“STOP THE CAR!” I scream with all the air in my lungs. “STOP! LET ME OUT NOW!”
I’m in the passenger seat of the taxi. He is taking me on a highway to God knows where. I have not felt fear like this before. Maybe there’s a way out, maybe I can jump out of the car. Anywhere is safer than this taxi. I look out my window. The door opens up to a steep cliff that drops to the bottom of the mountain.
How the fuck is this happening.
I’ve just had a perfect day exploring the ancient city of Jerash in Jordan. It was a cloudless blue day, the air was warm and dry. Because it was low season, I had the entire place to myself. I had only seen historical Roman cities through TV and was totally in awe to walk amongst the ruins of what was once a powerful city. Strolling through the famed Corinthian columns, I could see the old town coming alive in my head. I see the people cheering at the chariot race in the Hippodrome; young boys helping their fathers push their cart of bread and figs to the marketplace; young lovers giving each other bashful looks at the Nymphaeum fountain; mothers praying at the Temple of Zeus. The best part of the day was when I stepped into the South Theatre and ended up dancing with the most jovial group of men singing away with their bagpipes and stunning vibrato.
Jerash was so fascinating that I stayed till closing time. It was 5pm and I’ve just missed the last bus back to Amman had left.
Outside of the ancient city walls, modern-day Jerash town was eerily quiet. The touts had gone home and the souvenir shops were all closed. Even the usual bustling traffic has slowed down to the occasional car. There was no one to ask about taxis except for a fruit seller at the corner of the street.
The fruit seller was a funny man with the most boisterous laugh. He kept speaking to me in Arabic, not knowing a word of it, I smiled and laughed along. He then offered me some green grapes but when I reached out to grab some, he stopped me, picked one up with his fingers and put it to my mouth.
I gave an awkward, uncomfortable smile to be polite.
“Cheap taxi?” I asked.
The fruit seller made a phone call and 10 minutes later a baseball-capped man, in his young 20s, arrived in his taxi. ‘Yes, I can finally get home,’ I breathed a sigh of relief to myself.
The first mistake I did was to eat the grape that the fruit seller had fed me.
The second mistake was getting in the passenger seat of the taxi instead of the back seat. I thought it was the polite thing to do.
“Amman. Hotel,” I told the taxi driver, showing him a business card I took from the hostel. The sun was disappearing behind the hills.
“Hotel?” He asked in his thick Arabic accent. He didn’t speak English.
“Yes, hotel. Amman.” He promised me a cheap ride.
He nodded and off we went. The panorama outside was beautiful, the orangey-brown cliffs were melting into the blue sea. There were barely any cars on the road. My mind drifted to the funny singing men from the afternoon.
Suddenly, I felt a finger touching my thigh. I pushed it away.
The finger returned. This time, he laid his entire palm on my thigh.
I pushed it away, harder than before. “NO.” I said sternly.
His hand returned.
“NO. NO TOUCHING. NO!” I tried to keep calm. “LAK,” I nearly shouted, recalling the Arabic word for ‘no’.
“Hotel?” He asked again.
“Yes. Send me back to my hotel. Farah Hotel.”
The next thing I know, he played a video on his phone for me. It was porn.
“Hotel?” He asked again.
It hit me. The taxi driver wasn’t asking if I wanted to go to my hotel, he was asking me to go to a hotel with him.
The car swayed right along the windy highway. Wait, is this even the route to Amman?
And now here we are. I am shouting with all the strength I can muster despite a paralysing fear bubbling like hot lava in my throat.
“STOP THE CAR!”
“LET ME OUT NOW!”
I look out the window and back at him, there is a confused gaze on that repulsive face of his. Is he surprised at the tantrum this quiet girl is suddenly throwing?
“STOP. TURN AROUND. BUS STOP. BUS STOP!”
He doesn’t speak English.
I frantically flip through the frayed pages of my Lonely Planet guidebook, looking for the Arabic word for bus stop. These printed pages are my only saviour now.
“MAHATTAT AL-BAS! MAHATTAT AL-BAS!”
The mix of panic, fear, and anger in my voice must have scared him as he suddenly makes a sharp u-turn in the middle of the highway. I cool down a little. I stop shouting. My hands are clenching my bag; his hands are on the steering wheel where they are supposed to be.
In what feel like ages later, we finally arrive at the bus station. I fling open the car door ready to run out when he stops me.
