The Only Way is Amman
Four weeks of classes completed and now a welcome week break for the Islamic Eid al-Adha celebrations. A national holiday to mark the end of Hajj, the pilgrimage of millions of muslims to Mecca each year.
A travel tip for sheep: If you are planning to come to Jordan, avoid Eid al-Adha. You are likely to end up bleeding profusely from the neck on a street corner. Adha meaning sacrifice.
I only went and explored some of Jabal Ashfiyyah this week didn’t I. Amman, a city of barber shops and pharmacies originally founded on seven hills. Ashfiyyah is the one that’s always in the corner of your eye wherever you are in downtown. An imposing hill topped with the world’s first bar-code-inspired mosque (masjid), Abu Darweesh.
In stark contrast to west Amman (where my flat and Qasid language institute are located), east Amman is visibly less well-off. No industrial sized Starbucks or Macdonalds here. Tourists wandering around below are perhaps put off by the incline (you can of course get a taxi, but where’s the fun in that). Home to many of Palestinian refugee descent, and stocked full of factories owned by west Ammanis.
I got my morning oomph from a sludgy cup of coffee with Ahmed opposite the Roman Nymphaeum. He is my age and studies a subject (didn’t understand what) at Zarqa university so, naturally we hit it off. These stands are permanent pop-up cafés all over the city, consisting of a gas cylinder, fire, water and coffee. And are invariably located in the entrance to someones’ block of flats.
Up we go, passed old men with their prayer beads grinning toothlessly and gangs of boys with their BB guns. All watching me becoming progressively drenched in my own sweat as the mid-day sun approached. Assalamu alaikums were exchanged and photos were taken.
A short walk from the top is Abu Darweesh Mosque. Claimed by some to be the highest point in Amman (but hotly refuted by others). It’s not low, you can be sure of that. Built in 1961 by Palestinians in a district that was devoid of much and had no mosque, it stands with yet another view over Amman.
I sat in the adjacent public square falafel in hand, pestering little kids at my side prodding me for daring not to take photos of them. Rescue came in the voice of Ali ‘these kids are bad, do you want to come for tea?’.
I was fortunate to be invited into Ali’s family home and meet his brother, sisters and parents. They emerged from side rooms and gathered round the sofa plying me with tea and ma3moul (3 represents an arabic letter, the one that causes the most cases of throat cancer in foreigners). Ma3moul is a shortbread style dessert stuffed with dates or nuts, traditionally eaten during Eid al-Adha. And dam they are zaakee kiteer (Jordanian Arabic for well delicious innit).
First things first though, as soon as I had greeted everyone, wished them a merry Eid and all that, Ali rushed off to show me his pump action shotgun. I cradled it carefully, furiously trying to come up with different ways of expressing my appreciation and delight of its deadly beauty. As soon as the women had left, out came the shisha. We then proceeded to bubble the afternoon away watching people go by, shaking hands and wishing them good will for Eid. The customary kul am wa antum bikhair.
The Jordanian male is a peculiar species. One of his habits is introductory cheek kissing that puts the French to shame. One on the right, then about five or so on the left. Their heads slapping off each other as with each kiss another variation of ‘how are you?’ is proffered (the arabic language is about 75% greetings). According to Ali, the number of left-cheek kisses are directly related to how much you like the guy. There are cases of reunited best-friends who died of dehydration before completing their embrace.
As the night began to fall, I mentioned to Ali I would love to go inside the Mosque and have a gander. We could hear the Maghrib (fourth prayer of the day) being called from the minaret so off we went. I was a bit anxious but Ali told me to follow him and to what he does. We removed our shoes, did our ablutions and lined up with others in the front row as the mosque filled up from the back. We went through the three repetitions of prostrations, semi-prostrations and mumbled words. Me fitting in sublimely by inadvertently kicking the man behind me in the head whenever I stood up.
No one gave me a second glance, questioned my presence or dragged me out by the collar. But perhaps there is my misconception of the mosque. As soon as you enter each individual focusses on their personal connection, the group worship serves only to intensify this. I turned to Ali and told him how relaxing and meditative I found it, he smiled and said it’s a shame more muslims in the area don’t go.
Coming out of the mosque, the square was now filled with hoards of boys no more than 15 years old, smoking, smashing glass bottles and picking fights. We hurried by back to Ali’s house to chow down on bread and leben (sour yoghurt) with yet more tea.
I eventually left late in the evening, armed with a bag of ma3moul and a warm glow from such amazing, unrequited hospitality. Back down the hill to Ahmed’s café for a catch up. I garbled about my day over a coffee, he politely nodded and replied occasionally. Finally feeling that my arabia mkesra (broken arabic) is getting somewhere. We almost fell out when it came to paying, so i left the money and some ma3moul on the counter and ran. All the way home to boring old west Amman.