It appears the inhabitants of my flat come and go in shifts. The day crew (the three who I share a room with) work in various restaurants near the University from 8am until 5pm, and the night crew (in the adjacent room) take over at 5pm and work until 2am.
The day crew woke up at around 3.30 am for morning prayer and to exchange pre-dawn hellos with the returning night crew. I rolled over with an audible huff. When I eventually got up, Abu Rabah (a member of the night crew), helped me change my phone sim card at a local shop. We then bumped into Ali, who was mopping the entrance to the mosque and invited me in for a look see.
He introduced me to an old man who speaks perfect English. We briefly exchanged pleasantries before he said: ‘our religions are the same but we have one God whereas you have three,’ then walked off chuckling to himself.
For several hours I was a captive audience at the back of the mosque, seated by the water dispenser. I got to know much of the local clientele over countless cups of chilled water and the odd baclava.
It was decided that there would be a general gathering at our flat in the evening to welcome me properly. But first things first we needed lunch. So off we went to a restaurant to get Zinger (basically a chicken burger but with emphasis on the gherkins) with Sheikh Mahmoud, Omar and Ali. It turns out Mahmoud was born in Turkey, so I tried out my limited vocab and proceeded to smile and nod along at the appropriate moments in the way I have mastered of given the impression I understand more than I do.
Later in the evening Ali welcomed three local Sheikhs as well as a gaggle of other guys into the flat, we broke out the watermelon and passed around the tea.
It turned out that this was also to be my formal Arabic naming party. From now on I shall be known as Mustafa, or Abu Steve (i.e. father of Steve). I don’t know why and I will make sure to ask Steve if I ever meet him (actually it comes from the Arabic root letters for Mustafa and is a common nickname for Mustafas Jordan-wide, but hey let’s leave it at Steve). It seems James is too much of a mouthful. After these formalities I was given the floor and asked to provide a run down of my life so far, to an increasingly bored audience.
The remaining evening was full of much jovial chitchat, lines of poetry were shared and stories were reminisced. Not to mention the several not-so-subtle reminders that my country is responsible for all the problems in the Middle East. Ahlan wa sahlan. (welcome)
We eventually retired to bed just as the night crew were returning form work. I did my very best to drift off to the soothing tones of the Quran blaring out from Ali’s phone at full volume, before resorting to my headphones and a story of my own.