had seen Jaresh, Petra, Wadi Rum, and hiked in the Wadi Al Karak waterfall canyon. We had already driven the length of Jordan twice and had a pretty good feel for the culture and sites.

The slot canyon hike at Wadi Al Karak

Floating above the water in the Dead Sea, in incredibly short shorts.

The Monastery at Petra

Morning came and in the lobby of my hotel I sat with pilgrims on their way to Mecca for Ramadan. I sat alone, with 4 empty plush chairs around me, ashtray filling up as the faithful Muslims sat uncomfortably and at a far distance rather than sit near me, the tattooed white guy smoking cigarettes by the pack while every single person around me was fasting. In hindsight it was horribly rude of me. Jordan, as a whole, is very modern, very tolerant and diverse. It certainly felt like Jordan is the shining light of the Middle East. I was treated so well there it was astounding. With Ramadan in full effect, one would think people would be a bit edgy, not eating or drinking water all day, let alone watching me drink Redbulls and water and smoking cigarettes to the filter. It was a delightful time in the country, full of friendly people and wonderful experiences. I had learned so very much and was especially impressed by the king. During his rule, the king of Jordan said something like this: "Jordan has no natural resources, so we have to develop our human resource." Because of that, in Jordan you’ll find safety, good schools and hospitals, clean streets and people able to work with the rest of the world. You can’t say that about a lot of places, mid east or otherwise.

The King of Jordan

After visiting the Dead Sea that morning, nightfall came fast and I was rushing to beat the break of the Ramadan fast before all the food was just scraps. I missed the mark and ended up going to bed with a snickers bar for company. Saturday came and it was time to solve this fucking mystery of my missing tattoo machines. The clock was ticking. Eventually, after failed attempts to reach him, Mr. George showed up with more of my clothes, though a few things were still missing, including my razor, ipod and other things I would consider more valuable than the rest. Mr. George said the police are going to search the garage and he will have to get my address to ship things on to the home that I didn’t have. I stopped him there with a firm voice and a changed posture. My eyes locked into his with an icy cold and unforgiving steadiness. I wasn’t going home empty-handed and launched into how fucking important these things are to me, they were my ability to eat. Mr. George didn’t seem to understand. Again, with unwavering, dead, blue eyes locked in place I stated how important it was and how much the contents were worth and how imperative it was that I leave with Jordan that case. Worst of all, deep inside one of my bags of clothes, I found some things that were on the very top, inside of the machine case, like Shaggy, Daphne, Velma and Scoob, that meant someone had opened it, dropped the shit that was on top and took the rest. Moments later, Mr. George handed me the phone, it was Hiba, Mr. George’s daughter, whose English was better than her fathers. I firmly explained again and after she said simply, “My father is going to take you to the police station.” “Finally,” I thought. “Ok, now, to perform this miracle. After all, I did wade into the same magical waters that baptized Jesus this week, stand in the Temple of Zues and was received at the Temple of Artemis…so with old Gods and new on my side, I would be victorious.”

In the lobby I found Richard, still a wreck, leaning on a single crutch. His face swollen and making the black stitches look even more dramatic on his face. He shook my hand and told me he was sorry, that he hasn’t slept since because of it. I gave him a hug and said it’s not your fault Richard, let’s solve the mystery! Richard and I parted ways from Mr. George and drove through downtown Amman, parts I had never seen before, to a police station. We sat down with 3 detectives in a room that looked important. Those three multiplied to 5 and Arabic was flying around like a language school. The only thing I could understand was “tattoo“ and “God’s will” they were speaking so fast. When men speak in Arabic, it always seems like an argument to me. After about half an hour, we said “thank you” to the detectives and left. I knew absolutely nothing except my hand didn’t have a machine case on it. Once to the car, Mr. George explained that we were going to another police department, to which the car had been towed.

