I want to talk about the other Arabs. The ones you don’t hear about in the news. The ordinary people living ordinary lives. The real Arabs who don’t make it to CNN because violence doesn't suit their lifestyle.
Picture this: We were in Jordan, somewhere around Petra. It was 90 degrees; hot and dry as hell. We didn't have enough water with us, or a map of the area, or working cell phones, because, apparently, all these little precautions were too mainstream for us, savvy travelers. So we went down the road less traveled, not in a mean 4x4, as sensible people would have done, but in our soccer mom’s rental van. A van. And everything would have been fantastic had it not been because my husband spotted something in the middle of nowhere and before he could finish the ominous “I wonder what that is,” I said, “let’s find out.”
We left the paved road and two yards into the desert, our van got stuck. How bad could it be? I mean, we were a few feet away from the road; all we had to do was wave down the next car. Except, as I said, we were in the middle of nowhere, and hadn't seen a soul in miles. None. With each passing minute, the wheels of our super van sank deeper into the desert. We hand-shoveled a foot and a half of soft sand from underneath the back wheel, but by the time we finish wiping the sweat off our foreheads, the wheel had sunk deeper and its right counterpart had started to go south too. We were stuffed. Thirsty and worried.
It was noon. The sun at its zenith.
A beat up car stopped by and two beduin men came to our rescue. I swear I saw wings sticking out of the back of their white tunics. They rolled up their sleeves and dishdashas and got to work, but try as they might, we remained stuck. Now we had two Jordanian beduins, which in the USA would be the equivalent of two good ol’ rednecks, and a Scotsman, hand-shoveling sand, looking for shrubs, rocks, anything they could find in the desert.
And me? Where was I? Inside the air-conditioned van, of course.
A good hour went by and these two men had run out of tricks. At this point, anyone else would have said, Sorry pal, I don't know what else to do, but not these two. They would not give up. To no avail. The three men squatted quietly by the van and exchanged apologetic smiles. The awkward moment was interrupted by the sound of an approaching vehicle. A group of beduin men (in the cabin) and their families (in the back of their pickup truck) stopped by. The men sent their wives and children to take shelter under the thin shade of a squalid tree—the only tree in many miles—and they got to work.
Now we had, not two dumbfounded Jordanian men scratching their heads, but five, all of whom insisted in driving the van back and forward despite the obvious fact that none of them had ever driven an automatic. Had I spoken Arabic I would have told them that if they wanted to drive the van in reverse, it was highly recommended to put the car in R rather than D, especially when my husband was pushing the front of the car with all his might.
They tried to haul the van using ropes--both of which snapped--, they pushed, they rocked the vehicle sideways, they went underneath it and looked for options, determined to get the stupid tourists out of trouble, all of this while their families simmered on the side of the road.
When they unstuck the van, there was a loud celebration, cheers and smiles, a few Thank Gods, Alhamdulillah, and manly victorious handshakes. My husband ran to the van and got all the Jordanian Dinars we had on us, with the intention of sharing the cash evenly among the five men. But they wouldn't take the money, or our water. They said that God was watching and that He would reward them. That’s all they wanted. To do the right thing and be rewarded, not with the silly offerings of two naive tourists, but with heavenly favors.
The wives and children got back in the bed of the pickup, the husbands went back inside the cabin, the two other men climbed into their beat up car and they all drove off leaving behind a cloud of sand.