Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask
By Darlene Foster
ireadiwrite Publishing Copyright © 2010 Darlene Foster
All rights reserved.
Amanda Ross closed her eyes, made a wish and blew out the candles on her birthday cake. She could have wished for anything, a new skateboard, an MP3 player or even a new bike; instead, Amanda wished for travel and adventure.
When she got the ticket in the mail to visit the United Arab Emirates she wasn't surprised; after all, she had blown out every one of those twelve candles. All she knew about the United Arab Emirates was that her aunt and uncle lived there. When she found it on the globe in her dad's office it looked awfully far away. Way farther than Regina and she hadn't been anywhere past there. Perhaps she should have been more specific and asked for travel and adventure in Canada. In the future, she would be more careful when she made a wish.
* * *
A huge fan whirled overhead and a weird sound came from somewhere outside the window. Amanda sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. Where was she? The room was unfamiliar. A clock in the corner glowed a green 4:30 A.M. There was that strange sound again, something between a chant and a moan. It got louder. She spotted her open suitcase on the floor and remembered. She was half — way around the world, visiting her Aunt Ella and Uncle Ben in the United Arab Emirates.
She tiptoed to the balcony of the third floor apartment. The tiles under her bare feet were still warm from the heat of the day before. There was a breeze coming off the sea but it was still pleasant enough to stand outside in her cotton pajamas. She watched the moon shimmer on the water and noticed the glow of a white mosque in the distance. The odd sound seemed to come from that direction. She felt like she was having a bizarre dream. Maybe she'd wake up and find herself back in her bedroom in Canada.
Amanda still couldn't believe she had traveled all that way by herself. She had been excited, but nervous to go so far on her own. It turned out alright. Traveling without her parents was great. For one thing, she could do whatever she wanted. Her parents were OK, but all their rules drove her crazy. The people in the airports and on the planes were nice to her and treated her like a grown — up. The fifteen — hour flight didn't even seem that long and had been super cool.
An Arab boy, returning home to Dubai, had turned off his headphones long enough to tell her to call the United Arab Emirates either the UAE or Emirates otherwise she would sound like a dork. No one, he reported, no one called it the United Arab Emirates unless they were fresh off a boat — or airplane in this case.
Before she left Calgary, Amanda wasn't sure what to expect and was surprised to find that the country was so beautiful. Not beautiful in a pretty sort of way, but beautiful in an awesome sort of way. From the very start she knew she had come to a fascinating place.
Amanda was so tired when her Uncle Ben picked her up in his Jeep Cherokee from the Dubai Airport, but she didn't dare fall asleep in case she missed something. She noticed the barren scenery of sand and rocks as they sped along the modern highway, interrupted occasionally with a splash of green, date — palm groves or white — washed buildings. Every so often, a magnificent mosque would rise up out of the landscape; the crescent moon-topped minarets reached far into the cloudless sky. The mosques looked even more amazing and mysterious than the pictures she had seen on the internet. It was all so unreal, like she had disappeared into a book. Even though she fought to stay awake, her eyes closed and her mind drifted to scenes of Aladdin from the stories she had read when she was little.
"You wanted to see a camel, Amanda. Well, look over here," said her uncle, as he gestured out his window.
Her eyes popped open and there he was, her first camel, sauntering along the side of the road without a care in the world. He looked friendly and sleepy. She wanted to get out of the jeep, put her arms around him and give him a big hug.
"I can arrange it if you'd like to ride a camel," said her uncle with a grin. "That is, if you're not scared."
"Scared? No way," said Amanda, as she thought about what her friends back home would say. The most they could hope for this summer was a ride on a dude — ranch pony.
Uncle Ben stopped for gas at what looked like a regular Texaco gas station, except the writing on the sign was in the fluid lines of Arabic. A young man came over to the jeep. She recognized the long, flowing, white dishdasha and a white ghutra headdress tied in place with a black twisted rope from her internet research. He looked like he had stepped out of a storybook, or the bible.
He held out his hand and asked, "Where are you from?" His brown eyes were warm and friendly.
"Canada," she said and shook his outstretched hand.
With a generous smile, he said, "I am Ali, welcome to my country!"
"My name is Amanda." She smiled back, happy to have made her first Arabian friend.
The colour of the sand changed from creamy white to mocha to rust as they drove north toward the jagged mountains in the distance. Uncle Ben explained that there were many different colours of sand in the Emirates.
Amanda could feel her head bobble again even though she fought to stay awake. Soon they were driving alongside water that was so blue and clear it seemed like a post card. The blazing sun's rays bounced off the water leaving a haze of sparkles.
"Is this the Persian Gulf?" Amanda knew that if she talked it would help her stay awake.
"Yes, it is," said her uncle. "And if you were to take a boat and head straight across that way," — he pointed — "you would land on the shores of the ancient land of Persia. Now, of course, the country is called Iran."
"I'd much rather go by flying carpet," Amanda laughed as she imagined a ride with Aladdin in search of ancient hidden treasures left behind by Alexander the Great.
"That ride will be a little more difficult to arrange," replied her uncle, pretending to be serious. "But I'll see what I can do."
The foamy surf casually rolled over the fine, undisturbed sand. Amanda wondered why there were no people on the miles and miles of lonely, spotless beaches. Young school children lined up outside a school as they drove past. The children wore school uniforms similar to the kids back home. The teachers wore the traditional long, black overdress, called an abaya. Some covered their face with a sheer veil, others with a burqa face-mask that left only their eyes showing, and some did not cover their face at all.
The sun shone, the water glistened, the people smiled and waved, and little goats ran across the road as she traveled across unfamiliar territory. 'What a totally amazing place I have come to,' thought Amanda, as she finally dozed off.
Amanda stood on the balcony and listened for a while. Something about the mysterious sound was peaceful and soothing. She returned to her bed, fell back to sleep right away and dreamt she was riding a camel in the desert, traveling toward the white mosque with the fascinating sound. She rode for a long time but the mosque never seemed to get any closer.
The next morning at breakfast her aunt asked, "Did you sleep well, dear?"
"Yes, thank you," said Amanda.
"I hope the first call to prayer didn't wake you," said her uncle.
"A strange sound woke me at 4:30," said Amanda. 'So that's what it was.'
"The local citizens are devout Muslims and they are called to prayer five times a day starting around four thirty in the morning," explained her uncle.
"I think that is so cool. But why do they have to be reminded to pray?" asked the always inquisitive Amanda.
"That is part of their religion, part of their culture," said her aunt.
"Well, it is a good idea, I guess." Amanda thought about what she could do to join in and be part of the culture while she was there. "Every time I hear the call to prayer, while I'm here, I could wish something good for someone."
"That's very sweet of you, dear," said Aunt Ella as she placed a bowl of cereal and dried dates in front of Amanda. "There are a lot of people who could benefit from your good wishes."
Amanda poured milk over her cereal, her mind already making up a list of wishes she could make for other people. On the drive from the airport she had seen an old woman squatting near the door of a small village store, her hand raised to beg for coins. She would be the first person Amanda would make a wish for. Her friend's little brother was quite sick, she would make a wish for him, too.
"Would you like to explore the town a little today?" asked her aunt, who was spooning a runny yogurt over her cereal. After she finished with the yogurt she added a large handful of dates. "We could check out some of the shops that sell local artifacts."
"Sure, I want to buy a post card for my best friend, Donna. She will freak out when I tell her about this place. Oh, and one for Mom and Dad too. Are there any kids my age around here?" The words flew out of her mouth. Amanda was getting more and more excited with each passing minute. Would there be enough hours in the day to do everything she wanted to do and see everything she wanted to see?
"Yes, there is an English girl named Leah Anderson. She lives on the ninth floor on the opposite side of the building. Her mother and I teach at the same school. She has been waiting for your visit. I think she's lonely," said Aunt Ella. "Should we ask her to come along? We could finish the day with a stop at the beach club."
"That would be awesome. I'll have a shower and get ready right away!" Amanda tried not to wolf down her breakfast but she wanted to get going. A half-day of her vacation was already gone.
* * *
Leah turned out to be Amanda's exact opposite in looks. She was tall and thin with long, blonde hair. She had eyes the colour of the Persian Gulf, fair skin and rosy cheeks. She was what Amanda always wished she looked like. Instead, she was short for her age with straight, short, brown hair cut in a bob. She wasn't really plump but she wished she could lose her "baby fat", as her mom called it. Amanda had hazel eyes and tanned easily. She also wore glasses, which she hated.
"Hello, you must be Amanda. I'm Leah. How very lovely to meet you," said the blonde girl, her accent crisp and British. Amanda thought she sounded like Hermione in the Harry Potter movies and liked her immediately.
"Hi there, it's great to meet you, too! I'm glad you can come shopping with us. Do you have your stuff for the beach?"
"Yes," said Leah as she held up a backpack. "Thank you for asking me to join you."
"If you girls are ready then let's get going," said her aunt as she plopped a hat on Amanda's head. "You will need one of these while you're here as the sun can get pretty hot."
