Jordan is known for having the friendliest people in the Middle East. I attest to the fact that not only are they the friendliest, but also the most thoughtful.
A day hasn’t passed since arriving in Jordan that I haven’t been blessed with the generous hospitality of Jordan’s people. Yesterday Amira, Zorheh and her two grand daughters and I were invited to eat dinner in Majedah’s home in Hussein Camp. Majedah makes the best stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had. The leaves are from the grape vines that grow outside her kitchen window.
Years ago, when I was a passenger in a car on a country road in Switzerland, I saw a man sitting on a fence near the roadway. The “scene,” a solitary man surrounded by vast pastures and snow capped mountains, lasted for a split second. I remember thinking, “This moment says everything about my life up to this point and Switzerland, and I’m sure I won’t remember it.” Here it is, years later, and the man on the fence is the first thing I think of when I hear the word Switzerland, as well as “the person I was up to that point.” I’ve had numerous forgettable fleeting “scenarios” during my time in Jordan. These mental snapshots encapsulate my experience here more than any travel log, documentary film or photographs I’ve posted.
One of these peripheral’s is my neighbor’s yard. For the first two weeks in my apartment, I drank my morning coffee while gazing out my living room window at the Old Citadel perched on the adjacent mountain. One morning I glanced down at the patch of dirt beneath my window, my neighbor’s yard. My morning routine slowly switched from gazing at the citadel to studying the barren patch beneath my window. I started noticing miniscule changes in the patch from one morning to the next. The dirt had been scooted from one area to another, miraculously overnight, and the rocks were gathered together in small mounds. Last week a rivulet appeared in the dirt forming a small trench from one ratty small tree to a larger ratty tree.
One morning I noticed a plastic bag filled with rocks sitting on the mound of trash in the trash bin across from my apartment.
One evening I glanced out my living room window and saw the source of these miraculous changes. My neighbor, the king of landscaping, was slowly and meticulously turning dust into gold.
After the recent snow, the matron of the apartment next to me was sunning herself and her olives on our front porch. After being offered a chair we discussed the process of making olives, without using words. After sampling olives from each tray, I ultimately chose the highly salted ones as my favorites. They were delicious. I thanked her and said goodbye before heading up to Paris Circle. Upon returning home that evening I found a cup of highly salted olives sitting in front of my front door.
my olive neighbor
An example of the personalized thoughtfulness of the people in Jordan is the baked potato I ordered at Potato and Salad in Paris Circle.
While waiting for my carry-out potato I sat with the owner of the business, Wael Mehyar, and another man seated at the table. After being offered a cup of coffee we commenced talking about the exceptional friendliness of the people in Jordan. At some point during our conversation I expressed my concern about the trash pick up in Jordan. I was visualizing my trash bin overflowing with plastic bags full of rocks. Unbeknownst to me, trash and the disposal of trash is a very hot topic here. I was informed that the other man at the table was Munqeth Meyar, President of Friends of the Earth Middle East. Last year he spent three days with President Obama in Washington D.C. discussing water and environmental issues in the Middle East. http://www.foeme.org. Munqeth is a storehouse of information. I came to find out that Japan has fifty-seven types of recyclables, including separate bins for brown and blue glass containers, among many other pertinent bits of recyclable information, before being handed my carry out box.
Upon opening the box, lo and behold, what did I see? My name written in sour cream on top of the melted cheese. If that isn’t personalized thoughtful service, I don’t know what is!
Last night Eda hosted a party to bring in 2014. Christina’s parents, David and Debbie Gordon, generously supplied the champagne. Christina, Julie and Eda prepared much of the feast. After Stephen arrived a huge plate of shish kebabs appeared on the dining table. Claire and Mia warmed up an assortment of luscious puffed pastries that must have taken days to prepare. We all contributed various nibbles, resulting in a virtual feast.
On her seventy second birthday Fulbright Scholar Zohreh Sullivan was unofficially designated as “Fulbright Proxy Mom!” Who designated her as Proxy Mom? I did. Why? Zohreh’s passion for cooking, and her generous spirit, insures that all of the Fulbright chicks (male and female) don’t starve during their stints in Jordan. She also disperses her magic herbal healing potions to those of us who need it. I came down with a nasty cold and happened to mention it to Zohreh. Before I knew it our trusty cab driver Nahid was at my door holding a bottle of Zohreh’s magic potion and a huge container filled with cabbage rice.
