The days and nights have converged into each other since moving into my apartment a month ago. Tonight is the first night I’ve been home at dinner time, 9 PM, and the first time I prepared a real dinner.
During Ahmad Canaan’s visit, I met one of Jordan’s most notable and historically important Palestinian artist’s: Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara. Meeting Abdul Hay and viewing his art was a truly deepening and uplifting experience – culturally, historically, aesthetically, intellectually and spiritually. Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara deserves special recognition, so I will save him for a future blog. The following is a photo of the stairwell leading to his apartment, and another of the view from his entryway:
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.
Ahmad the barber
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 Azziz
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:
Tomorrow is the day I buckle down and immerse myself 200% percent in accomplishing my goals.
But before I do that, I’d like to share these photos of mannequins wearing dresses in a section of Downtown that goes on for blocks and blocks (click on any image for descriptions, a slide show, or to enlarge:
The next photos are of the Friday outdoor souk for clothes, Rainbow Street souk (similar to a Scottsdale craft fair), and the Wild Jordan Cafe – which was a gift from the Queen to Americans.
Friday market, souk
Suzanne and Talat Al Najjar, Friday market
Friday market, Claire
Friday market, Zohreh, Claire, Angela
Rainbow Street souk
Leaving Rainbow Street souk
Stairs to Wild Jordan Cafe
View at Wild Jordan Cafe
Fulbright peeps at Wild Jordan Cafe
Fulbright peeps at Wild Jordan Cafe
That evening I also revisited the hubbly bubbly lounge with Jose Matinez and Muhammad Abu Aziz in Downtown Amman.
The city of Amman is built on seven mountains. And the word mountain means mountain – not a hill! Many years ago I saw Andorra from the top of nearby mountains as the car headed downward on steep windy roads. Andorra is a little country tucked between Spain and France, I was astounded by the verticalness of the buildings constructed on the side of a mountain, nearly 90 degrees. Amman is even more vertical than Andorra. I have never seen, or walked, so many 95 degree stone staircases and stairwells in my life. It is impossible to get from one destination to another without trekking up and down millions of steps. The residents here undoubtedly have the strongest thighs and lower backs in the world. The photograph above is one of the staircases that provides residents access to their homes on the opposite side of my mountain. The residents, from babies to great grandparents, climb hundreds of steps daily just to get to the street above or below their home.
…looks like lips…
The walls of the buildings that line the staircases are spotted with assorted graffiti expressing everything from short thoughts to more complex issues about Jerusalem and Palestine.
…man without a voice…
Love for Jerusalem mural
When I leave my apartment I usually walk up a sidewalk with a hefty incline to Paris Circle. After passing the water shop, I usually say hello to Ibraheem, whose family business is the flower shop nearby.
Today Zohreh, Randall, David and I trekked to the Shoman Foundation’s Darat Al Funon, an arts and culture center with a terraced cafe.
While drinking my mini-cup of thick coffee grounds and sugar I saw the artist I met recently, Mohammad Abu Aziz drinking coffee and was introduced to his artist friend, Iyad Kan’aan.
Both Muhammad and Iyad have absolutely gorgeous and profound art.
You might want to take a look at it yourself here:
On our walk home we saw Fulbrighter Matt on the balcony of another coffee shop. We stopped to say hello and proceeded down the tile and stone sidewalk, window shopping.
Fifty years ago, the Jabal Al-Weibdeh neighborhood area was considered the most stylish and upscale place to live in all of Amman. As far as I’m concerned, it still is. The historic arabesque architecture, and the multitude of cafés, shops and cultural centers are in direct contrast to the newly built “upscale” neighborhoods that have popped up throughout Amman.
Muhammad and Iyad invited me to meet with them at the Jabel Knowledge Culture (art gallery and cafe) at nine that night. Jadel is one of the oldest buildings in Amman, hidden away in one of the many dimly lit excessively long stairwells. Unsure as to whether or not I was taking the right staircase (in the dark they all look the same), I stopped at a barber shop and requested directions. Not knowing how to speak Arabic, or the exact name of the place, I returned to the barber shop twice after heading out to re-review my directions. The third time that I returned to the barber shop I decided to get my hair cut. I asked the barber for a trim by using hand gestures. He refused by using hand gestures and holding up an electric razor. Unless I wanted a buzz cut, I was in the wrong place. Thanking him for his time I headed off to another stairwell and eventually ended up at Jabel Knowledge/Culture.
Steps to Jadal Knowledge Culture center
Entrance to Jadal Knowledge Culture Center
After meeting Muhammad in Jabel/Knowledge and looking at the current exhibition of paintings by a Syrian woman we walked downtown to the oldest hookah lounge in Amman, secreted away at the top of a multitude of well worn stone steps with sawdust scattered on them. The lounge is in one of the oldest buildings in Amman.
When I entered the lounge I noticed I was the only female in the room, but my presence didn’t seem to bother anyone. Iyad showed up and we smoked hubbly bubbly, drank mini cups of thick, black coffee and talked about the important aspects of life: art.
Since arriving in Amman on the 23rd and until a few days ago, I was staying in the AlQasr Metropole Hotel. Breakfast there was exotically delicious.
On September 30th, I rented a magnificent apartment in Jabel Al Weibdeh with a wonderful view of the Old Citadel. (Photos 4,5,6).
This past week we attended meetings during the mornings at the Fulbright House.
The information that was presented pertained primarily to social customs.
What did I learn? A lot. I developed a deeper understanding of the reasons certain social customs exist, primarily for strengthening the welfare and advancement of extended family. I’ll explain more about this at a later date, suffice it to say for now, the family works as a unit and each member’s behavior reflects on the economic and social advancement of the family.
On the walk to the Fulbright House we pass a city park that houses peacocks, chickens and various types of birds.
In the afternoons we were transported to various circles in Amman to see apartments for rent.
On the very first night I arrived, the 23rd, I smoked my first hubbly bubbly – watermelon flavored! It was good to puff on but too strong to inhale. The patrons at the cafe were primarily women, dressed in their best long black dresses (decorated with white beads on the neckline and shoulder areas). Hubbly bubbly (hooka) cafes appear to be the “in” place for women’s night out.
13. Watermelon hubbly bubbly waiter
11. Hubbly bubbly hotdog cafe
The second night, a few of the Scholars (Angela and her husband Stephen, Zohreh, David and I), ate dinner in the restaurant on the roof of the hotel.
The following are more photos taken during our orientation week: