‘Just speak English, I’m a busy man’

The Iftar party’s over in Doors. The tabla drummers and the Sufi dervish in his suit of lights – a very literal take on the toreador’s kit – did their show at half past ten, cavorting through the tables for half an hour, handing out three of four birthday cakes before wrapping up. The clientele, Amman’s glamorous mid-20s, are sat around tables bubbling away at shisha. Moodlit by strategically placed dimmer bulbs and fairy lights, it’s really rather magical. And talk about glamorous! These profiles are to die for. My Semitic nose obsession is on red alert. As for all these dark eyes and black tumbling locks… Somebody lock me up before I break my one year abroad rule.

Ok, ok, I was only kidding. I’m not about to declare my undying love for one of these Jordanian beauties tonight. Not when we’re still struggling to get to grips with the local dialect, which is supposed to be similar to Classical Arabic, but falls depressingly short of what I’d call a family resemblance. We made it out to a night at Doors on Eloise’s suggestion in order to try to practice that complex ‘Amia, and here we are watching Andrew sink further and further into a state of shisha-induced nirvana. There’s this glazed look of bemused superiority in his eyes as he takes another puff from the pipe. ‘Which one would you eat first?’ he asks, twirling the pipe nonchalantly between his fingers. He’s talking, of course, about the potions in Alice in Wonderland. Of course. I think I’ll give the shisha a miss tonight. 

Eloise turned up at ours earlier just five minutes after we’d got back to the apartment with our shopping. She’s had a rough time of it on the homestay front: she got lost on the way home and had to find her way back to the house in the dark alone, only to find her family on their way out for the night, without the dinner they’d promised her. Between that and their attempts to either speak to her in English or batter her with lightspeed ‘amia, she’s drawn the short straw. It could just be teething problems, of course, but that’s still an expensive dental bill at the end of the day. Scrambled eggs, kunafa and a couple of teas later and we’re on the road to recovery, but a conversation with a local is still proving hard to come by. We tried asking one of the waiters for the wifi password in Arabic. He just shot us an exasperated look and told us to speak English. He clearly didn’t have the time to deal with time-wasting travelers like us. Ila liqaa! BB x

  

Labyrinth of Mirrors

I doubt I’ve ever felt so relieved by the prospect of a cold shower as I did when I half strode, half stumbled in beleaguered triumph over the threshold of my apartment last night. Over the course of twenty-four hours I think Andrew and I clocked about twenty-five kilometres of wandering, at least ten of which on the return journey from Amman’s infinitely busier town centre. The taxi ride in cost five dinar and took five minutes. Walking back was free – and it took just over two hours, dodging some of the most reckless drivers I’ve ever seen. The rule of the road seems to be one of ‘who dares wins’; naturally, this applies to both the cabbie and the pedestrian, an endangered species in its own right. Sometimes you’ve simply got to throw caution to the wind and run for it at the nearest opening, or else you’ll be waiting at the curb all night. Nobody’s about to stop for you unless you walk out in front of them.
Amman is, by all accounts, enormous. Unfathomably so for a country bumpkin like me. It sprawls across the hills for mile after dusty mile, a myriad identical sandy high rise blocks giving it height. Each street looks uncannily alike, and you can’t even use the minarets, lit up in green neon and rising above the chaos like radio masts, for landmarks, as there’s so many of them. Apparently there are post offices everywhere, but in the twenty five kilometres we covered today, we never saw so much a sign of one. The city folk were singularly unhelpful on that front, neither knowing nor caring where a post office could be found, let alone the quasi-mythical Ali Baba language school. After nearly four hours of burning alive under the midday sun in search of the place we sought refuge in an Internet cafe on the northern edge of town, only to find, to our disbelief, that a post office, market and Ali Baba itself were all within a stone’s throw of our apartment. Sod’s Law.

So, not exactly a stellar first impression of Amman. A handful of smiles amidst the faceless tide, but not quite as friendly as, say, Taroudant. Still, orientation today was a breeze and we have our first class tomorrow – together. Team Durham forever. At last, some structure in the chaos of city life. I never thought I’d see the day. BB x

Khaled and Maha Continued

Our apartment comes with a TV with more channels than you can shake a stick at. After rifling through news, sports and ad channels of varying intelligibility – near impossible to downright incomprehensible – we stumbled across a soap that had just started. To give you an insight into the beauty that is an Arabic soap, I’ll sum it up for you.
Roll credits. Boy meets girl. Girl draws portrait of boy. Boy buys flowers for girl. Boy proposes. Wedding. Boy meets mother-in-law. Fat bloke sits in corner crying and scoffing baklava. Boy and girl sign marital documents.

End credits. Boy and girl, after two minutes of vignetted, smile-drowned credits, are filing for a divorce. And all because the boy’s chubby buddy invited himself and two hookers to the guy’s house whilst his wife was out. And all this happened in just under four minutes in total. Part of me cheerily wants to believe that this is the rest of the infamous al-Kitaab Khaled/Maha saga, the other would dearly like to know what in blazes is going on. Everybody speaks at the speed of a bullet train. Everybody, that is, except the titular estranged lovers, who do a lot of the old staring mournfully at each other without so much as a word in edgeways.

Well, it’s just gone a quarter past ten here in our apartment (that’s eight o’clock English time). Sleeping wasn’t easy; not only does this city never sleep, but the room’s been steadily heating up since sunrise. Being just off the main road doesn’t help either. At least it’s vaguely central! After leaving the girls with their drivers at the airport for presumably the last time until class on Sunday, we were driven to our apartment by the surliest of the three cabbies. Andrew tried some Arabic on him but it was a very one-way conversation. But he got us to the front door in the end, and that’s all that matters. It’s a good deal better than what I was expecting, but then again I’ve been living in a £200 pound per month property in Durham: my standards, as you might imagine, aren’t exactly sky-high.

We’re taking it easy this morning. There’s a fair few things that need doing before classes begin tomorrow: namely, finding the nearest bank, post office, market, cafe and, of course, Ali Baba International Language Institute itself, which is supposed to be right next door, apparently. Unfortunately we’re right above a fast food sprawl: McDonalds, KFC, Burger King et al. glaring red and yellow right outside my window. We found a marginally more authentic shawarma joint to take suhuur this morning, but it wasn’t as simple as asking for Combo 8. It didn’t help that our non-conversational taxi driver told us that suhuur was at ‘thantayn wa nos’ – whatever that’s supposed to mean. Ending up going for breakfast at two thirty am on a level guess, by which point most establishments were shutting up shop. Lost in translation again, and this time in a language I’m supposed to understand. Bummer.

If we could find a functioning wifi hotspot as well, that would also be pretty grand, so you can actually start reading these posts. Between getting this iGizmo on Thursday and arriving in Amman, I’ve yet to find anywhere with reliable internet. Here’s to success on that front at least. B’saHa. BB x