A ride to gratitude

Our rental Prius moments before collapsing

By Jana Aljamal

Eleven O’clock. The roaring sun sits right above my head and our Prius’ air-conditioning works no better than a blow-dryer. I can feel every drop of sweat lingering down my neck. Perhaps my dress is too tight for the weather, or maybe I should not have worn those leather heels. 

“Baba can we please open this goddamn AC?” I said frustrated. 

“What?! I cannot hear you,” said my father.   

Of course, he could not hear me, he is blasting Mohammad Assaf’s new album that he bought yesterday from downtown Ramallah. 

“Baba for God’s sake turn it down my head will explode,” I said 

“Yohoo! We still did not even leave Beit Soreek and you are already complaining,” my father replied. 

I jump out of my seat to lock eyes with my father. “We still did not leave Beit Soreek?! At what speed are we driving? Five kilometers an hour?” I said sarcastically. 

Church of Nativity in Bethlehem upon our arrival

It did not take long until God taught me the principle of gratitude. We could not even make to the next village before that rental Prius gave up on us. My father, unwilling to ruin his new Massimo Dutti blazer that he bought specially for this occasion, also gave up on the Prius very quickly. 

He was determined to reach my cousin Suhaib’s engagement party on time, which was supposed to start at 8 p.m. by the way. I was wondering all along why we had to leave so early but believe me the next few hours will explain it all. Regardless, my father, full of determination, spots a taxi driver sitting on the pavement with a cup of coffee in his right hand and a Marlboro cigarette in his left and he shouted excitedly: 

“My friend! Can you take us to Bethlehem?” 

The driver smirked, revealing his crooked yellow teeth, and said: “how much are you willing to pay uncle.” 

“It is not the time for this conversation, I will pay you whatever you want,” my father said. 

Indeed, as they say in Beit Soreek, the Gulf privilege reeks out of us, and my father just gave himself in to a greedy man. 

I sat in the backseat of what seems to a car that works on coal—one manufactured before the industrial revolution. The seats are covered in silicon that sticked/stuck to my thighs and the back of my sweaty arms. But hey! Yaser the taxi driver thinks that the silicon keeps the car brand new. Of course, Yaser also refused to turn on the AC because turning it on will “finish the car’s fuel.” Yet again, God never fails to teach me gratitude. 

No. I was mistaken when I thought that God was teaching me gratitude then. God taught me gratitude when we left the city of Ramallah and our taxi that barely had the engine power to drive on crooked asphalt drove into the “spiral roads.” 

The spiral roads were a death wish. They were not mere roads; they were a dystopian reality that spoke volumes on apartheid and occupation. 

To speak in technical terms, the spiral roads are 2-way roads that are built around the mountains instead of going through them. To cross a mountain, the taxi had to drive all around it in a circular fashion. There were no barriers between those ascending the mountain and those descending it, and there were no barriers at the cliffs. 

Although still determined, my father looked outside his window to see a parallel road where cars drove on a safe straightforward highway and said: 

“They took the good ones and gave us the bad ones.” 

I, on the other hand, could not see anything but trucks descending towards us as we were ascending the mountain. With every passing truck my heart drops into the abyss. I search for it in my ribcage, I check my pulse and look for blood in my veins, but it is nowhere to be found. So I clinch my eyes, hold my breath, and I whisper in my own ear: 

“I will kill you, Suhaib.” 

As I open my eyes, I see it. I finally see it. The tacky board that says, “Welcome to Bethlehem” and the blue fairy lights for the mayor’s campaign around the central roundabout. I look at my hands and it seemed that my tanned olive skin has turned yellow, as if someone has drained the blood out of veins. 

I take a moment to exhale, to hear my pulse and to feel my heart returning to my chest again and pumping blood back in my body.