As they drove through town, Amanda was captivated with the Arabic signs on the shops and the people dressed in their traditional robes. She had so many questions to ask and so much to learn about this place. They parked the car and strolled down the street. Her aunt explained that they called the shopping markets, souqs. They walked past many fabric shops with rows of silks and cottons in every colour and design imaginable and shop windows dripping with gold jewelry. 'Wow! Lots of bling,' thought Amanda. She noticed a sweet, spicy scent in the air.
Many people smiled and said, "Hello." Some stopped and shook her hand and asked her where she was from. They were all so eager to welcome her to their country. Amanda couldn't imagine anyone mean or nasty living there.
They went into a small shop, called Aladdin's Treasures, which was so full of stuff you could hardly turn around without bumping into something. Richly patterned prayer rugs in colours of red, green, wine and brown looked like magic carpets. They covered the walls and hung from the ceiling creating a kaleidoscope of colour. Gold ceremonial daggers, called khanjars, were secured inside a glass cabinet. Rows and rows of wooden, carved camels of all shapes and sizes shared the shelves with shiny, brass Aladdin's lamps. Amanda was enchanted with all the intriguing items, old and new, from many different places.
Just as they were leaving, the merchant behind the counter said, "I have something special for you, Miss." Amanda glanced behind her to see if he were talking to her or someone else. As her aunt and Leah stepped out into the sunshine, the merchant looked directly at her and added, "I have been saving it for you."
Something especially for her? With a nervous smile Amanda asked, "What is it?"
The old man pulled out a flat, round, ornate flask, about three inches tall and two inches wide, made of dull, grey pewter. Tiny, turquoise and red stones trimmed the top. A larger red stone sat on the top.
"It is for perfume," explained the merchant. He lifted the red, stone — topped lid and pulled out a long, thin wand. He took Amanda's hand and showed her how to apply the perfume from the wand on the inside of her wrist. Two pewter chains attached the top to the flask so the wand would never be lost.
Amanda picked up the wand and placed it back in the flask.
"What a beautiful thing," she exclaimed. "It looks very old."
"Oh, it is very old, Miss. It belonged to a princess who took it with her always. Very far. Riding on a camel in the desert. It was her most prized possession." The old gentleman spoke with great sincerity. "She would want you to have it."
He paused and studied Amanda shaking his head from side to side. "It is worth fifty dirhams, but for you, I give it for only twenty dirhams." He spoke like the East Indian janitor at her school.
Amanda decided in an instant that she had to have it. She had some silver coins, with a picture of an Aladdin style coffee pot on them, called dirhams in her pocket and counted out twenty of them. The bright sun hurt her eyes after being in the crowded, dark shop but she quickly located her aunt and Leah sitting on a bench waiting for her.
"Did you find something to buy?" her aunt asked.
"Yes, I did. It is very special. I might give it to my friend, or I might keep it for myself." She showed them the little flask and told them the story about the princess.
Her aunt explained, "That might not be true. He may have told you that just to get you to buy it."
Amanda looked at Leah who didn't say anything. Amanda was sure the story was true, but why did the man say he was saving it for her? She was starting to get an uneasy feeling.
Later that afternoon, Amanda began to feel hot and sticky and was quite happy when they arrived at the beach where she could change into her bathing suit. The beach was perfect. It was so clean and the fine, cream — coloured sand felt pleasant on her bare feet. They practically had the beach to themselves. The water of the Persian Gulf was the most stunning shade of aquamarine blue she had ever seen. She felt like she was stepping into a postcard as she dipped her toes in the water. It was lovely and warm, so she jumped right in. Leah was right behind her. They splashed each other and giggled. Aunt Ella took pictures from the shore. "We will have to email some back home to your Mom and Dad," she called out.
When they got tired of swimming Leah and Amanda walked on the beach and collected shells. "Did the man in the shop really say that the perfume carafe used to belong to a princess?" asked Leah.
"Yes, that's what he said and I believe him," replied Amanda.
"Well, I once heard about a Bedouin princess who was stolen from her family by another tribe. She escaped and traveled many miles across the desert and through the mountains to return home." Leah picked up a white shell that glowed iridescent in the sun. It looked perfect until she turned it over and saw that a small, round hole was bored into the underside. She gave a grunt of annoyance as she tossed it back down.
"Did she get home OK?" Amanda stopped in her tracks and stared at her new friend.
"I'm not sure. I never really heard the end of the story, besides it was along time ago." Leah found another of the white shells and this time it was unblemished. She added it to the small sack she carried around her neck before adding, "Those things don't happen anymore." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask by Darlene Foster. Copyright © 2010 Darlene Foster. Excerpted by permission of ireadiwrite Publishing.
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