June 2008


 

Last night I took my first walk of the summer. I have been meaning to do that for nearly two months but I finally found the time and energy last night. My route is in Jabal Amman. I love the area. I love how pedestrian friendly it is, how familiar it is, how cozy it all is. But this was my first walk after the renovations of Rainbow Street have been completed. Walking in my favorite streets I noticed the difference.  

 

Rainbow street now has wider pavements, seating areas and in general more pedestrians. People are now walking, sitting, playing and using the whole street. It has brought some life back to the area. But I do hate how there is too much lighting in the street every few meters there is a big bright yellow light bulb. I am someone who likes light but this is too much. I enjoy walking in the dark for many reasons including the privacy it offers, especially since I sing and talk to myself during my walks. Now I feel like there is a spot light following me whenever I am walking down Rainbow Street. And don’t get me started with how eco friendly this all is! The explanations I have heard are that this way immoral behavior can not take place on this street. Laughable no?

 

But back to the walk, the neighborhood should be renamed Jasmine because of all the lovely jasmine trees planted in just about every house. The streets all have their own smells but the small delicate flower of the Jasmine and its heady scent somehow manage to over power these smells and it makes my walks all the more pleasurable. So come walk with me and smell the jasmine in Jabal Amman.

 

 

Advertisements

We never think twice about throwing out stuff, or do we? Last night I was walking home and I saw a man meticulously going through the garbage dumpster in the street. He was taking every bag out, opening it and riffling through. Looking back at the scene all I could see was a man bending down over a bag with lots and lots of other opened bags around him. I got to thinking about this man, his life, his occupation. I didn’t get far before getting sad.

 

What I saw got me thinking about my trash bags and what I throw out. Its stuff I wouldn’t want to go through again, yet here is this man who is not just going through my bags but the whole neighborhoods bags. I wonder what he is looking for? Clothing that can still be worn, household goods that can be salvaged, old perfume bottles that can be refilled, recyclable materials? Probably all that and then some. What does he do with them? Is there a parallel world of garbage collectors that buy all this junk, polish it off and reuse it? Probably! They may even resell it back to us!

 

Thinking back to the scene from last night, one other thought struck me. He is working late and into the middle of the night. I know it’s not because of the midday heat, even though that could be part of it. But I have a strong feeling it is because he is ashamed of what he does. He doesn’t not want to be seen in broad daylight rummaging through other people’s trash!

 

It is a sad existence, like a parasites, living off of others in such a dirty way. But this is what the existence chain is like. The weak feed off of the strong. I do not pity him because that implies arrogance. I am a privileged person knowing that I do not have to live off of other people’s discarded trash, but I do empathize with him. I know I will give more thought to how and what I toss out in future so that his pickings may be easier.  

The Middle East is known for its aversion to feet. We find them filthy, disgusting, and dirty and we hate them. Because of this I know that a lot of us are fascinated with them. We look at them all the time, especially in the summer when sandals, flip-flops and bare feet are all over the place. I personally always sneak a look and stare at feet. On the flip side of that I try to keep my feet clean and my toes well manicured. My feet aren’t the prettiest but I have come to respect them, love them and be comfortable with them.

So why am I talking about feet? If you read any guide book or etiquette book about the region one of the things you can count on being there is feet and how you should never put them in someone’s face when you cross your feet, or put them up. Also in there is how you should keep them clean at all times and wear slippers in the house and such. But with prolonged exposure to other cultures my attitude towards feet, especially my own, has changed. I no longer get annoyed if bare or covered feet are in my face, if someone is walking around barefoot (I enjoy that from time to time). I don’t mind putting my feet up either. I still keep my soles away from peoples’ face, but I no longer shy away from sitting comfortably with my feet poking out, instead of tucked away neatly and away from the public sphere. So today when a gentleman tried to joke about smelly feet, trying to get me to conform to social norms of feet tucked away I just smiled sweetly and thought “I love my feet and it’s your problem not mine that you can’t deal with there being some red toes showing!”

Feet are feet, it doesn’t matter who they belong to. We would be off balance with just a toe missing so can you imagine if you took a whole foot away. Respect them, enjoy them, look at them, play with them, massage them and celebrate them. You’ll have a hard time walking without them!

I recently came back from the West Bank and the only way to survive the journey is to have a lot of patience, humor and the ability to disconnect. This journey starts with getting an exit permit that allows you to both leave and return. Loose this document and it would be a mess! The next step is to get a taxi to Jericho and the bus station there where we all depart from. Once you get there it is a multi-step process that is an exercise in humiliation, patience, power and strife from various different powers that be and want to be.

Getting to Jericho your first stop is the “istira7a”, the rest stop. There you pay to get in, pay for a bus, pay for your bag to get shipped and get on a bus to go to the next stop. This is where you last see your bag until you have checked out of the country.

The next stop is the “ma3bar”, the crossing point. We stay on the bus throughout this stop. A PNA representative comes onto the bus and collects our IDs and passport and takes them away for a bit. Once he takes them away they go into a room where there are two or three men logging down the info in these big books manually. No one is allowed off the bus or on it. Another person comes on to the bus and sells the municipal tax that you can’t leave the country without paying. After we buy our tax and get our IDs back we are bussed to a checkpoint. At the checkpoint we take everything with us and pass through a metal detector that is manned by and Israeli soldier. Sometimes we are made to show IDs and permits other times we are just asked to board the bus. At this point we actually disembark from one bus on one side and get on another bus on the other side of the metal detector/ check point.

