Tareq: shufair, tour guide, harres

20 Jun

My first weekend was spent at the Dead Sea with four fellow CIEE-ers and our new friend, Tareq. This is how we met.

A disorganized group of girls pack their things and set off for the supermarket. We stop a taxi on the way and ask him to take us to the store. It’s only a few blocks away but he doesn’t know where it is (or doesn’t understand our Arabish?) This is going to be difficult, we think. We continue to walk and a taxi slows, goes into reverse and waves me over. Great, he saw four girls from Amreeka and is a little too eager to give us a ride. I shoo him away but he’s persistent. I walk up to him and say Dead Sea. I’m blocking traffic and cars start to honk at me, so I go around to the other side. He happily agrees to take us to the Dead Sea, wait for us to swim and bring us back for 50JD (about $75). But can you take us to the store first? Again he agrees. This is Tareq, our “shufair”.

The drive alone takes my breath away and Tareq stops periodically along the way at the places he knows we will want to take pictures: an overlook of the dusty, rolling hills of Jordan and a sign that indicates we are at sea level. He lets us know that he will be whatever we need him to be: driver, photographer, “harres” (guard).

When we arrive he gives us the options of going to a “touristy” beach which will cost about 11JD apiece or trying to find a free one. “Free” we say and he pulls over and points down a steep bank to a menacing looking beach. “Touristy beach!” we say and Tareq turns the car around and we return to the well-civilized beach. He negotiates with the man at the gate, let’s him know we’re students and we all get in for 14JD. We follow Tareq down the beach and he stops, points to the ground and says wait here. I look down at the dirt and assume my post. He goes over to three men sitting under a hut-looking shelter and presumably does more negotiating. He secures a table and chairs under an umbrella (he paid for them but doesn’t make a big deal of it, this is Arab hospitality). We start towards the umbrella but one of us sees our other American friends at a beach on the other side of a fence. Let’s go over there. Tareq picks up our chairs and we head further down the beach. As we get closer we realize the futility in trying to get to the private beach. Let’s just go back to the umbrella. Tareq, now dripping with sweat under the hot Jordanian¬†sun, obediently picks up the chairs and starts up the hill. If he’s feeling frustrated with us American girls he doesn’t show it. “Asifa” (sorry) we say, but he insists it’s “mish mushkila” (no problem).

Our umbrella has been invaded by an Arab family. Again Tareq begins to negotiate. Maybe we could share, I suggest. That’s nice of you, he says, but they have a large family and there’s not enough room. The family leaves and we finally settle in the shade. As we swim, or rather float around, in the Dead Sea we ignore the signs warning us to protect our eyes and mouth from the salt water. It burns like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Each of us in turn scrambles up the hill, squinting in pain, and groping for the shower. Tareq can’t help but giggle at us as he sits in the shade and smokes his “aghila” (hookah). He offers me the hose and we take turns, both switching off between aghila and cigarettes.

hollytannerHe was an airline steward for 7 years and tells us of his adventures in Cuba, Bangkok, Milan, Greece, and everywhere but America. He wants to go someday. He’s in his late twenties and we assume from the ring on his finger that he returned to Jordan to settle down and start a family, though taxi drivers don’t make very much. As we sit and stare across the Dead Sea at Palestine, he tells me the story of the city of Sodom, buried underwater because of its citizens’ immorality. It’s true, he says, check the internet.

Another girl and I toss around a soccer ball like a volley ball and attract the attention of a few Jordanian men who want to play. They’re not very good but neither are we so it’s fun. Soon it’s time to leave and another Jordanian man approaches us to take a picture with him. He must have been impressed by our volleying skills. Tareq wants to intervene but stops himself. He knows the world and guesses (probably correctly) that American women don’t want a man to protect them. I consider this for a minute. I consider his role as harres, and my being half-clad. I start to see things a little differently.

On the way back we make a stop at an expensive rug store. I pick out a few postcards but they won’t let me pay for them. Tareq tells us he’s on his way to a picnic with his friends and we’re welcome to join him. We politely decline, saying we have to shower, but take his number in case we want to get lunch in the city some time. When he drops us off we all agree that 20JD per person is a more appropriate price to pay. We took a chance on Tareq, and he turned out to be pretty alright.


One Response to “Tareq: shufair, tour guide, harres”

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