Within a half hour of drinking the potion my sinus headache disappeared and my throat felt normal again. I finished off the container of cabbage rice in three days and was once again ready to brave the world on the other side of my front door. Thank you, Zohreh!
Zohreh invited Fulbright peeps to be her guests at her 72nd birthday party at Rakwet Cafe. After we were all seated, an incredible spread of Arabic dishes was placed on the table and a Tupperware container filled with a quinoa dish was placed in front me. True to her thoughtfulness, Zohreh created a glutton free dish for glutton allergic me.
The most inspirational part of knowing Zohreh is her pride in her age and association of it with her love for her life. Every cab driver and person she talks to is proudly informed that she is seventy-two years old, followed by the many privileges and advantages age has over youth. She honors her age like a victory crown, and wears each year magnificently. Happy birthday, Zohreh!
About a week prior to Zohreh’s birthday party Amira, Zohreh and I went to Majedah’s embroidery shop, Grand Mother’s Dress. While we were there Majedah’s mother made a surprise visit . It was wonderful seeing her again. We immediately began talking non-stop. Remember, I know six words in Arabic, and Majedah’s mother knows exactly zero words in English. We discussed the benefits of marriage, she was encouraging me to marry anyone, and I was pointing out the benefits of being single and the horrors of divorce.As we carried on, rallying back and forth, the two men in the shop intently listened..After our lengthy, adamant conversation we laughed, performed the normal (for the two of us) left cheek-right cheek kisses five times, and I accepted her invitation to eat her delicious stuffed grape leaves at her house at a later date.
Claire and Mia had a pre-Christmas party for Fulbright peeps during the first snow here. It is not obvious in the photographs, but it was extremely cold, especially indoors because of the lack of central heating (that works). Claire and Mia cranked up their portable heater and for the first time since the arrival of the snow we were all toasty-warm. Great food and even greater company!
Khalid created a unique Christmas tree constructed of lights, suspended from the ceiling in the exhibition gallery.
Khalid, the twelve year old boy I met shortly after arriving in Jordan, was my impetus for doing the workshop and exhibit. He moved to Jordan, temporarily, from Syria with his father. Khalid and I were both on the same footing when we met, strangers in a strange land. It’s important for a child to have the opportunity to be a star and to shine. An art show is the perfect opportunity for this.
The following are photographs snapped at the opening exhibition:
under the tree
tree and exhibit
Issra and Khalid
kids and flowers
Amira and Sarah
group photo, Ibraheem on left
I am continually amazed by the generosity of the people I’ve met in Jordan. Ibraheem donated a basket full of prettily wrapped flowers for the blooming artists and attendees, Automat Pastries donated a scrumptious assortment of pastries and Oregano (Aiman’s shop) donated the children’s gifts.
Shortly after moving into my apartment in Webdeh at the end of August I met Khalid Homsi, who had recently opened an art gallery in Paris Circle. I mentioned Khalid previously. After his design business in Syria was bombed a few months ago he moved to Jordan.
The gallery is a space located in the same block of buildings as Sandra’s Flowers (Ibraheem’s flower shop), Aiman’s cosmetic shop, and the water store (owned by Ghassan who owns all the buildings on the block).
The first time I met Khalid we went to Kepi Cafe, across from his gallery in Paris Circle, and he told me all about his plans for the gallery. At the time the gallery space was gutted. We also talked about doing a children’s recycled art workshop and Christmas party with an opening for the children’s art work.
It is now December 27. We held the children’s workshop in the gallery yesterday afternoon.
Prior to the workshop I made twenty “recycled hair roller peeps.” Each child chose a hair roller peep to attach to their canvas with other assorted recycled objects.
The workshop was a great success. Eighteen children attended, many accompanied by a parent. Some of the business owners in Paris Circle contributed bakery goods, drinks and gifts for the children. Khalid, Amira, Shaimaa and myself supervised and worked with the children. Aimman donated wonderful gifts for the children, watches and nail polish. A big hit!