Our next stop is the Bridge, and what is interesting for me here is that looking at the signs on that side they all read the King Hussein Bridge (Allenby bridge) and not vice versa! Fascinating! Anyways, the bus gets stopped at the gate and is checked. We don’t leave until we get to the building we are supposed to enter. There we go through two metal detectors that are very sensitive so you have to take anything and everything that might ring off. Your bags also go through a machine too. After which you get to passport control and stand in line waiting to get stamped. Once stamped you go through a gate which you can’t pass without your municipal tax slip, its bar coded, logged and put into a computer, just like everything else. Another gate pass ensures you went through passport control and that is it for this stop.

We all board another bus to head to another bus station situated in no-man’s-land. This is where we meet our bags. Usually people rush to get a ticket and get their bags and it’s a mad dash to get a seat until … oops there are no bags. If we are “lucky” the bags would have already arrived and been waiting for us on the sidewalk. If not we sit, and sit, and sit, and sit until the next truckload comes in with the bags. This could take up to two or three hours. Once we are on the bus we cross the bridge to the Jordanian side.

On the Jordanian side an immigration officer checks our IDs before we leave the bus and then we walk into a building were we get a number and wait our turn. Once stamped we pick up our bags, go through customs, get a cab and in 45 minutes you can be home.

This may seem like an ordeal to some and such a long tiresome process. All I can say is I have been crossing this bridge for 30 years now, and this is the easy way of doing it. There is no shouting, active intimidation, strip searches, long long long waits and such. I wonder if we will ever see the day when these futile steps will ever be abolished.

I love to travel. It’s a well known fact about me. I’m always ready to hit the road to go just about anywhere. I started traveling alone at 16 and haven’t stopped since. I’ve been to places near and far and on my wall I have a big huge map of the world that ever so often I look at and think of the places I want to go, the things I want to do and the sights I want to see. In the last 15 years or so every time I have travelled I have planned. And like the song says I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway.

 

I am a planner through and through. When I travel I like to research, think things through and figure out a plan before I take my first step. I usually have one big trip every year and that trip is planned months in advance. From destination, tickets, accommodations, guide books, weather, packing and all. I think of these things for months. Some of these things I plan well in advance others as the time gets nearer. Sometimes I plan piecemeal one leg of the journey at a time, fleshing out the details as I go. But the fact remains I always have a plan. 

 

Or so I thought. Slowly things are changing. I am not sure why. Today I travel and the only thing I know is where I am sleeping tonight. What happens this weekend is a big black hole and it’s exhilarating in a way. I am going with out a plan and no details on getting from place to place. Navigating my way through borders, checkpoints, roads, people, languages and events will be fun. I have no idea what to expect will happen and where I will end up. And what’s funny is I am not worried about it in the least.

 

I think that what has happened is experience. Life and travel have taught me much and I know that in the end, with common sense, a sense of humor, and patience things always work out and they work out for the best. Life is wonderfully full of amazing surprises, twists and turns that not everything has to be prescribed and chartered. So wish me luck on my travels. I’ll write more from my unplanned, uncharted course and tell you how things go from the land of ambiguity.

ADD for those of you that don’t know is Attention Deficiency Disorder. Why I bring this up is because we all suffer from it one way or another. In today’s modern life of overstimulation you can’t not be afflicted with ADD, or as me and my friends call it Goldfish Syndrome.

Easily distracted by anything shiny, colorful or just moving is the most obvious symptom. Its easy to spot with me because halfway through a conversation my eyes wander elsewhere, and my attention switches to whatever caught it. We always catch each other and laugh out goldfish… and I am usually guilty as charged, shamelessly I might add!

But it is hard to laugh it off when it is Social ADD and it is constantly happening in settings such as socializing with non goldfish friends. Social ADD, in my opinion, is when I am out somewhere and there are four or five groups of friends who I want to be with, all are having interesting conversations I want to be a part of. SO what happens? Mid conversation I will switch topics, walk over to other people, or start day dreaming and stop listening. Its not that the persons I am talking to aren’t interesting, far from it. Its just social GS and I have no focus. It doesn’t matter how stimulating anyone or any topic is… I have no control over my wandering interests.

It is a bit embarrassing, as my behavior can come across as rude. But I cant help it. I’m a compulsive socializer with ADD, add sugar to the mix and I am all over the place. So please don’t take offense if I am distracted mid sentence, or I interrupt you, or I even walk off… in fact call me on it, all you have to say is goldfish.

Last night I had a wonderful evening of poetry, music and art. It was a very rich evening each event was eloquent in its own right. The first event was held at Cup n Kilos as part of their cultural festival. It was a poetry reading accompanied by saxophone. The poet was Jumana Mustafa and she was accompanied Eyas Al Ghol who later played a selection of his own compositions. I then headed to the French Cultural Center to the opening of an art exhibition by Alma Khasawneh entitled “up close”.

It was a very enriching evening and I must say that I was lucky to be able to attend both in their entirety. Last summer I noticed that Amman has become very rich culturally with music, poetry, forums, plays, art, dance and much more. So rich that in the spring and summer we actually have choices and sometimes these choices are very difficult. Where one goes and what one chooses for enrichment is now much more varied and interesting with local, regional and international talents. Gone are the days when it was just the Jerash festival that we had to wait for every summer. Our thirst is now being quenched and it is such a sweet honeyed drink.

Selecting what to see and which events to participate in means that there is choice in personal development. Our tastes, which are varied and wide can now be accommodated rather than one or two being imposed. Amman is a city that is going through a cultural revival, and it shows. I hope my choices wont be too hard this summer as I want to do it all, like I did yesterday for I love to my soul.