The Not for Profit Hotel
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
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Were it not for the humbled grumblings of the proprietor and a comfortable poor man's harem-styled common area I'd have surely left. "This is where everyone likes to sit and enjoy themselves and we make a little party", he gestured to the cushion-covered room with printed tent wall coverings. He mentioned that there'd be some live local music perhaps and I was looking forward to an interesting cultural experience. Little did I know the horrors that awaited.
As the sun was setting a few of the other guests and I were in the dining area enjoying Nasser's home cooking. He'd prepared a Bedouin specialty that was also King Hussein's favourite; mensaf, made of stewed lamb in spices served on flat bread and rice with a warm lamb stock yoghurt-based soup. He beamed as we complimented his cooking and doted after us as though we were his first guests, waiting on us hand and foot. After dinner I stepped down to the den and asked if anyone was interested in sharing a hookah, which I was also informed is also referred to in such low-brow terms as a "hubbily bubbily" and that just about made me sick. There were no takers and the new group that just arrived form Egypt told me it'd be cheaper there and to hold off. We were all enjoying each other's company and getting to know one another and sharing travel tales and swapping advice when Nasser came in on a clap. Startled we fell silent. "Okay now let's have some music" he threatened. His henchman, a charming little pocket Romeo with a toothy smile grabbed a drum and commenced a rapid beat. Nasser then began to simulate what I assumed was intended to sound like the human voice singing though I was not completely convinced. In between the noise he was producing he'd punctuate a stanza with a shriek whereby he'd scream and slash his tongue from side to side. I've heard this blood-curdling sound before in movies and normally it's preceded by people being brutally slaughtered. Figuratively this is exactly what happened.
"Do you have some belly dancers here? Come on!" he manically coerced us like the creepy old people from Rosemary's Baby. If given the choice between forced jubilation and mock belly dancing and being raped by a camel I'd gladly choose violent dromedary lovemaking. With pained smiles we sat as though we were excreting gravel and concrete and politely refused to budge
Like a junkie he wasn't satisfied and frantically began making phone calls for more so-called entertainers. He wanted more. I wanted to throw up. Moments later more characters arrived. A man that looked like the ghost of Anwar Sadat with a dusty toupee suavely crouched beside me chewing on the butt of a cigarillo. A middle-aged French woman wearing a contorted face of metal illness stumbled in wearing a crusty Liza wig smashed down with a grubby black knit cap, her black-rimmed Coke bottle glasses teetered on her nose like a seesaw. No sooner had she plopped herself down than she began to wail as though someone had shoved the hookah pipe up her. It was frightening and in tandem she'd screech the tongue-wagging death knell along with Nasser and I felt quite certain that this was at least one of the first three signs of the Apocalypse
I was fake-smiling for so long it felt as though a clumsy intern acupuncturist had got a hold of my face with a box of safety pins. We sat looking as though we were straight jacketed and rocked to the beat, our bloodshot eyes drooping and seeking solace across the smoky room from the other travelers with a pleading lifted brow. One by one we gathered up enough courage to say we needed to get some sleep. Nasser seemed incredulous and demanded, "No! Wait! The guitar is coming!"
An interesting looking instrument arrived that looked as though a guitar had swallowed a watermelon and it was carved and inlaid with parquetry designs. Nasser prefaced with an apology that he really didn't know how to play it very well. He then proceeded to brutally strip the poor instrument of any melodious sounds it could have emitted and practically drove me to a frustrated crying jag. When I could take it no longer I finally graciously excused myself, hurled myself down the stairs and flung my body onto the bed like a rag doll and slack-jawed stared at the ceiling, panting until I passed out
The next day while discovering the wonders of Petra the two Americans, two Dutchmen, two Japanese, a Canadian and an Australian banded together and decided that we'd all eat in town for dinner to save ourselves from any future torment. Nasser was crushed, "But we have a little party tonight and tonight I'm making chicken." I felt terrible. This is what psychiatrists refer to as the Stockholm Syndrome wherein captives begin to identify with and defend their captors. I shrugged it off and promised I'd eat there the following evening. He was buoyant and sensing hope but not our reluctance almost jumped out of his skin, "Okay but the party tonight is at 8:00!"
We lingered at dinner hoping that the party would be over before by the time we returned. We crept into the lobby well over an hour after the party should have ended and were crestfallen. It wasn't only still going on it was even louder and with more vigor than the night before. We froze looking around for someone who could come up with something -- anything to get us out of it. It was a hopeless cause -- we had to literally and figuratively face the music.
I crept inside the way one does at a haunted house and peered inside
Like a pearl before swine an actual musician played melodious tunes professionally and I found myself tapping my knee for a minute and actually smiling in earnest. The crazed Frenchwoman popped up as though a scarab had crawled up her ass, "OKAY we're going to sing along!" She then told us two different refrains we were to sing and proceeded to goad us on. I did it once, the others slurred in and out and only the sweet Japanese girl sang along dutifully in a daze as though she's been slipped a date rape drug. Like a lamb to slaughter, Nasser yanked her up by her frail little arms and forced her to dance with him. It was akin to watching white trash beat their children in the grocery store: You know it's wrong and you want it to stop it but you don't know quite what to do except hope it ends quickly. It was sickening. The entire time the crazy woman sat at their feet swaying from side to side, la-la-la-ing, her melting eyes rolling in the back of her skull she was sky-clapping as though she were drowning
I awoke the next day as if hung-over rehashing the previous night's events and determined not to let them happen again. At Petra the next day we discussed our plan and agreed that since it was going to be everyone's last night we should eat at the hotel to appease Nasser but we should demand to watch a movie instead or casually mention that we wanted to talk. I loved the previous meal we'd had there and requested it again. "Oh no, we can't do that again -- it's too expensive," he shrugged. I said we'd pay the same thing we'd paid the other night, which was the same price at the restaurant the previous evening but he insisted on chicken mensaf in lieu of lamb. "So, the price is less for us since we're having chicken, yes?" I asked. "Listen, you know I'm not in the business to make money -- the lamb mensaf cost me double what you paid the other night." That seemed like perfectly retarded business sense to me and I wasn't buying it but I did buy the chicken dish for the same price as the lamb and if truth be told it was also delicious.
That night at dinner Nasser was organizing the trip to the Wadi Rum desert the following day for the Dutchman, Canadian, Australian and myself. Several times he informed us that he "wasn't in this to make a profit" and each time I almost choked
The next morning at breakfast the Australian goading the newly wounded asked, "So did you enjoy the little party last night?" They apologized for having left early saying that they'd been tired and sleepy
We gathered up our bags and Nasser drove us to the taxi station and told us the price would be 6 dinar each for the ride to the desert, which was one more than he'd told us previously. "Five" the Dutchman countered and we all chimed-in in concurrence.
A martyr to the death, Nasser patted us on the shoulder, hung his head low and lugubriously said, "That's fine -- I pay the extra 4 because like I said I'm not in this..."
"To make a profit, right?"