Zig-Zig in the Desert

What is Zig-Zig, you ask? We’ll get there shortly, my scruffy faced little fauns.


Our toasty little desert hams were roasting in the North Jordanian town of Madaba last time we met. Now the time had come to get our hams into the spam can and get down south into the breadbasket of Jordanian attractions. Our destination: Wadi Rum.

DSCF6338.jpg We labored some three hours down the desert highway, not stopping much for lack of roadside attractions. No Jesus cafes or Petra roadside restaurants sit on the highway, only people trying to go about their day without the looming pressure that they live in the cradle of humanity. The only stop we would indulge in would be in our short coffee breaks at gas stations. Dark and dusty, gas stations offer little to the wandering traveler. But the coffee they make; cooked the traditional way in hot sand and spiced with a concoction aromatic enough to slap awake a light-headed eunuch, Jordan’s gas stations are the supreme leader of cheap gritty energy juice.

Have you seen Star Wars or any other movie based in space recently? Wadi Rum may look a bit familiar. Annikin Skywalker in his pod racer has been replaced by a better actor in his spam can racing down the martian highway. Wadi Rum is a fickle place for the tourist. It’s one of the few places in Jordan where tourists are treated as a commodity and seen merely as a perpetually opened leather wallet. We were planning to stay in a Bedouin tent, but after reading a review that the owner drove his guests out to the middle of nowhere and coaxed them into buying a $75 4×4 tour, we decided to ditch the desert completely and spend the night in nearby Aqaba. We did, however, get to see the martian landscape and share a hookah with a Yemeni man who lives here in search of a better life.

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When our new friend passed us the pipe, the man sitting next to him said something along the lines of “That’s haraam!” Our friend put up his other hand to hush his partner, and the unwavering genuine hospitality of (some of) these locals continued to impress us.

Out of the desert we traveled, filled with apple licorice smoke and another gritty cardamom coffee. Only forty minutes later we found ourselves in the metropolis of Aqaba, a glittery city on the shore of the Red Sea. Russians come here to vacation, as the water stays pleasantly warm even in December. The spam can was parked and we put down our bags in a cheap hostel, allowing us to venture out into the city and explore for a meal.

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The rule I live by when finding a place to eat has stayed unchanged since my time in Hong Kong. Always find the restaurant packed with locals. The best option, Hashem Son’s: A gritty little stop with outdoor seating, wedged between fancy restaurants filled with reddened Russian tourists. At Hashem Son’s, locals sit and eat gigantic bowls of hummus or chat over thick black tea. As the only westerners at the restaurant, we made the waiters quite excited. For about $12, we feasted on a gigantic bowl of hummus, freshly grilled chicken, olives, tabouli, and a concoction of other pickles and sides. For our trip, this would be the cheapest and most filling meal that we were able to find.

We grabbed a digestive coffee in the dark and sat next to the Red Sea to grab a view of Israel right across the boiling waters still quaking from Moses’ last visit. Soon, our faces were spotted and a young man sat next to us. He smelled of whiskey and every time I would say something he would frown and say “No English!” What was I to do?

He kept trying to get Ivana to sit next to him, but she was happy where she was. So he moved to sit next to her. Later, he showed us the tattoo of an old fling, a past fiance who left him, the dastardly Sara. Her name was written in cursive on his shin, and underneath was an eye with a single black tear dripping from its porous ducts. Our friend pointed to a couple holding hands and noted, “They are having zig-zig.”

“Zig-zig?”

He nodded. Turning around, he found another couple walking along the seaside promenade. “They also have zig-zig.”

“What the heck are you talkin’ about…”

“Zig-zig! I don’t know what is. I never had. You have zig-zig?” He rubbed his two index fingers together as if to start a fire on dry palm leaves. “You teach me zig-zig?” Sara was a bad teacher.

The finger flint started a fire in my brain, but my understanding of zig-zig was still thawing.

We have zig-zig?” Gesturing at the three of us by swirling his finger into a sultry little whirlpool of imaginary zig-zig fluids.

The fire started. “Ah! Zig-zig!” We stood up, shook his hand, and left him to look at Israel.

No zig-zig for us, friend.

 

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