On the way to see the Police Chief of Amman

Once there, as we were walking in, a young, twenty-something policeman at the gate asked us what I can only assume our business was. Before long, through the magical art of reading body language and hand signals I knew what was happening…or there abouts. He kept nodding his head and drawing a box in the air with a handle, with four things inside. “Closer,” I’m thinking, while the Arabic is still spinning around my head like tiny cartoon birds, I stood there trying to pay attention to a language I couldn’t understand at all. Finally, about 5 phone calls later (made by Richard, Mr. George and the policeman) I was told, the policeman had personally removed the case from the car with his partner, and witnessed his partner handing it over to the people from the rental car company who came to retrieve the car. It was the first I had learned I was in a rental car touring Jordan and not a company car owned by Mr. George. I don’t know by what chance we found this policeman named Saied but we did and he was an honest man and wanted to help us, may the Gods feed him honey. Richard called the car rental company. When they were asked, they denied they knew anything until the policeman got on the phone. They changed their tune when pressing of charges came up. They said they would find it. Richard came back to life. He said, “Edmond, I feel so good now, I’ll race you to Petra!” a little confused since we had already been there, but maybe he meant a foot race. I hugged him and said “thank you my friend.” Then, I shook the policeman’s hand and said thank you about four hundred different ways, none of which he probably understood save “Shukraan,” but he got the drift. As we all climbed into the car, I glanced to my left to see the car that was wrecked by Richard. It was still sitting in front of the police station; the entire passenger side was obliterated. Adrenaline shot through me as I realized that very likely could have been the end of Edmond.

Mr. George said he would pick me up around 21:30 at the hotel that night to go retrieve my bag. This all sounds wonderful, right? Yes, but still I didn’t have them in hand so I stayed skeptical, even with my Godly protectors. This is where the story starts to get pretty fantastic. 21:30 finally rolls around and I’m waiting downstairs. Finally around 22:15 Mr. George shows and nabs me. We drive to some strange part of the city to pick up Achmed, a police detective. Achmed jumped in with us and said, “Hello, I don’t speak English." Then, Mr. George informed me that we had to pick up Achmed’s sister, to take her to hospital. We found his sister and his mother on the corner a few blocks away. His sister was drop dead gorgeous, and limping. She was whimpering, as we drove, with what appeared to be a broken ankle. I felt bad for her and wanted more of her at the same time. It was pasts the Ramadan fast now and the city had come pulsing to life. The traffic was insane, there were people everywhere and after being closed all day, all the shops open up and everybody gets down, eating and drinking water and coffee after being without all day in the 45-degree heat. We dropped Achmed’s sister off at the hospital and started the drive to the rental car company’s office. The rental car company was above a billiards and snooker joint. Two shady looking thugs in business suits were waiting for us on either side of the entrance door. The bigger of the two walked Richard, Achmed, Mr. George and myself up to the rental car office and let us in, opened the blinds and we all sat down and started smoking cigarettes. It was 23:10.

Inside the office there were typical car rental posters, leather couches and a thick fog a smoke that just hung there stagnantly. I felt I could cut little shapes out of it with a knife if I wanted to. Behind a desk was a man that didn’t stand to greet us, the boss, his hair slicked back and this suit neatly pressed and fitted. The conversation started slow and when I looked at the clock it was 23:30 and voices were raised and it was really obvious there was a serious disagreement. An hour elapses, then an hour and a half. I’m watching the hand gestures and hearing Arabic for "American,” “tattoo,” and, occasionally, Richard’s name. That’s about as much as I could get. But in the gesturing there was lots more happening and none of it made any sense to me. The guy in the suit was obviously a gangster; a big man, a sour, bullying demeanor, who wouldn't make eye contact with me and never shook my hand. At one point he walked out from behind his desk to extinguish his cigarette in the ashtray in front of me, passing right by the ashtray on his desk and put his ass right in my face, something I took as complete and total disrespect. Even after he smugly said sorry, again insulting me that he knew any English at all. The whole time, I’m thinking, “I can take this guy. I know it.” Rage was propagating like breeding rabbits inside me, filling up the space behind my eyes. The gestures were about signing a paper and Jordanian Dinar. After an hour and forty-five minutes, we got up to leave. I asked Mr. George what the fuck was going on. He said, “he claims he “might” know where the machines are, but wants Richard to pay his deductible for the totaled car.” Realizing my machines were being held hostage, my thoughts immediately turned to peeling off his face, wearing it and dancing the jitterbug in front of this gangster’s children. I was beyond angry, my eyes were red, my hands trembled. I turned sharply while considering flying across the room and slaughtering the cunt bare handed, digging my fingers into his eyes. I cant remember a time being that pissed, and I know my face showed it as my eyes locked onto the horse cock stuffed in that nice suit. I asked him directly, firmly, loudly, if I could see my fucking machines. He ignored me and directed his response to Mr. George. Another thirty minutes of yelling followed. Then I was firmly ushered outside by Achmed.

