The Only Way is Amman
Hello. It’s halfway through my final term in Jordan. The year abroad is coming to an end and I’m starting to wonder why I don’t have more photos of leaning towers of Pisa and sunny photos of smiling students lounging around in parks. That’s what Year Abroads are supposed to about, well, according to Facebook. Love that site.
But don’t worry I have been absorbed in shisha smoke, developed a tendency to stare at the wrong side of books, eat shwarma kebab, walk everywhere in a daze of pollution and just generally stare at urban goats.
When it came to the end of March, I had been living for three months in a flat with sofa-dwelling sub-letter Mohammad Azizzi ( = the dear one), as well as a variety of other faces that numbered eight at the peak of over crowdedness. As I have already mentioned, this was at times beneficial, at others smelly.
Throughout March my long-suffering friend Ali had been sharing my bed, and contributing to the rent. But he pointed out, after an evening spent in our favourite roast chicken joint, that I am being ripped off.
Ali rang around to see who, from his friends, was interested in finding a new flat. About five gave very insincere ‘In Shah Allahs’, and we left it at that.
I told Mohammad, that, as we had agreed in January I would be moving out at the beginning of April. He gave me an incredulous look with his passive-aggressive puppy eyes. I explained in my best diplomatic Arabic that I was leaving so that he could spend more time with his deep pockets. When my vagueness wasn’t getting through, Ali jumped in to call ‘haraam’ (against Islam).
Of course this didn’t go down too well with dear Mohammad. A much heated discussion ensued in which we came to the agreement that, yes of course, he is a very hospitable and pious muslim, the economy is in a bad state, there’s not much money to go around, wars, influx of Syrians etc.
There was a pause for intake of breath before he declared that I would have at least to stay one more month to give him time to find someone else, otherwise I could pay him a months rent up front.
Ok no Mohammad I will move out today. Then ensued the awkwardness of packing my bag as quickly as possible. And in a twist of fate he offered to drop me off.
We sat in silence at traffic lights before Mohammad perked up with, “how about a leaving interview, what could I have done better? Tell me about your experience? Do you think I am a expensive?” I just held my tongue and smiled out the window.
The following day my parents arrived from England to stay for ten days. Having timed my homelessness to perfection, I subsequently moved into their hotel room and enjoyed a long stretch of daily showers and expansive breakfasts.
All the while, Ali and I found an unfurnished flat to move into, with his friend from the Jordan Valley, Naseem (which means “a breeze”).
We spent a morning going through the contract with the Egyptian porter, Khalid. I panicked when it came to signing my name, my English handwriting slightly out of practice, I went for an unconvincing right to left squiggle. Thus my Arabic signature was born.
I blew a sigh of relief, then realised Khalid wanted me to sign another sheet too. Luckily the first paper was still in sight, lying on the floor, so I threw a quick glance then drew an artists impression of my first attempt.
All done and the flat was ours. A small, camping-style gas stove for cooking, three thin mattresses for sleeping on and an endless diet of canned kidney beans, raw onion and fried tomatoes due to the lack of fridge.
This simplicity of living was refreshing and enjoyable. But it did put a strain on the formal studying, which inevitably requires the internet. I realised one night, when trying to talk to Naseem about a short-story I was translating, that he was a bit of an idiot. Still at least I learnt some good swear words.
We would stay up late drinking sage tea and chatting, our words echoing loudly due to the absence of furniture. Then inevitably, Naseem would receive a phone call from his girlfriend, and proceed pour his heart out down the line as I attempted to drift off to sleep.
Wanting to make me feel more at home, Naseem named me Faisal, and in return I named him Edward. Life was ticking along fine, largely thanks to strong coffee and an inner belief that I was making the most of life. Until Naseem, the now not-so-gentle Breeze, announced his desire to leave and move in with his friend in the flat below (largely because he had a fridge and a TV).
Unfortunately this put me and Ali in a dilemma. Although the entire flat only cost 200 dinars a month, split three ways. It meant we would have to be parted.
I had the offer of moving in with Naseem, but chose instead a spare bed in Duncan’s flat (remember him? Yep, he’s still here). Naseem was an ok guy, but spent the majority of his time spitting out of windows, smoking, scratching himself and wolf whistling at anything remotely female.
So I found myself once again, walking along a road with my life slung over my shoulder, carrying a prized electric kettle in a plastic bag. Welling up with disappointment, and an inner fury that life just isn’t easy for a middle-class Englishman trying to be a Jordanian from the block.
As for class, I am still managing to feign an interest in politics during Media Arabic classes and learn about weddings and american english in the Jordanian Arabic dialect classes. We have also begun studying Arabic literature, through the medium of short stories and plays.
The translation and understanding can take time and much head scratching as each word has a deep, hidden and sometimes interpretive meaning. Of course this makes it all the more enjoyable to be berated the following day for not fully comprehending that the word ‘tree’ can also mean a rare paranoid state of self-contemplation (not a real example, but I wouldn’t be surprised).
Still, as the weather is heating up and I am starting to want to spend more and more time indoors, I console myself that at least I have a sunny picture of me by Petra to remember the year by.