04 October 2006

Driving in Jordan

It is almost the weekend. Two evenings ago I met up with a friend we made in December. It was his birthday, and I had his mobile number. I called, and to my surprise he answered, and asked how my mom, aunt, husband, and Amy are all doing. He came to my apartment at nine in the evening, and we drove around Amman. I didn’t return home until 2 the next morning, and my adopted father, who lives across the hall from me, opened his door, and asked me where the heck I’d been.

I saw great swaths of Amman I have never seen, and I learned my way around much better. Sadly, I’d always assumed that Amman’s reputation for being perhaps one of the more boring Middle East capitals was well-earned, but I think I changed my mind some. I haven’t seen anything here that I would categorize as a major party-hub or anything, but instead what I saw were little hamlets of buzzing social activity all in one city, yet distinct in style somehow. Particularly as it got late, people started to come out, and everyone seemed to be on the streets talking and playing soccer and eating sweets. I saw beautiful churches and mosques; I saw neighborhoods with skinny winding streets that lead to central green spaces where people were gathered to smoke cigarettes. Downtown I saw men lined up for pieces of kanafa from “the best place in Jordan.”

A is a coffee drinker more than a tea drinker. This suits me fine; I learned in December that he knows where the best coffee in this city is. Several times we pulled up to a coffee place and got tiny cups of sweet, steaming joe. It was so good. As it got later, and then earlier, shops began to close, but the coffee joints were open the entire time I was out. Who could ask for more?

At one point A said he wanted me to see “my embassy.” It was awful! It’s castle-shaped! There was so much security there I couldn’t help but think that it drew more attention to the building than was a good idea. A slowed down a little so I could gawk. I leered out the window, and a man in a police car across the street announced to the traffic (in English) that we needed to stop looking at the building. If the embassy were shrunk down significantly, it would be a perfect prop at a miniature golf course. We drove on to less icky neighborhoods. I saw incredibly affluent neighborhoods that I assume are filled with people who have more money than taste, I saw incredibly affluent neighborhoods that I assume are filled with people who have money, and don’t care if I know this. I also saw very poor neighborhoods filled with people who look like they need hope. I saw wonderful old neighborhoods filled with people who were either laughing or yelling. We drove by A’s aunt’s house, and she was outside with other relatives. I was profusely welcomed, invited to Iftar, and offered a place to live if I should ever be in need. This is the Jordan I came to live in. Moments like that make me look around and mentally thank those around me for letting me live here.

Ramadan is a good time to learn Arabic words for food. There are always these amazing vegetable stands here that have the most elaborate displays of fruits and veggies stacked up in cone or pyramid shapes. During Ramadan, there is also an amazing selection of juices. Practically everyone who sells food will have bottles of tamarind juice. Sometimes it’s made with rose water in it. I’m sure somewhere a team of expert scientists has determined for sure what Muslims have long knows: there is nothing more cold, sweet and delicious than that juice for breaking a fast. So both A and I improved our second languages, at least in terms of ordering food.

Toward the end of the evening (or beginning of morning) A told me I needed to see this strange street in Amman where cars seem to be pointing downhill, but roll backwards. I thought he was kidding, or that I didn’t understand, but this street really exists! It looked newly paved, but there was no other development there. Yet. Several other cars were pulled off to the side of the road, and like us, were rolling backwards (into on-coming traffic). That’s ok, the on-coming traffic was there only to find a place off to the side to try this too.

All that, and we never went too far into Abdoun (save “my embassy”), Shmeisani, or Sweifiyyeh.


Blogger Weeping Sore said...

Please give Ayman my fond regards. More on juice, please. Did you get that amazing combination of mint and lemon juice that I've never been able to duplicate, despite of dozens of attempts with my food processor that result in variations of sour green slime? Will you be able to go back to those neighborhoods and talk to the people?

8:22 PM  

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