In yet another frantic ‘letter to my older self’ as a restless young student I would have vociferously and loudly expressed my ongoing exasperation.
“What the hell are you doing – sitting in MacDonalds a mere 300 meters from your hotel eating cheap, nasty fast food? You should be sampling the delights of authentic Middle-Eastern cuisine on the banks of the Dead Sea or pandering to your own grandiose religious sentiments and visiting Al Maghtas the purported baptismal site of Jesus Himself in the River Jordan. Have you gone and lost your mind? Where has that indomitable spirit of adventure gone? What a let down! I thought you were, forever, going to ‘walk the earth and get in adventures’.”
“Now hang on minute!” I reply, and as I explained to Zukar my colleague on this four day workshop in Amman – “I only go where people pay me to go”. And the hypothetical US$ 400 price tag I placed on a trip to the Dead Sea was well beyond his means or inclination to pay. He might have considered US$ 50 he told me, just to have some company despite the ridiculous notion, but I guessed 400 would cut out any further debate and needless to say, neither of us bothered to travel that weekend.
The funniest thing is, over the last four years whilst being obstinately opposed to any form of travel beyond the borders of North Yorkshire I have been obliged to travel, for want of gainful employment to Beirut, up to the northern Lebanese border with Syria, from there to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, across East Africa to Mogadishu the capital of Somalia and northwards to Garowe, Puntland and Hargeisa the capital of Somaliland. This followed by yet another two postings to Erbil in Kurdistan and to the north, south, west and east of Iraq. In between I have attended interviews, workshops and training sessions in Nairobi, Dublin, Mombasa, Paris and here I find myself in Amman the capital of Jordan. It has been exhausting at times and truly crazy for a man who never wanted to leave Yorkshire! At least however I stuck to my principles and never paid for any of it.
On the question of fast food I used to hate the idea of jamming junk food down my throat, wrecking my health and frequenting such culturally inappropriate landmarks as MacDonalds, KFC, Burger King and all the rest. When accused of defamation against an aid agency in the Ethiopian courts I read and eagerly digested the technical details and machinations described in the book ‘McLibel’ by John Vidal. His book outlined one of the longest trials in UK history initiated by MacDonalds against two members of the public and certainly turned my opinion even more fervently against the fast food industry.
And then there were my own two children who somehow magically fell under the spell of the ubiquitous ‘Happy Meal’ and the all powerful Disney toy hidden inside. On our first trip together to La Citta Eterna (the Eternal City of Rome) Jill and I desired nothing more than ‘un piatto di cozze con pizza frutti di mare’ but on our first day Hannah ganged up against us both and threw her entire and wholehearted support the way of Joshua whose face was such a pitiful sight when we insisted on eating ‘a plate of mussels’ with perhaps a side dish of pizza. It is important to let your children know who is in charge but when their whole world is collapsing around them and their emotional well being is at stake it is sometimes worth compromising. And so it was we ate MacDonalds almost every day during our four days in the city. In their turn they compromised and suffered 2,000 years of history for our sakes.
So ironic it is that Hannah and Joshua now have very different tastes, inspired through years of inculturation living and traveling through foreign lands and I am now a dedicated fan of fast food joints. I doubt very much MacDonalds would have every imagined that outcome. My pleasure and loyalty to the brand is based on the key components originally espoused by the founders and Ray Croc; it is cheap, clean, un-fussy, quick, quiet and unpretentious and there is little chance of being ripped off.