Tomorrow night, December 28, Young Eyes Gallery is hosting a party for the children and an opening exhibit of their art work. The public is welcome! Please come!
Recently, I made a return trip to Zarca with Zohreh, escorted by Amira and her friend Shaima. My mission was to photograph the mannequins I didn’t get a chance to photograph during my first visit.
Zarca is the second most populated city in Jordan, Amman being the first. Many Christians live in Zarca which means the size of the souk during the Christmas season increases.
Before getting down to business and photographing the most unique mannequins I’ve ever encountered, we started our tour with cappuccinos and cups of corn
Zorheh shopped for wine glasses in the bottom floor of an antique shop that was filled with kitchen ware.
Antique shop, glassware
We walked from one end of the souk to the other, which means walking through a maze of crowded streets with an endless assortment of items for sale.
All that walking required partaking in a mid-day meal at a family restaurant.
During all this walking and partaking I did manage to accomplish my real mission for the day: photographing mannequins.
The comfy chairs look awfully appealing when you’re tired, but instead of relaxing and gathering up energy for more “souking,” we took a cab back to Paris Circle and I walked back to my apartment, happy to be living here in my temporarily-adopted hometown.
December 7th was the opening night of an art exhibition entitled “Three Friends” at Night Gallery, located in Tempe Market Place in Tempe, Arizona. The three friends are two sculptors whose work I’ve admired for years, Brian Painter and Jim White, and myself. The exhibit runs until February 2, 2014. I wish I could see the show, but I don’t return to Arizona until February 1, 2014. I hope those of you who live in Arizona have a chance to see this exhibition! If you go, let me know what you think.
I was told I’ll be emailed some photographs and a video of the show. When I receive them I will put them on this blog. For now, I’ll show a couple images of our work in the show and the exhibition invitation.
3 Friends 4 Dimensions, is an exhibit of works that ‘play’ with the ‘4th dimension,’ or more simply, they explore ‘time.’ James White, senior faculty and Area Head in the Arizona State University Sculpture area, uses neon light to explore personal identity (in this exhibit represented in shifting sand). Suzanne Klotz is internationally known for her quirky, yet thoughtful paintings, embroidery/mixed media and sculpture. Brian Painter, head of the sculpture area at Northern Arizona University, is a nationally-known kinetic sculptor and metal worker who often uses humor in his art.
Yesterday, Abdalrahem Alarjan came over and photographed the completed Seven Women’s House Keys canvas. Being a professional photographer, Raheem’s photographs are a lot better than mine. I sent Raheem’s images to Sophia, my blog manager and editor. Sophia cropped and cleaned them up and now some of the incredible amount of detail–that wasn’t visible in my previously posted photograph which I took with my camera–is visible, as is apparent in the following photographs: [Click on images to enlarge]
For reference, I labeled a photograph of the canvas, identifying the embroidery appliqué patterns with the villages from which they came:
• The Names of the Palestinian refugee camps in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are written in Arabic on the border.
• The trim on the edge of the canvas is an embroidery design used by all of the villages.
The following provides links to information about each of the village’s identified on the canvas:
I must add here that without Sophia Isajiw’s professional skills, knowledge, intellect and steadfastness no one would be reading this blog because it wouldn’t exist. I write and Sophia edits my writing. I upload photographs and Sophia color corrects, posts and labels them and designs the “exceptional” layouts for each blog. I’ve gotten messages from previously unknown people, from all parts of the world, requesting my professional services to design their blog. I could actually have a paying job, an income from this, but, alas, I have no idea how to design a blog or how to do the layout for this one. Morgan Norris (see “People Helping Suzie” page) set up my blog, which was an exceptional feat on her part. Sophia has been managing the blog ever since I arrived in Jordan. I respond to requests for blog services by answering, “Yes! Isn’t this great? I think so too. I have no idea how it’s done, but Sophia knows!”
“Jan the Filmmaker” came to see me in Amman to film my Seven Women’s House Keys project. Who is this man all my Jordanian acquaintances refer to as “Jan the Filmmaker?” His name is Jan Parkinson and I’ve known him since junior high school. His recently deceased wife, Marsha Wilson, was one of my closest friends throughout Junior High (Indian Hills), High School (Shawnee Mission East) and the years that followed.
Marsha and I both loved making art and were best buddies in Pete Perdaris’ art class– my favorite subject and my favorite teacher! Jan, as it turns out, was into art too (filmmaking) although he wasn’t immersed in it until years later. Jan has been a project manager for Hallmark Hall of Fame and Hallmark Cards in Kansas City for over thirty years.
Jan retired recently, which means he is now even more involved in film projects and books speaking engagements all over the United States. Jan was kind enough to call me over a year ago to let me know that his dear wife–and my dear friend Marsha–had passed away. After sharing some “Marsha and Suzie” stories with Jan, I eventually shared that I would be going to Jordan to do an art project with Palestinian women in conjunction with a Fulbright Scholar Award I’d recently been awarded. Jan expressed interest in my project and after discussing it further said, “Don’t rush out and buy your première dress yet, but a documentary film sounds interesting.” Hurrah! I rushed out to window shop for dresses, and the next thing I knew Jan was visiting me in Arizona, filming.
Jan visited me twice in Arizona to film my art and the in-progress canvas I would be taking with me to Jordan. I left Arizona for Jordan on August 23, 2013. After I was in Amman for a couple of months, Jan visited for approximately a week. We had a whirlwind six days with an overly-packed schedule of meetings with people and filming. Every second of Jan’s waking hours was spent filming or going to the next film location to meet someone related to the Seven Women’s House Keys project.
The schedule included documenting the women working collaboratively on the canvas and sharing their “stories” about how they ended up in Jordan (with the aid of Amira’s translation skills):
Jan interviewed Alain McNamara, the Director of Fulbright in Jordan, at the Fulbright House.
He also filmed the stories told by six artists who have familial roots in Palestine. I invited the following artists to participate in an upcoming exhibition I arranged in Amman that highlights the canvas 7 Women’s House Keys: Abdalrahem Alarjan (photography), Ahmad Canaan (painting); Hanan Al Khalidi (prints and painting), Mohammad Abuzraiq (painting), Abul Hay Mossallam (painting), and Abeer Foad (poetry).
The exhibition will open January 8, 2014 at Artisana Gallery 14. The director of the gallery, Hind Mango Nasser, is creating an installation piece that will be included in the exhibition.
The following are a few photos taken while Jan was filming the artists:
I was listening so intently to what Hanan was saying when Jan was filming that I forgot to take photographs. Ahmad Canaan had an exhibition and symposium in another country while Jan was in Amman: therefore, his interview will be filmed prior to the opening.
Jan, Amira and I went to Majedah’s embroidery shop, Grand Mother’s Dress, and Majedah took us to her home where Jan interviewed her mother.
Jan and Majedah
Majedah’s shop, Grand Mother’s Dress
Jan on the porch
Talking in Majedah’s house
Jan and Majedah on the porch
Jan had very little time to collect his wits (or eat) before we headed out to our next destination. Here he is collecting his wits:
Jan’s interviews included Zohreh Sullivan, a Fulbright Scholar from Illinois who is teaching a literature course at Jordan University.
Zohreh and Jan
Jan also interviewed Dayala, Amira’s “architect” cousin.
After filming Dayala, she suggested we meet with her boss, Riad Alkiswani who has an architecture engineering business in Amman with his partner George Kishek. Riad is a virtual storehouse of information about the history of Palestine.
After grabbing a bit to eat at the beautiful tiled and mirrored Rakwat restaurant we went to Alkiswani Architects & Engineers.
Jan and Amira at Rakwat
Jan and Amira, Rakwat
Riad Alkiswani was incredibly welcoming and generous. He and his partner George Kishek offered us coffee and soft drinks and talked about life in Palestine and Jordan.
At some point during Jan’s visit we stopped by to interview Ibriheem in his flower shop. We also had wanted to film Yousef, my barber, but his shop was closed.
Jan kept his “wits about him” the entire time he was here and filmed more than I’ve mentioned in this blog. Unaccustomed to so much activity, my “wits” disappeared sometime around the fifth day. If they had any sense, they flew to Hawaii for an extended vacation. Therefore, to get the full picture of “Jan the Filmmaker’s” six days in Amman, and the nitty gritty of his film, you will need to wait until his movie is released, hopefully in your neighborhood movie theatre.