Outside I became even angrier that the suit didn’t bother to shake my hand or make eye contact. Mr. George exited calmly, after all that shit, said "don’t worry, we will get your machines tomorrow after Richard pays the money." I responded “let me pay half now!” Fucking hell, I thought, am I really mixed up with my livelihood being held hostage by a Jordanian gangster??? Really? Is this a fucking movie? Should I put this cunt’s head through his desk, saw it off and mount it!? Probably, but my cooler head prevailed as the Saint in me took over and the anti-violence words of my father echoed in my head.

Even with Achmed, a policeman in the discussion, they still wouldn’t own up to having possession of my machines, all while smugly rubbing it in our faces. Mr. George took me back to the hotel and when I got out, Achmed shook my hand. I repeated “shukraan” about 50 times as we exchanged kisses to each side of each other’s face. I was expected to tip Achmed, but didn’t since I had no results. In hindsight, I probably should have paid him for ushering me out when he did. Back to the hotel, now the waiting continues till dawn. I barely sleep. The clock was counting down to my flight out of the country now. Dawn came and 10:30 finally rolled around the phone rings. It’s Richard, saying he would pick me up in 20 minutes. By 11:00 we were on the road, to meet the police chief of Amman. Into the Police headquarters in the center of Amman I was seated in the office of the police chief, who after a short wait of admiring all the medals and plaques on his walls, told me, “this will be solved, Mr. Edmond. I hope this doesn’t reflect badly on Jordan.” I assured him it would not and with a saintly smile said: “The actions of a few people can’t condemn a whole country.” Whether I left fucked or triumphant I wouldn’t be small minded. Especially in the case of the horribly persecuted and misunderstood culture of Islam.

Following the seemingly pointless meeting with the police chief we were joined by Mr. George and headed back to the rental car company. The gangster wasn’t there; and he was probably lucky, just walking into the office again I was fucking boiling. At the cunts desk was a lead manager, and he seemed to be a nice man, who offered me a drink, shook my hand and after welcoming me, I felt a complete one eighty from the actions of the owner. It was midnight. The conversation started fast and there was lots of finger pointing and name yelling in-between. By 01:15 it seemed like something had happened. Mr. George shelled out a bunch of Dinar and Richard was signing things. After he signed the things, the gangster appeared, smug as ever and when our eyes locked, he looked away, knowing my bare hands were still ready to thieve his fucking life from him. After another 20 minutes, a man walked into the room with a black bag and handed it to me. Inside were my machines in their case, in tact and as beautiful as they ever were. I held my machines in my hand and thought, never again will I let you out of my sight. I’m ashamed to say I did, as it’s the number one rule for tattooers, never leave your fucking machines. I will never take that risk again. I couldn’t believe the circumstances that led to all this—my touring, the accident all the phone calls, ladies and daughters with busted ankles, all the phone calls, police, picking people up, more police, fucking police chiefs, ransoms, managers, detectives the whole thing was just impossible really. As I left the office, in the spirit of forgiveness, I said “shukraan,” and “As-Salaam Alaykum.” The men inside were caught a bit off guard by my offer of peace and after a confused pause, all but the villain of this tale had returned the sentiment. The manager even apologized for his boss making me a casualty of the situation. We left, headed for the hotel where I packed, exhausted, completely fulfilled by the exposure to the Jordanian culture, geography, people and ruins and prepared for my exit flight to turkey the next morning…triumphant while taking the time to thank the Gods.