Amman who danced

Hazaa Thunaibat, Jordan’s oldest serving traffic officer, and certainly only dancing one, has passed away at the age of 63.

Famous all over the Kingdom for his ability to transform a traffic jam into a joyful scene where the driver becomes an audience member in a pop up one-man acrobatic show.

Let his snake hips and walrus mustache introduce themselves: (the video is entitled “Jordanian Traffic Officer  vs Mexican Traffic Officer”. First up is the Mexican)

He was a familiar sight to morning commuters in Amman and brought a smile to many a stern-faced  Jordanian with a trigger-happy honking hand. No surprise then that his death was national news on the Jordanian TV channel Roya.

I first came across his work in the 2012 Jordanian film ‘When Mona Liza smiled’. He features in a brief scene directing traffic with his usual a hop, skip and jump. Since then I had been searching, hoping to find him myself and film him at work, but to no avail. Then one day I happened to be traveling early in the morning near the Abduli area of Amman and I saw him. I didn’t have my camera with me but vowed to return the following day. I did, but alas, he wasn’t there, and eventually even the memory of his twirling blue helmet and balletic spinning began to fade.

And now this maestro of Jordanian traffic policing has spun his last pirouette.

In an interview on Dunia ya Dunia (what can only be described as the Jordanian version of “Loose Women”) in 2o11, when asked about his work, he said the biggest honour and source of pride for him is hearing a driver say “thank you,” or “good work Hazaa!”

But what about all those angry drivers, always honking their horns? “When they reach me their behavior becomes a lot better!”

He would turn to some such driver, do a 360 degree spin and say to them “Oh! how you have lightened up this road!” (no sarcasm intended).

And if he caught someone violating the traffic laws? “I stop him by the roadside, say a few words then let him go, it’s not important.”

“I just want there to be less traffic, not to annoy people.”

He even famously held up the Royal convoy escorting King Hussein (the current King’s father), so immersed was he in his role.

“The traffic officer is the mirror of the citizen, in his morals, his behaviour, his clean mouth and in his smartness”

He has done the same job for around forty years (interrupted by a period of retirement) and never charged anyone with a driving offense throughout his entire career.

Because of the way he would deal with bad drivers, they would generally (after receiving a telling off) apologize to him profusely, which much kissing.

And then the interviewer asks him for a demonstration of his traffic controlling prowess. He jumps at the chance. And, at times looking like an air-steward on speed, he goes through his routine. Directing cars from each side of the junction, not stopping (even when interrupted by the presenter) until the entire imaginary load of traffic has successfully passed by. The seriousness and professionalism with which he took the job is written all over his moustache. Ending with a firm salute and a stern expression of a job well done.

Go to minute 6.30 for Hazaa’s lively demonstration:

He was also invited to an event called New Think where he was honoured by the head of the Traffic Department. But not before giving a customary demonstration of his now infamous routine. In the video below (from minute 1.35) watch him earnestly direct imaginary cars (to the soundtrack of busy traffic), in front of a packed audience. A form of Jordanian interpretive dance, if you will. It’s even better when the jazz band kicks in while he is still beckoning an approaching, invisible bus.

 

People who truly love and live for their job tend to distinguish themselves in it, Hazaa said. He was a true Jordanian nashmi (legend). Long may he jive in peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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