''Be careful. That place is hella expensive'' advised an acquaintance when told of my life long dream to visit the Wonder of the World that bears my name- Petra.
I took their warning with a grain of salt, considering it was all relative, but in hindsight I should have paid attention to the variables that would have solidified this seemingly innocent opinion as fact. This acquaintance was a business man. A well travelled businessman throughout the middle east in places like the UAE and Qatar etc. - the known expensive places.
Hence, with their experience and understanding of numbers (I am clueless), I should have been forearmed by the time that I had touched down in Jordan in early spring of 2017.
In Jordan, the hustle is real. The realest that I have ever seen and experienced. Mainly driven by tourism, Jordan's economy, unlike its other Middle Eastern brothers and sisters, is not bolstered by oil production and trade.
Given that Jordan's tourism industry is very decentralised, any Jordanian, not just those living in Amman, can ply their trade around tourism.
And ply their trade do they!
I am not writing in a pejorative tone; rather I do so with one of respect. An opportunity to make a transaction is never overlooked or missed. Ever!
The art of the deal
What is offered always appears and usually is an excellent deal. Case and point, on my visit to the Citadel, a photographer and a guide approached me separately and I, non the wiser, acquiesced to their 20 JD deal of a private tour and 50 digital photos with five of the best in print.
By the end of the tour, I mentioned a trip to, of course, Petra, in the coming days. Another deal was proffered. Petra: private tour, and photos. However, the number of hours and photos i.e cost, would be indicative of the travel time to Petra, time in Petra and the time returning to Amman. Easily at least 24 hours in total. Of course, these hourly rates were not explained to me until the photographer came to deliver the photos from the Citadel tour to my hotel.
At that time, he had taken it upon himself, to buy a photo album, make a plaque using one of my photos and commission a beautiful piece of memorabilia from the desert sands of Jordan, which I had to pay for promptly. I never wanted these extra items. Just the CD and the five prints as previously discussed.
Annoyed at the audacity, I used that experience to further negotiations regarding my Petra trip. They were futile. He was adamant, that since he did not have a car, he would have to leave with me in the wee hours of the morning from Amman to Petra. Hence the 24 hour tally of a whooping 300 JD.
Privy to all of this was my designated driver during my stay in Jordan. I lamented to him, after refusing to follow through on the deal with the photographer, and indeed the trip to Petra, about how I felt taken advantage of.
I believed that he understood.
Anything for Dead Sea Mud
''I am dying to see if it is really as good as they say it is,'' I indicated to my driver as we headed out one morning from the hotel with no planned itinerary for the day.
''Only problem, I need to find the real stuff, nothing fake, you know?'' I further indicated.
Looking forward to spending a day or two on the Dead Sea, those plans were quashed when my mother begged me not to go. She took the name of the place a little too literally.
I could have gone, unbeknownst to her, but I did not want to betray her, so I cancelled. However, I certainly did not want to miss out on the real treasure of the Dead Sea- its mud.
And so, I was left with the hassle of finding a legitimate distributor of this rare product.
''No problem, Ms. Petra. I have a friend with a big store, that's all they sell. You will not be disappointed, trust me,'' reassured my driver.
And so, we were off. Driving out of the city to a non-descript store.
Know the rate, mother-effa!
Just plain dumb and a sucker for customer service. I don't know of a Jordanian who can't sell you alone on customer service.
''Good morning and welcome,'' was the greeting I received straight out of the car into the store as I entered.
''My name is ______ and it is my pleasure to serve you today. Please, let me show you around.''
Customer service, right?
Turning around I saw a vista of Dead Sea products- the very best and I was ecstatic.
Not one to forget that money does not grow on trees, I enquired about the price of the first item as I placed it into my shopping basket.
That's like, 50USD right? I thought to myself.
Anyways, we continued shelf by shelf, row by row, and I was completely sold by each product and its specific use. This ran the gamut from toenails, to of course, face, to bust creams, to hair.
The soaps deserve a special mention at this point.
There were so many of such different compositions, most of which synonymous to only the Middle East- frankincense, myrrh, goat's milk, and of course Dead Sea Mud.
Before long, my shopping basket could not accommodate anymore bottles, soaps or containers, forcing my attendant to carry my cache by hand.
By then we had moved on from the skincare section to the home goods section.
Beautiful is not the word for these pieces.
One for me, one for Patrice, one for Babbs, I thought as I put three of everything on the counter.
My sales assistant did not have to work hard for this sale at all, and during those moments of running to the counter to place items for the cashier I often saw my driver sitting with cups of tea and biscuits engaging in conversation with the many men who seemed to work for the store.
By the time we made it to the front of the store, having done a complete circumference of the store, I too, was offered a cup of tea and biscuits as the cashier ran up the tally.
''Wait, what!'' I exclaimed. ''JD or USD?''
''Well, what is it in USD?''
''That can't be real, right,'' I stammered flabbergasted by the price and their nonchalant blank tone.
''No, its accurate,'' the cashier said as he turned and cast his right arm to the mound of products at the end of the counter.
Still with a befuddled look, the sales assistant and by then the driver chimed in looking at my opened purse and its cards and advised, '' You don't need to worry, Ms. Petra. Use your cards.''
They stepped back.
Life does not happen to tourists
"Why so expensive?" I demanded to know from the driver the next day.
As a result of not having a very strong Barbadian accent, I am often times mistaken for being an American. Unfortunately, the main stereotype attributed to Americans, is that they are filthy rich.
"Taxes, Ms. Petra. We pay our government a lot of taxes. It is hard for everybody," was the explanation.
"I see," I said still not totally convinced.
"So, what is your plan for today, Ms. Petra?"
"I just want to take it easy, you know. Petra is off, Dead Sea is off too, so I am just going to take it as easy as possible and relax. It has been a tough couple of weeks for me and I just need the rest."
"Are you sure, Ms. Petra? There is so much to see and do in Jordan," he argued.
"I know that there is much to do, but I just need the rest more. My father died one month ago; I have a lot on my mind."
"I will call you tomorrow, Ms. Petra. By then you will be ready, I think."