Saturday, 21 April 2012

Chapter 39: Five Days to Love - Day One

The long road trip to Amman from Erbil was always a day of excitement but also one filled with dread.

As early in the morning as could be arranged a UN vehicle would be dispatched to transfer internationals down to Baghdad to link up with the long haul taxis which would complete the remainder of the journey to Amman. It was an excruciatingly long day.

I would always hope upon hope that I was doing the trip alone as any delays in leaving Erbil would compound as the day wore on. And I quickly learnt that getting to the Iraqi/Jordanian border as early as possible was not simply one of convenience, but literally a matter of life and death. An uneasy and unnecessary tension would develop towards passengers who in anyway delayed the departure.

The five hour drive down to Baghdad was most usually uneventful. The ancient city would be reach around midday and a swift transfer of bags into the GMC would see travellers heading for the motorway which led to the border not many minutes later. The five hundred or so kilometres to the border would also be a routine drive and the arches denoting the presence of the crossing rising from out from the Syrian Desert became a most welcoming site. Even the border crossing with a regulatory bag search was a straight forward process.

Suddenly I would be standing on Jordanian soil but the jubilation of reaching the politically stable Arab state was shrouded by the intense fear of what the next three hours would bring. In the summer months and or when the border was reached early in the evening the nightmare was postponed somewhat but whatever the scenario a certain portion of the road trip to Amman had to be completed in darkness and that was when the terror began.

All factors contributed to a potential disaster. The taxi driver by that stage was tired and eager to complete the journey. The road was undulating with a single lane in each direction and the road was shared with a continuous procession of oil trucks notorious for not using headlights. Once darkness settled upon the land a game of Russian roulette really began. Our vehicle being one of the fastest on the road was continually passing other road users and the driver's determination of when this could be executed safely could only be gauged from the relative distance of oncoming traffic lights. But the trucks without headlights remained invisible. If a passing manoeuvre was undertaken at a time when one of these phantom trucks was present then the consequences were horrifying. The thought left me sickened and fearful to the core. The occasional encounter of burning wreckage on or beside the roadside was graphic testament to when things went horribly wrong. I was forced to accept death as a possible option. Then strangely the rhythmic motions of the powerful GMC alternating from one side of the road to the other became seductively hypnotic. With death so close I became intensely alive and became an integral component of the destiny of the vehicle. I would sense a special and unique bond forming between me and the unknown driver with whom I would share a similar fate. In glow of the dashboard lights the feeling was empowering and strangely thick with solidarity.   

Time after time, drenched with adrenalin, I would find myself witnessing the distance lights of Amman emerge and I would become aware that I had survived yet another journey out.

All the feelings from the past three hours would be replaced with an overwhelming exhaustion as the taxi roared into the entrance of the hotel. Suddenly I would find myself standing at a reception desk swaying to the cumulative movements of over twelve hours driving. Fumbling for a credit card which hadn’t seen daylight for three months I would have to rapidly bring myself into the 21st century all the while longing for sleep.

With all flights to Europe leaving early the following day the comfort of the room could not be fully utilised and a restful night sleep had to be always put on hold but whatever time I would spend in the room was enjoyment without bounds.

A hot shower would quickly put distance between me and the experiences of the past three months. Then after setting the alarm for a cringingly early hour, I would be asleep before my head rested on the pillow.

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