The Only Way is Amman
Ah Friday, the Islamic day of rest.
‘Get your stuff together we are going down to al-ghor’ (Jordan Valley) said a very grumpy-looking Ali.
‘We are going to burn down there, it’s boiling’
‘Why are we going then?’
‘I have no money and, um, I want to see my parents’
‘Oh lovely,’ I said, seeing through his logic, ‘I better bring a hat.’
We arrived in time for Friday prayers, I stayed indoors watching football on TV (Jordan vs UAE). On Ali’s return we went along to a friend, Mohammad’s (nickname – Hamooda) house for lunch and to continue watching the match.
I had met most of these people last year but am terrible with names so was on my guard to be embraced by any apparent stranger. Luckily I was ready for the ever-strange Jordanian male greeting of a kiss on one cheek then a succession of rapid kisses on the second cheek interspersed with many meaningless ‘how are you’s?’.
Re-introductions complete we sat down on mattresses surrounding the walls and were promptly brought a tray piled with an interesting assortment of objects.
‘Ever tried Kawara, or Atraf?’ said Hamooda with a wink.
‘No, but I think I can guess what it is’ I replied with a gulp.
The first thing that caught my eye were hundreds of tiny vine leaf packages stuffed with rice, so I started with these and they were delicious. As the vine layer began to diminish, I began to notice a hoof poking out through the leaves. Then finally appeared an empty eye socket, staring forlornly into nowhere.
Kawara is, on the face of it, a bit like haggis: goat’s intestine stuffed with rice and herbs. Nice but a bit chewy. Atraf (Arabic for ‘ends’) was, as its name suggests, basically the legs and hoofs of a goat. The whole platter was crowned with a goats head in the middle.
I sheepishly (goatishly?) picked at scraps of meat with my bread, but somewhere in the depths of my stomach I couldn’t really warm to the notion of eating feet.
Then came the fun part. Hamooda took the goat’s skull in hand, now stripped of any meat, and began to smash it on the floor. He gave me another smile and wink as he finally, and with much effort, prized the skull open with an all mighty crack. Out dropped a shriveled brain.
‘Here you go,’ he said handing me half of it.
I goatishly wrapped it between two bits of bread and focussed my thoughts of any thing else apart from brain sandwich.
‘What’s the brain like?’
‘It tastes of goat dreams’ I replied.
With full stomachs we sipped on some sweet, sage tea to take the edge off the taste of boiled goat leg, and then stretched out for a nap.
About three hours later, refreshed but still sweltering from the afternoon heat, Ali suddenly decided that we would be going back to Amman that evening.
Sheikh Mahmoud kindly picked us up from Sweileh and dropped us home. Then after evening prayers we went on the tosh (out and about with the lads). I have made my entire circle of friends from the local mosque, and so an evening hanging out tends to involve many lectures on the benefits of Islam, why I should embrace the ‘true path’ and finally the inevitable Quranic recitals which tend to mark the end point of the soiree.
On this particular evening we went to an area near the expensive Abdoun district to visit a friend of the Sheikh’s who had just come back from the Umrah (small pilgrimage to Mecca). We were supplied with coffee, dates, and biscuits and there was general chatter about what I, as a British man, thought of life, the Universe and Islam.
The Quranic recitals began about 2 hours later. Each taking it in turns to recite (beautifully) a random chapter from the Quran, before exchanging tips on their specific choice of inflection on a particular letter. This was all done with much Quranic banter to which all I could do was muster a fixed, ignorantly noncommittal smile.
‘I can see when you speak that you have a nice voice Abu Steve, sing something for us in English’
Oh dear. Panic. What is it…Land of Hope and Glory, dum dum dum dumidy dum.
‘No, you must have me mistaken for someone else, this Abu Steve doesn’t sing’
Luckily they didn’t push it and we soon left to go and find some falafel sandwiches for supper.
‘I think Abu Steve has had enough religious talk these last few days’ remarked Sheikh Mahmoud, I gave a small nod, but this didn’t stop him:
‘By the way, did you know that in Islam we have a prayer for whenever we drive a car?’
I am secretly hoping that when my language course begins I will have more to occupy me than daily lectures on Islam. But with Ramadan looming, I don’t think this will be the case.