What do you do when it’s blisteringly hot and you can’t quench your thirst? You go somewhere even hotter and sweat out your last remaining drops of moisture to get there.
After arriving back down in the Jordan Valley, we instantly ran for cover in Ali’s house turned on the ceiling fans and slept on the floor until about six in the evening.
The weather was more manageable in the evening but still noticeably uncomfortable. We had been invited to eat iftar (breaking the fast meal) with one of Ali’s cousins who had just returned from army service. It was a large gathering of men on a terrace overlooking the two sides of the valley, Jordan on one and Palestine on the other.
It took a fair amount of time to shake everyone’s hand and kiss all their cheeks before taking my place at the back as everyone lined up to pray.
The sun completely gone, we passed round water, juice and dates and sipped and nibbled under the dusky sky. A hush of excitement suddenly fell over the men. I turned around to sea a procession of six men carrying large trays piled high with rice and meat. The mansaf was here.
The trays were placed on various stands and, in groups of four or five, the congregation huddled around a tray and dug in. Thrust with the right hand (the left behind the back) and using the thumb, index and middle fingers make bitesized balls out of the rice. That’s the idea anyway, but not long after I had started I had rice all over not just my hand but half way up my arm as well. I looked up to see if this was normal and, discretely as I could, licked my arm clean.
Next we drank thimble-sized cups of coffee and tea whilst our stomachs decided on how best to tackle digesting all this food.
But, in demand as we were, we couldn’t hang around waiting for our stomachs to catch up, and were soon picked up by Osama (nickname Abu Soos – i.e. father of Licorice) and driven to his house for gatayif (sweet pastry filled with cheese, nuts and covered in syrup).
In the car between Ali’s house and Osama’s we passed an old man walking along the street:
‘Look it’s Abu Adal!’
‘Who’s Abu Adal?’
‘The father of Adal.’
‘Well yes, ok so who’s Adal?’
‘Abu Adal’s son.’
Cats are a familiar feature in Jordan. You generally find them bottoms up in a bin looking for leftovers or sitting on a wall staring at you out of a solitary, bloodshot eye. Osama’s was the first house I had found cats as pets. He introduced us to Um Rasheed (i.e. Mother of Rasheed) and her various kittens (including Rasheed).
After several plates of gatayif, we returned for a short lie down. But it was soon time for sahoor (meal before sunrise) back at the neighbour’s house. We dipped into a plate of fried tomatoes and ochre with more tea, watching a random film starring Tom Cruise as a motivational speaker for sexually intimidated men, something which seemed to have been graciously (probably purposely) ignored by the Arabic subtitle translators.
To finish off there was the customary 3am tray of apricots (mishmish) and their appearance inspired the following tongue-twister of a conversation:
‘Tafadalu mishmish!’ Announcing their arrival,
‘Hadol el-mishmish min mishmish-ku?’ (Are those from your apricots?)
‘la hadi el-mishmish mish min mishmish-na’ (No these are not from our apricots)
‘Tayb, fa iza mish mishmish-ku mishmish meen?’ (Ok, so if they are not from yours, who’s are they from?)
‘Mish Mishmish-ak?’ (Aren’t they your apricots?)
‘Mishmish-i? la mish mishmish-i, mishmish-um’ (Mine? No not mine, they’re their apricots)
‘la, mish mishmish-um, mishmish-um mish mistawi’ (no, not theirs, their apricots aren’t ripe)
‘Mishmish-um mish mistawi?’ (Their apricots aren’t ripe?)
‘Mashi, tayb fa iza mish mishmish-ku wa mish mishmish-i wala mish mishmish-um, mishmish meen?’ (Ok, so if they aren’t your apricots, nor mine nor theirs, who’s are they?)
‘Mish mushkila, hissa mishmish-na, yalla kol!’ (No worries, they’re our apricots now, dig in!’)
Oh how we laughed. Our chuckles were soon punctured by the dawn cockerel. He declared his presence by attempting to jump from the roof to a nearby tree but misjudged it and fell noisily upon us in a cloud of feathers and angry clucking. Obviously embarrassed by the whole affair he scuttled up into the tree, took his position and opened his beak to be instantly drowned out by the call to prayer ringing out from the nearby mosque. Thus signaling everyone’s departure to pray and mine to bed.