across the border

I woke up early, sick, in a sterile, cold room by the Red Sea.  I packed my backpack and trudged downstairs, leaving the key in the room.  An open-backed Jeep awaited me.  I pulled myself in as it took off down the hill and turned my face to the sun to warm it.  Passing a sprawling mall and waterfront hotels, the Jeep careened down backroads, dirt trails skirting the border between Israel and Jordan.

I got to the border as it opened and waited in line to get my passports stamped by a woman behind plexiglass.  She was skeptical of my two passports, but ultimately allowed me into her country.  I picked up my backpack and walked the 50-odd feet of no man’s land between the neighbors, passing into Jordan under a picture of the King.

I waited for a bus at a gift shop selling picture postcards of the King and Queen, woven rugs and small statues of camels.  I drank tea to sooth my throat and fell asleep on the bus.  The country the bus passed through was desolate, bleak and blustery.  We paused at a rest stop on the edge of a great cliff and I woke up and ventured near the edge. The dark clouds made patterns in the valley below in shades of purples and browns but the wind was fierce and I went back in the bus to sleep.

Days later, after my short journey into the country, I returned to Aqaba in the evening.  In the gloaming, the Red Sea looked majestic, eponymously colorful, with the distant mountains purple, like in songs.  I could see Israel, and farther to the west, Egypt. The sea is small, yet I felt so far away from anywhere and anyone I knew.

I returned to the same border crossing and went through the process again in reverse, as if erasing what had happened on that side.  I took a picture of a sign between Israel and Jordan that read “Danger Mines!”, the same signs I saw in the Golan Heights weeks earlier.  An armed soldier saw me and approached, but said nothing.

The same Jeep picked me up where it had left me.  I sat in the back again, letting the cool air settle my still feverish head.  I hung on to a handle as we skidded on rocks and dust, looking back from where I came, trying not to forget what now seemed unreal.

Jordan, January 2012

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