Our first trip in the Middle East started on Christmas Eve, a day before the attempted bombing of a US-bound plane by a Nigerian man. My husband John, his sister Melanie, our baby Iola and I arrived at the Abu Dhabi airport with print-outs of our E-tickets. "Do you have the credit card used to purchase this flight?" the man at the Etihad counter asked. I had left it at home. "The computer will not issue the boarding passes without it" he said. "I have checked you in, so if you can find the number in the next few minutes, we will issue the boarding passes."
Under pressure, I logged on to the HSBC website and found my number. The man explained that if he had tried to over-ride the computer, it would have sent red flags through the system. I was indignant at the idea that this bumbling family, complete with a baby, could be terrorists. The next day Etihad's policy seemed exonerated, however. The well-heeled Nigerian showed anyone can pose a threat. Anyone except Iola, that is. How could she? She doesn't even have theory of mind.
And so we set off on our three-hour flight to Amman, Jordan. Iola and I are veterans of transcontinental travel, so the plane ride felt like a breeze to me, but not to John. It was our first trip with him in a year, and he was exhausted by it. Buckling up the baby belt, keeping her from running into business class, having a snack without grinding food into the seats, playing with crayons; each diversion was a challenge. There is an element of pacing yourself in travelling with kids, like long-distance running. If you know what to expect, you can end up with energy in reserve.
In Abu Dhabi I had hired a rental car through www.lastminute.com, and a Thrifty Car representative met us in the arrivals hall in Amman and soon handed over the tiniest silver Citroen I had ever seen. We were four people plus luggage and I had not understood that the cheapest option would mean signing up for a car quite so small. Also, it was a standard instead of an automatic, so only I could drive. We decided to brave rush-hour traffic to find the Thrifty office in Amman and pay for a bigger car. Somehow we squeezed ourselves, a baby seat, three suitcases, two purses, a messenger bag, a baby backpack, a bag of fruit and one Christmas present for Iola - into the shoebox-sized car and headed into town with a crude map of the city.
In the end, after getting lost over and over again, we gave up and turned our shoebox south towards Madaba, where we had decided to spend Christmas. Night came early and it was dark by 5.30pm. We arrived in Madaba an hour later, with John holding a printout of the map our guest house had e-mailed close to his face. It could not have been less helpful, instead inciting arguments among back-seat and front-seat drivers. We stopped at a shop to ask for directions and three young men called the phone number, jumped in their van and led us straight to the door, vanishing before we could thank them. As quick as we could, we unloaded and headed to Haret Jdoudna, a restaurant with an amazing atmosphere. We sat by a roaring fire and ordered Jordanian wine and appetisers and toasted our holiday. It was, finally, a beautiful start to the next four days of adventure. firstname.lastname@example.org