The Only Way is Amman
If you didn’t get it, Ramadan is here and the msaherati is back pounding the streets at 3am, waking people up so they can scoff down that last gulp of rice and final sip of water before sunrise.
It was the registration day for my language course so I got dressed, thrust a few pens and a book into a bag and left to catch the bus. A few packed buses passed with naught but a mere honk of condolence from the driver. Finally one pulled up with a standing space only (Amman bus etiquette demands that whenever a woman gets on the bus and there are no seats, the nearest man stands up and proceeds to hold on to anything/anyone as the bus weaves in and out of traffic at break-neck speeds).
A few stops down the line a load of passengers got off enabling me to sit next to a woman carrying a baby. I began searching in my pocket for the correct change for the bus fare.
I turned around, intrigued, to find I had sat beside one of my teachers from last year, Entesar.
‘Wow what a bloody coincidence’ I blurted out in astonishment. At Arabic saying goes that a chance meeting is better than a thousand fixed ones. And I certainly left the bus with a spring in my step as I headed towards the French Institute in Jabal el-Webdeh.
After registering, going through a placement test and sorting out my classes (my teacher’s name is Zaaki – Arabic for cute or delicious) I hung round to pinch a bit of the wifi before heading back home. I quietly stepped over a sleeping member of the night crew before falling onto my mattress and into a long nap.
When it got to about 5pm there was a general consensus that we should do something about food (Magreb, or sundown, would be here at around 7.30). Four of us trudged off to the local Carrefour and bought various chicken legs, spices and the odd vegetable.
Hamooda is the head chef, it seems. He has interesting methods. Such as the best way to cook chicken is to place the raw meat directly onto the flame of the gas hob. It definitely gives it a certain…taste.
‘I could tell yesterday that you had had enough of Religious talk, am I right?’
‘Well, I suppose so, yes. Religion doesn’t come into my daily life much,’ was the best diplomatic answer I could muster.
‘You know, if you ever want to change to change the subject just tell me and we will, it’s nice just chatting’
Then as if taking this for some sort of cue, he began to discourse excitedly for the next half an hour on the might and glory of God.
While food was in the oven we sat on the sofa watching, you guessed it, Top Gear. The sun set, the Magreb call to prayer rang out from the mosque and so we celebrated with a solitary date and a glass of cold water.
When the gang had all come back from praying we laid out the big tray on a spread of newspapers on the floor and sat down to eat. Chicken covered in onions, fried potatoes, roasted peanuts and a host of spices. With a side-salad of course.
We reclined post-breaking the fast with cups of lemonade to watch the Jordanian comedy hour on TV, but this quickly got changed to a Van Diesel film with Arabic subtitles. Then after evening prayer we had some tea and people went their various ways. Ali and some others to another mosque to listen to a famous Sheikh, the rest went out on the prowl.
I went to loiter outside the mosque with a group of guys whose names I have forgotten but whose nationalities I haven’t. A Sudani, a Syrian, a Jordanian and a Palestinian. Not one to pass up an opportunity to have a proper good time, I nodded enthusiastically at the suggestion of going for a spin in the Jordanian’s Toyota Prius hybrid. We drove for about five minutes through the side streets, gasping audibly at the inaudible car, before calling it a day.
The Syrian and The Palestinian went off to study Chinese together, I ventured into the pitch black mosque searching for Ali. I found him asleep under a table.
‘Are you ok?’
‘Huh? yes just dozing and listening to the Sheikh.
I looked up and through the gloom and could make out the figure of a man standing in the far corner wearing a long black robe reciting the Quran from memory. It was mesmerizingly beautiful and so I grabbed a glass of water and pillow and settled down under the table with Ali.
I woke up a while later, drooling blasphemously onto the mosque’s carpeted floor. The Sheikh was long gone so I took one look at the sleeping Ali, nicked his key and went up to bed.