He extended his hand, palms up, asking me to pay for the ride he just gave me.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SERIOUS? NO!” I slam the car door and storm off.
The devil of a taxi driver revs the engine,wheels kicking a storm of dust into the air, makes a sharp turn and drives away.
I am finally safe. I am at the bus station. It is empty. There is one bus parked, but there is no driver around. There is no one waiting for buses. There are no taxis. The shops are all closed. I am all alone.
Out the corner of my eye, I spot one tiny store still open. It is the kind of store that sells drinks, cookies, and other bus ride snacks. There are two, three old men sitting outside having tea, laughing and chatting away. There is a woman reading newspaper in the store. A young boy is playing with a plastic bottle. The store is open, not for business, but to catch up with old friends.
“Hi… May I use the toilet?” The girl pointed to the back of the store with a smile.
I go in, and come out a few minutes later, tears running rivers down my cheeks.
What am I going to do? I am stuck in the middle of a God forsaken empty bus stop, all alone. I am a good 48km away from my hostel. Lost and in shock, I stand outside the shop, sobbing.
“What is wrong? Are you okay?” The men ask. One of them spoke English. A look of worry grow on their faces.
Silence falls in the air as I recalled the story in between sobs. Someone came out with a packet of tissue for me. The men, the lady, and the boy look at me with big pitiful eyes, sighing. They shake their heads, sad that one of their men could do this.
“You remember taxi number plate?” The man who spoke English finally says something. My third mistake.
“You see taxi license in the car? Does he have one?” I can’t remember. Fourth mistake.
My sobs grow louder. A conversation in Arabic breaks out between them.
“This man,” he pointed to a thin, slightly balding man with a light moustache. “He drive taxi. He send you back to Amman.”
“NO, please don’t!” My sobs grow louder. The last thing I want right now is to be locked in a car with another strange man.
“It’s okay. He is good man. He is my friend. He is good man.” They reassure with care that he will send me home safely. The thin man gave me a sincere, kind smile.
Left with no options, I climb into the back seat of the thin man’s taxi. There is a laminated taxi license with a photograph of him proudly sitting on the dashboard. The thin man points at it, smiling.
He tries to start a conversation with me, but language got the better of us. He dials someone on the phone and passes it to me.
“Hi, how are you? I am his sister.” A beautiful, gentle voice is on the other line. She speaks perfect English. She is a school teacher, she tells me her brother is a kind man, he has two children. They are still young and goes to school. She tells me I don’t have to worry about him and that he is a kind man. She asks me my age, where I’m from, she does not ask me anything about the incident. She keeps me company throughout the ride. The thin man looks at me through the rearview mirror, smiling, making sure I feel better.
One comforting phone conversation later, I am back at my hostel. I give the thin man the biggest tip I could afford, and thank him, again and again, for being an angel.
This incident with two taxi drivers happened in 2012, yet I still vividly remember every single detail.
I remember standing in the stuffy hostel lobby, telling the managers what just happened. I remember the old English woman boiling with anger, insisting that I lodge a police report. I remember the handsome receptionist with piercing green eyes promising that he would take me to the police station, though he doubts that the police would be helpful. The English woman was absolutely furious that once peaceful Jordan, proclaiming to be one of the safest countries, is now rife with incidents like this yet the authorities turn a blind eye.
I remember nervously walking through the police station the next day, trying not to make eye contact with scary looking men sitting in lock up. I remember sitting in some inspector’s office, the brown tone of the room, his neatly groomed moustache. The receptionist was standing on my left, next to another officer. They offered me a cup of tea.
Worst of all, I remembered how the inspector did all he could to stop me from making a report nor taking any action whatsoever.
“Are you sure you want to make a police report? It will take days, weeks, you don’t want to waste your holiday to go to court. You have to go back with us to Jerash and identify the fruit seller and the taxi driver…” He rattled off a list of reason why I should just ignore everything that had happened.
I asked if I could at least make a police report to put it on file. “No,” he said matter-of-factly, unless I am ready to go to court. His voice serious and emotionless, devoid of any empathy or care. He says there is no use putting it on file or in the system. He showed me out the door.
Most importantly, I will remember never to sit in the passenger seat of a taxi. The next time I’m getting into a taxi alone, I will make sure I am ordering it from a reputable taxi company. l will make sure the driver has a proper license, and that the he sees me noticing his taxi license and his name.
Travelling is fun, but for woman, sometimes it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. If you want more real travel stories like this, leave a comment and follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more.