Friday, January 7, 2011

Playing Tour Guide

In sort of an extended family vacation, my brother and his wife flew back with me to visit baladelba7th.  We celebrated New Years, toured around a bit, and then they headed off to medinatel'athaar.  My other brother plus three friends arrived in baladelba7th Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning the seven of us set off for a two-day excursion to medinatelba7r, with me as tour guide.

We did not get off to an auspicious start.  Two of my brother's friends woke up at 8:20 when we had reserved a 9:00 train.  My brothers and my brother's wife arrived at the train station at 8:50 and I rushed them onto the train (not an easy task, as the train station is currently arranged in the most confusing way ever due to construction).  The three friends still had not arrived, so my brother ran back to look for them.  They came in a different entrance and jumped on the train as it started to move.  My brother, on his first day in baladelba7th, was left behind in the train station, all because he didn't want to leave his friends.  Worse, he had the ticket of one of his friends.  Luckily, when I explained to the ticket collector what had happened, he agreed to let her ride without buying another ticket.

My brother had a mobile that worked long enough for me to direct him to the ticket office to buy another ticket.  Unfortunately, that train wasn't till 11:00, and there is not much to do near the train station.  His phone quit working after I got him to complete the ticket purchase.

So, the rest of us arrive, and I take them to the hotel, check them in, take them to a sandwich shop, give them instructions on sandwich ordering, and directions to our first tourist site.  Then I immediately jump in a taxi to try to catch my brother at the train station in medinatelba7r.  Because his phone stopped working, I can't tell him which station to get off at.  There are two stations in medinatelba7r.  Nearly everyone gets off at the first one, because that is where most people live.  The tourist destinations are closer to the second one.  If he follows the crowd, he'll get off at the first one.  If he asks, the porters always direct tourists to the second.  I figure I will try to catch him at the first one, as the two stations are pretty much equidistant to the tourist site the rest of the group is at.  This is easier said than done, as the chances of me getting on the train while everyone is rushing off are slim, and I don't know what car he's in.  If he gets off, and I'm still looking for him on the train, and the train takes off, it's an even bigger disaster.

So, I decide to talk to the station manager.  I explain the situation, and he is sympathetic and says I can get on the train to look for him once the passengers have gotten off, and he will hold it for a minute or two at the station.  In case my brother gets off, I explain what he looks like (luckily, he is easy to spot in baladelba7th, having my coloring and being over six feet tall).  The train arrives, and I go running through the cars yelling his name, much to the amusement of the other passengers.  After about six cars, the porter tells me my brother has gotten off.  I hop off, and quickly spot him.  A station worker who has been alerted to the search is trying to tell my brother that his sister is looking for him.  Unfortunately, my brother speaks no loghatelba7th, and the station worker speaks little English, so my brother thinks he's hassling him as is wont to happen with tourists in baladelba7th and is resisting him, saying no, no, I don't want anything.  I arrive, apologize and thank the station worker, find the station manager and thank him, and set off to join the rest of the group, reunited at last.

We spend the rest of the day touring, and have a nice dinner overlooking the sea.  The next day, I come down with a dreadful cold, but we get in some more sites, with fewer disasters.  While I was really glad to see my brothers and my brother's wife, and the friends were cool, it was rather stressful for me.  Suddenly, the person who hates interacting with strangers is buying tickets, negotiating prices, translating all sorts of food orders, directing taxis, and doing all sorts of other things that I normally leave to whoever I'm with (usually my husband).  I'm also doing it times two or seven, since we always need two taxis and seven tickets/meals/etc.

Interactions with tourists in baladelba7th are always an odd dance between extreme hospitality/excitement and financial exploitation, depending on the situation and the person.  For example, there are the station workers who agreed to hold the train for my brother and didn't even think to ask for money, and then there is the taxi driver who refused to turn on his meter and demanded 50 from my brother for what should have been 10.  I felt the need to negotiate this dynamic as well, paying a little more than normal, but not three or four times more.  This was also important to me because I wanted my brothers to see the good and generous side of people in baladelba7th and not the tourist=money side.  Most of the time, this worked fine, and there were no hassles.  Sometimes, there were.  Yet another good example of this dynamic, and how it depends on the individuals involved was on our final taxi trip from the hotel to the train station.  I would normally pay 5 for this trip, but because we had lots of bags and were tourists, I told everyone to pay 10 to avoid any hassle.  When we arrived, the taxi with my brother and his friends demanded another 5.  I said no way, we already paid you double.  Then, my taxi driver backed me up, saying essentially, come on man, they already paid double, and you want more? That's not right, even for tourists.  I was simultaneously annoyed at the first taxi driver, and impressed by the second.

Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end (and the cold didn't help).  My brother and his wife flew out last night, and my other brother and company are headed on a ahramat tour today and then taking the train to medinatel'athaar tonight, so I have a bit of a break.  Was it fun seeing my family and their friends? Absolutely.  Would I ever survive as a tour guide? Not a chance.

1 comment:

  1. Feel better, SK! I recommend copious bed rest and my favorite local remedy, very hot lamuunbil3asal.