Prior to Ahmad’s visit, my Arabic vocabulary had increased to four words. After his whirlwind visit, my Arabic vocabulary has decreased to three words and, I’m not even sure what my name is. I visited so many artist’s studios, saw numerous art galleries, traveled to many places outside of Amman and had argileh and coffee with many people in too many cafés to mention. I’ve learned to communicate fairly well with hand gestures and sketches, although sometimes the communication gets garbled.
So now I know that I need to un-garble some information I posted on a past blog:
My barber’s name is Ahmad, not Yosef. Yosef is a Syrian friend of Ahmad’s who is a barber in Syria. Due to the situation in Syria, Yosef brought his son Khalid to Amman while he is visiting with Ahmad in the barber shop for awhile.
The artist Muhammad Abu Aziz took a photo in a mirror of me talking to another artist, Iyad Kan’an. The photo reflects the “distance” in my understanding of conversations.
Iyad and Suzanne communicating, in mirror. Photo credit: Muhammad Abu Aziz
My lack of ability to communicate in Arabic hasn’t really been a problem, thanks to the existing local cultural mode of developing relationships and conducting business here. The precursor for all social and business interaction is drinking coffee or tea together. Appointments generally start at the prearranged time but morph from pleasant conversations about daily happenings, to physically moving from one locale to another, acquiring the other people necessary during the process, traveling to yet another destination, and ending up smoking sheesha and drinking final cups of coffee at a final destination.
The process of this interaction is really the ‘heart of the matter.” This process determines the final results of all transactions.
It’s basically an insult to refuse coffee or tea when it is offered by a host, whether at home or in a café. It’s essential for me to welcome any guests in my apartment by serving coffee. Making “acceptable” Turkish coffee is an art. After the coffee boils, it’s necessary to scoop out a tablespoon of the sludge on the top and put it in the cup before adding the coffee. Without this thick film floating on the top the coffee is unacceptable, basically an insult to the guest. I am still in the process of learning how to make an acceptable cup of Turkish coffee. Thank goodness the cups are small!
Amman is a city with an intriguing mixture of very old nooks and crannies interspersed with the new. Some of the oldest “hidden away” buildings in Amman have been converted into argileh cafés where elderly gentlemen converge at night on a regular basis and play cards and sit in groups at their respective tables.
These beautiful black and white photos taken by local artist Muhammad Abu Aziz capture the quiet camaraderie found hidden away in argileh cafés late at night: