Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Now, if there is still someone checking this blog - and who's actually enjoying it - don't sweat: there will be some updates shortly. Just gotta gather all the data I collected in Amman. So, see you soon. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


KK is a Zarqa boy. Zarqa boys are tough guys. The most famous things that came out of Zarqa are a guy named Abu Musab (who made some mess in Iraq) and an old fortress that actually never came out of the city: it still stands there and receives a brave, lost tourist now and then. KK is, however, a notable exception. Standing almost two meters tall with long, black hair he’s an impressive fellow.
First time I met him was in 2003. I was in town for a day or two to renew my Israeli visa; the easiest way is to leave the country and Jordan is conveniently situated just an uncomfortable border-crossing and some humiliation away. To make a long story short, a friend of friend of friend introduced me and KK, and he showed me around the ropes in Books@café. So, when I first came into La Calle this time around, it was nice to see the same dreadlocks stuffed under a Jamaican type hat behind the bar. Oh, and by the way: According to vicious rumors, KK is known to emphatically shake a leg or two when listening to Like a Virgin by Madonna.
No, he is not gay.
Instead, he’s rather something of a womanizer. Being the only (not just an expression here) sporting dreadlocks in Amman, KK seems to have an exotic appeal to most women, foreign and local alike. For sure it helps that he’s a bartender at a cool bar in Amman: La Calle, situated on Rainbow Street. The place is packed like a box of sardines on Thursdays and the only breathing room is the third floor terrace. There, on the other hand, you risk being accidently thrown over the railing just from the sheer density of the place, especially on warm spring nights. It was here he told me his life story (luckily on a chilly Monday evening). To Be Continued.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The superhero

Ibrahim doesn’t wear his underwear over his pants, nor can bend steal with his bare hands, but he can make a quality website layout quicker than anyone in Saudi Arabia. Or so they believed the people who hired him and kept calling Ibrahim the “super hero” during his stay in Riyyad at a software company.
He hated Saudi Arabia; he detested the religiousness, the shortsightedness, the hypocrisy, the weather and the ever-present sand. And so he went back to Amman, got a less-paid job but felt that the air and the hijabs were not as thick as in the south.
His family is originally from Nablus, the mountainous city in the north of the West Bank. Born to parents who are extremely religious, he, like many other (but still small minority) revolted: dropped out of his Muslim Brotherhood youth camp (yes, it’s true: they have like Boy Scout camps, where they do treks from e.g. Amman to as-Salt. Without guns mind you). This caused him to be shunned by his old friends and almost caused a non-reparable split with his father. Now our superhero lives with some friends just off Rainbow Street and last night we all had a few beers on their front yard and discussed everything from the loudness of the adjacent mosque to how cats seemed to prefer Tuborg to Amstel when they licked our cans. They (the cats) didn’t bother us after awhile, go figure.
He is also a documentary filmmaker (like half of Jabal Amman’s avant garde population). His most recent movie is called "Closed for maintenance" and deals with the abrupt closing-down by the authorities of much-loved Books@café during last year’s Ramadan allegedly for serving alcohol. This event (as written about in an earlier post) caused a huge uproar from both sides of the argument, those who were for it, and those against. Being a man of severe secular conviction, Ibrahim began shooting the documentary just days after the shutdown, interviewing the owner of the café and random people whose opinions differed. The film is still number one of the most viewed on Ikbis, an Arabic version of YouTube.
Amidst all the thwarted arguments and bitterness, lies the core question: where is Jordan heading? Modern openness, mind-your-own-business-type of a society or towards Allah is my sole shepherd, my-mind-doesn’t-matter-type of a society. And Ibrahim, a.k.a. the Saudi superhero, knows the answer: Both. If it, in fact, is the right question to ask at all.
So we were sitting in t-shirts at midnight, after the cats had thrown up all the beer and fur balls and the imam in the mosque had gone to sleep, gently soaking up the humid brisk air of Jabal Amman. A very pleasant evening indeed.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

the desert

Apparently it can rain in the desert. I know because I was there to see it. The night before yesterday a group of nine (four Jordanian men, four foreign women and I) drove down to Wadi Rum in two cars and just as we meandered through the Disi camp village the dusty sky opened up and it drizzled for about an hour or so. Bedouin kids of all sizes ran around like kids in Sweden do when the first snow arrives; soon they were all covered in brown water from all the puddles.
This post, however, is not only about freak natural occurences. Let me also tell you little about some of the people I went with:
Marwan is one month away from being titled a doctor. He is a hydro-geologist and works with the ministry of water when he is not writing on his thesis. Coming from a Bedouin family (the Bin Mas’our I think), he lives on a hill some 25 minutes from Amman with his three thousand relatives (really) and an olive grove. Beautiful views. A flat tire challenged Marwan for less than 3 minutes (we got one driving home). He is truly a handy man, although barely taller than Leila (see below).
His best friend Daoud is also a geologist and when they are not working together they hang out at Daoud’s apartment in the middle of a set of public stairs snaking down to downtown from Mango Street. The latter’s family is Druze but when you are young, educated and, I guess, living on Jabal Amman, you tend to drink alcohol. The only one in our adventure group that didn’t giggle herself to sleep was Leila, a vertically challenged Canadian of Somali origins who currently chills out in Amman after having spent nineteen months cocooning in a Bagdad bunker. Development work, project for USAID (United States Agency for International Development). I guess it paid well.
Next year she is off to Lund, Sweden, to pursue a Master’s degree in International Development. Being confined for that long time in Iraq made her pick up a bad habit though: she can be seen puffing away on a cigarette form time to time, although only tobacco, mind you.
Fadi is a tall guy with a fanny pack and a contagious laughter who spent a couple of years in Yemen. Apart from hating the place for its backwardness and gun-loving attitude, he managed to get some things done - like getting laid numerous times with local women there. Yes, that sounds crazy – I thought so too, so I asked him how. Behind the face-covering hijabs were eyes of lust, he said. So you just slip them your phone number and soon enough they will call you and within a week, open sesame. In the mornings, around 8 when people were going to work, that was the magic hour. He lived in an apartment building where other families lived so the girl could get in without too much suspicion. Fadi doesn’t strike me as the traditional womanizer, but I believe in Yemen he was as good as they come.
After having camped out in the desert at the foot of a huge mountain, we left to Asraq, a city situated half-way to Iraq, for mansaf at Daoud’s mother’s house. The mansaf (with chicken this time) was, of course, delicious and his mom is the best cook in the world, honestly. Driving towards that town is like driving on the surface of the moon, or so, at least, I imagine it would be like. Vast fields of black gravel, as far as the eye could see, and all flat. Picture a kitty box filled with sand and then sprinkled over it, ground black pepper. Suddenly trees start to appear, the landscape getting greener and you are approaching the oasis that is the reason Asraq is built where it is built. We all sat down on the rug in the living room and dug in with our bare hands into the one meter diameter dish on the floor.
Asraq is (was) famous for its wetlands which every year harvested a stunning collection of migratory birds. Chances are, that your little neighborhood bird that sits on your front porch begging for crumbles has been to Jordan, to Asraq, more times than you have been to, say, Gothenburg. But since Amman is like a big brother who gets all the family savings to go to college, Asraq, the kid brother, had to be sacrificed. Most of its water is diverted to the capital (and the Syrians are to blame as well, but only as much as to not start a regional conflict). So bye bye birdies. Find another pit-stop on your way to Africa in the winter.
In terms of humans, the city is literally and geographically divided. The south side harbors Chechnians, Bedouins and other human shrapnel. The north side, however, is Druze town, and that’s where our new friends grew up. Asked if they wanted to create a home there when they get married, they all said no. Amman is the new Wild West, and Jabal Amman is their preferred place due to its atmosphere and, as one of the guys said, only half-jokingly: “It is cleaner than other areas since rich Christians and foreigners live there.”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mom’s cooking, part II

“My mom’s Sayadiyye (a fish dish, basically fish and rice with cinnamon and stuff) is the best in the world”. My friend (yes, Dalia again) is a staunch supporter of the My-mom’s-is-the-best-cook sect. but, apparently, she is totally oblivious to the fact that the sect has other members, and when I tell her that, well, it is one of the biggest sects in Jordan, she refuses to believe me. Hating to leave people in the darkness, I confront her, telling her to ask any random guy around us (we are standing outside a place that serves sweets in downtown Amman) if his mom is the best cook. She takes the challenge and barges up to a man waiting for his slice of Kanafa. “Of course” the man replies, “of course my mom is the best cook”. In fact, he is so convinced of this he invites us, right there and then, to go to his village tomorrow and be converted into true believers of his mom’s supreme Mansaf powers. Just one hour away by bus, change in as-Salt. We kindly decline. But Dalia learned something about Arabia.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Your mom's cooking

Every Arab I have met has a mom who just happens to be the best cook in the world. Or so they say. If you get into a conversation about Arabic food (or whatever food for that matter), it will inevitable boil down to a cut-off, final statement, which goes something like this: “Well, they might have good Mansaf in this restaurant, but the best is the one my mom cooks”. For one to refute that would be like preaching atheism to a hard-core Muslim, saying God is dead or worse yet, that there never was one. Ya Allah.
The truth is that there is not ONE mom that cooks the best. All these veiled and unveiled women really are the best chefs; no proud person deliberately lies to me. Discussing the dish above, Mansaf (a rice dish with pine nuts and boiled lamb) with a friend, she of course said her mom did the best, far better than any other mom. The absurdity of it all is that I never really gotten two different kinds of Mansaf: It’s always the same. The need to experiment, to put, say, a bright red tomato right smack in there never seems to occur. You repeat what your mother did, and she what her mother did, and yada yada probably back to the mother of Prophet Mohammed.
I can honestly tell you that my mom’s cooking wasn’t the source of great stories from my part, but hey: I am a Swede and our mom’s are good at reading instructions at the back of Findus frozen meat balls packages but that’s pretty much it. What she did though, was experiment. Just as sure as you never dip your toes in the same river twice, you could bet your Saturday candy allowance that you would never get the same spaghetti Bolognese at my family’s house two times in the row. In Jordan, however, I have a hunch that the Maqlube (an upside-down rice dish with chicken) I tasted two months ago in a Bedouin tent in Wadi Rum tasted pretty much the same as the Maqlube I would have received if I had dined with esteemed nutcracker Lawrence of Arabia some ninety years ago. I guess it’s what they call tradition, right? All the same, it’s a damn tasty dish.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Sheikh of Amman

Last night I was introduced to the self-appointed “Sheikh” of Amman (not to be confused with the equally self-appointed Duke of Amman). The “Sheikh’s” more earthly name is Ali Maher and he is currently the Commissioner of the Royal Film Commission and a Professor of Architecture at the University of Jordan. Even more impressive, the man stands two meters tall with a mustache that could hide a pair of sable teeth and probably a family of orphan gnomes. The man literally looks like a huge white rhino standing of his hind legs, neck as wide as, well, as a rhino’s. Not a man you want to pick a fight with unless you happen to carry an elephant rifle. Also, which tickles your imagination, he has pinned to his coat jacket a metal brooch in the shape of a flamboyant mustache. Go figure.
Vanessa, the woman who introduced us, is a British subject and has been in Amman longer than she dares to admit (four years or so). She is a heritage and cultural preservation specialist and today she had to get up a 4 am in order to take a taxi to Petra and escort a reporter for Conde Nast (the company that does Vogue, the New Yorker etc.) around the ol’ Nabataean city. Cheap money, she called it.
Apparently this “Sheikh” knows everything worth knowing about Amman, hence the self-endowed title. In the 30 seconds I spoke to him, he managed to tell me that he was the teacher of a certain Rami Daher (the architect of the new Rainbow Street and a million other projects around the city); that before him a very sweet Swedish woman ran the Royal Film Commission (I forgot the name). Our brief introduction was interrupted by a massive herd of people moving in to the theater to catch a contemporary dance performance, part of a festival here in Amman. It’s all for free, paid by the various embassies that send their crème de la crème dancers to this remote, dusty town for the inhabitants to have some modern, Western culture to chew on. Equally predictable and ironic, the most frequent visitors are foreigners who could well afford to pay the entrance fee – and would gladly do so. Anyways.
In about a minute or so I will write an email to him requesting a meeting over a coffee here on Rainbow Street. I will try not to forget my elephant rifle, just in case.

Monday, April 27, 2009


So after having first met this Dalia some six years ago at a party in a modernistic suburban Ammani house with fake Greek columns, I got in touch with her again through new friends here in Amman and, more improbably, through a Swedish filmmaker friend. How? you might ask. I will tell you – and this can be categorized in the world-is-so-small category.
The filmmaker was in Morocco last month for a petite documentary film festival. He meets a snus-chewing Jordanian filmmaker with a rather pleasant demeanor (yes, Dalia). He mentions this encounter in a chat with yours truly the following day. And after the Ahs and Ohs, I get her number through him. Now to the real small-world thingy.
On my and T’s trip to Aqaba last week, I sit by the Red Sea with my feet in the tepid water, watching kids and T snorkel. A head appears from under the surface, followed by a surprised look and a high shriek (yes, Dalia). Turns out that she had been there three days (we just arrived) and was leaving in an hour or two. Of all the small heads bopping up and down the Aqaba coast…
Anyways: she agreed to tell me her Life Story (a thing I am doing as part of my thesis) once back in Amman. And speaking of which: now I am sitting at Books@café waiting to do a Life Story-interview with a friend of hers, Amar O (referred to in an earlier blog as Amar no. 1). I wouldn’t be surprised to see her head bop up behind a plastic cup of Lemon-with-mint juice. Wish me luck. Oh, here he comes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

West vs. East or something like that

Dalia lives in a bubble (self professed), likes “snus” (Swedish form of tobacco) and has a young Barbara Streisand look (and I mean that in a positive way); big, bright eyes that seem to smile even when her mouth doesn’t, although the latter never happens. Just-got-out-of-bed hair dew. Jeans and t-shirt. She is a Jordanian documentary film-maker. Her latest film, Arabizi (think Spanglish or Swinglish), discusses the ongoing trend in the Arab world to forego written Arabic, instead settling for a watered-down English. It was shown on Al-Jazeera last year and got enough attention and praise for her to get green-lighted for another piece with them. This time, she is focusing on West vs. East Amman.
Also: a Japanese publisher wants her to write the love story between herself and this Japanse-Canadian pilot who died when his plane crashed in the Wadi Rum desert some four years ago. They were an item back then, and had so been for a couple of years. He used to write children stories for her, don’t ask me why. But his mom now really wants them published, kind of as his legacy. The Japanese publisher only agrees if the children stories are intertwined with some heart-breaking, mushy adult love story. She is currently contemplating what to do.
She sees herself as middle-class; can’t afford a car, but somehow affords to travel abroad every six months or so. Got a degree in filmmaking from Goldsmith institute in London. And yes; she admits that she and her friends live in a bubble here in West Amman (which is more a mental state than geographical). She has no friends from the East side, although she would like to have, she says she would be hesitant in marrying one from there; cultural differences and all that. She says it in a very self-conscious way, really trying not to sound elitist. But does an elitist usually admit to being an elitist? I sound harsh, I know. I only barley mean to, though. After all; am I so different?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Leninu Akbar!

The Jordanian Communist headquarters lies, perhaps surprisingly, on Rainbow Street. Since the hyper-capitalism seems to be crumbling down upon us (even here in Jordan) I decided to sneak in for an informal chat with some people who I thought would be rubbing their hands in delight with I-told-you-so smiles on their faces. A literally open door meets me, and an empty room with 1970’s style conference furniture. Posters of Ché Guevarra and what I presume are pictures of local comrades adorn the walls. I even spot a plastic bust of Lenin in larger-than-life-size on a coffee table next to a leather chair that probably has warmed thousands of asses (or maybe not since that would exceed the total number of comrades in Jordan at least threefold).
From within an inner room I hear faint laughter and subdued chuckles. I shout hallo a couple of times before they surprised come out of their slumber. They seem genuinely taken aback by seeing a new face in the locale.
They offer me tea and the pepper me with information brochures, in English as well as in Arabic. We talk about Rainbow Street, about the neoliberal turn Jordan took some years back; how the poorer get poorer and the richer richer. Nothing spectacular. One of them says, however, that to be atheist here is to be a Marxist and vice versa. They really seem to treat it like a religion here, in the dogmatic sense, and are also treated that way. The kingdom has not been kind to the Communists; not now under Abdullah II, not under his daddy’s reign either.
Our discussion covers everything from Jordan’s recent economical history (seen through red eyes) to the damned cobbled stones on Rainbow Street, which seem to upset everybody. After an hour, I bid adieu and leave them promising to come back to see them on first of May when they are organizing a big (sic) demonstration.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Takaseem store

I often see Hannin stand in front of her shop on Rainbow Street. Actually it’s her brother’s shop, but she manages it most days. She could almost pass as an American tourist: she wears her shoulder-length, chestnut colored hair down, and sports jeans and jersey. Still unmarried (ya Allah, ya rabbi) although being well past her “prime” marrying age (I’d guess she’s about 35), she said she will work here until she found a husband – and then she let out a big, warming laugh, as if to say: like that’s ever gonna happen.
Sure, she says, there are benefits with the Rainbow Street make-over. But also drawbacks, mostly personal. Since she lives just below the JARA café, she claims that the shabaab (youths) many times keeps her up until 1 at night, with their constant chattering about girls and proverbial measuring of their tiny dicks.
Before the remodeling, they boasted more designer things. Now, they have expanded the goods sold to include aromatic soaps and scented candles (for some reason, always very popular amongst a certain kind of tourists) in all the colors of the rainbow. It’s a cute shop. And yes, there are more tourists now – especially during the summer when Souq JARA is open. She sides with the million and one taxi drivers I’ve heard complain about the bizarrely uncomfortable cobbled stones on the street. Huge mistake; my knees always hurt walking to work, she tells me, even though I only live 200 meters away.
I can only nod my head in agreement.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

And darkness fell upon us

So earth finally got its hour in the spotlight, or so to speak – even in Amman. Between 20.30 and 21.30 on March 28th the city became if not black, a shade or two darker, at least in some areas. The Royal Society for Conservation of Nature (everything that strives to be something here has “Royal” in it) owns and operates a conference room, ecological handy-craft shop and a café in a hyper-modern building that clings on the slope of Jabal Amman, where the terrace overlooking Jabal Qal’a with its Roman ruins and Umayyad leftovers. It is a place that wouldn’t look out of place in Soho, New York, or any other Western place where people don’t mind (and can afford) spending 3 dollars (excluding service charge) for an ecological cup of coffee served in an equally ecological cup.
Lots of Humvees parked outside. And this is the place the orchestrated the “celebration” of Earth Hour here in Jordan. We all know the Middle East is the promised land of the black plastic bags. They roam free and can cover an impressive fifty kilometers per day, if they fly well. But of course: Every barren tree has a few wind-ripped bags enmeshed in its twigs. The carcasses. It’s almost poetic. It’s for sure sad and definitely not pretty. Come to think of it, I guess we could call it materialistic poetry, where reality is cut up in pieces and only haphazardly put together again. The black plastic bags as the scars.
Anyway. Earth hour passed quickly, like hours in the dark tend to do. The whole thing consisted of some lecture, the screening of Al Gore’s film and the climax: a candle-lit procession emanating from the Wild Jordan, the place mentioned above. The around hundred-people flock managed to stay intact til Rainbow Street, then kind of dissolved into small candle-lit islands who at their own pace headed back to the café.
The minister of something (probably Energy) got his few seconds in the limelight as he was interviewed by TV inside the café. He was wearing the t-shirt especially produced for this occasion: a smiley-face with closed eyes and text in Arabic that probably said something catchy (I wonder, though, how much energy was used to produce those hundreds of t-shirts used by practically every participant). The street lights on Rainbow Street were turned off. The next day, for whatever reason, I noticed they were turned on in the middle of the day.
Go figure.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Pastor

So I met the pastor at the bookshop; a steady handshake and a million-dollar smile. He had agreed to be interviewed – I had told him I was doing my Masters in anthropology yada yada – and he was now pulling out a chair for me.
Let’s cut right to the chase. The man (corpulent, in his early 40s) drew the following picture for me when asked about how it came he had settled in Amman ten years ago and founded a Biblical Institute. He was around fourteen years old when he one day was walking on a sidewalk in the al-Hamra district of Beirut (which is where he originates from). A car pulled up next to him and the middle-aged man inside flung the passenger door open and offered to give the young, impressionable Das Kapital-reading-but-still-searching-boy a ride to the Ashrafiyye neighborhood. “How do you know I live there?” the boy replied. “Everything I know comes from this book. Let me take you home and I will tell you all about it” said the man. Having been brought up in affluent Christian-orthodox environment with (over)protective parents, warning bells rang in the boy’s head: don’t follow strangers – even if they offer you candy, perhaps especially if they offer you candy.
Stop right there, Omar (not his real name)
But no; the young boy was so impressed the man knew he lived in Ashrafiyye (although I can’t for the love of God understand why, since that place is where most well-off Christians live). Any who: he stepped in. And it changed his life. But – according to me – in a far worse way than had he been tied up and…well. The man was a Jehovah Witness.
After a three-year stretch with the witnesses, he had a theological argument with the “elders” and left (or got thrown out; the story didn’t say). He wandered the streets of Beirut yet again, literally as well as metaphorically. No more alluring strangers in sight. He decided to open up his own theological shop after brief stints at various ecumenical denominations, of which no responded well to his personal conviction. But this episode was preceded by an amusing, yet somehow disturbing, story of how he met his wife, a Jordanian: He’s speaking to her on the phone; they have never met, he’s sitting at his house in Beirut, she in Amman. It’s eleven at night; it’s in the late 90s. How they got to have that phone call in the first place, I don’t know, but kick is this: saying good-bye, she said it would be nice to have coffee (a common invitation amongst Jordanians). Yes, he replied, and immediately after hanging up, he called a taxi, paid the driver 150 dollars – and off they were, to Amman, to his future wife, to his habibti.
Somewhere outside Zarqa (about 30 min from Amman) at around 3.30 in the morning, he called her, saying he was on his way. “Are you totally insane?” was the answer he received. “Well, you offered me a coffee…” Her mother had also woken up by the phone and was standing next to her daughter. Somehow she took the phone, and understanding that this could be a maniac or just a foolish boy in love, she told him to stop by the house at 6 am – not a minute earlier. And so he did, after having circled around Amman a number of times. After a rather quick and surely bizarre cup of coffee, Omar got back into the car (the driver had waited outside the house), paid the driver another 150 dollars and speeded back to Beirut, arriving just in time for him to start his day’s work at the bank (just a tad late).
They got married the following year. Arguably the most expensive cup of coffee ever, but a very successful cup indeed. (The story was revealed to me as an example of how great yet blind love can be; why sometimes we make crazy decisions that don’t seem logical at first (and perhaps never, I wanted to ad, but never did. Instead I shook his hand, excused myself, and called T: my own great love).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


The two best Jordanian football teams Fasaili and Wihdat lost Sunday their respective matches in the Arab Champions League. The male population of Jordan is in grief. My language partner (see below) loves his Faisali so much that he abruptly ended a relationship (well) with a girl who bad-mouthed Allah, sorry Faisali. By the way; if you want to know if a Jordanian has East Bank or West Bank (Palestinian) roots, just ask what team he/she roots for: Palestinians root for Wihdat (unity) while Faisali is supported by everyone else. That question never fails, and shows, inadvertently, the lack of unity still existent here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cell scribblings

Since absolutely nothing happened in entire the Kingdom today, I thought I’d share with you the reason I am in Jordan and not, as was originally intended, in Palestine. I have skipped the parts where I was interrogated for seven hours at the airport, and jumped straight to the fun stuff:
Scribbled in notebook on November 2nd, 2008: Once in the cell, I take a deep breath – and regret it immediately, detecting that there is a gut-wrenching smell coming from the fuzzy, gray quilts lying on top of the bunk beds. The cell is about 10 square meters (feels like 2 square meters and shrinking) and my quick round-tour renders a bathroom (well, a toilet with crushed, decomposing bugs and a floater); a shower with three soaps, oddly enough, pressed stuck to the tiling neck high. There’s one chair next to a small wooden table. Very Spartan, as one might expect. Those are my surroundings for the night.
After I have gotten my new bearings, I go to the lone window, a small, steal barred opening facing a road, noise from airplanes, and a windless and warm November night. I don’t look at the stars, though – I smile to myself as I consciously don’t look to the stars pondering freedom and a quick escape. In the movies, the guy (or the occasional woman) who looks up towards the stars from a prison window, is without exception the hero. Perhaps he has shot the local war lord in a bar brawl and now the town sheriff wants to set an example of framing the recently arrived loner. Big mistake. Always a capital mistake that serves as an endless pit of nourishment for the lone ranger. This loner, especially in a cowboy movie, always has the quickest gun in the final scene, always the most trustworthy horse that in the end rides off with him on its back towards the horizon, to the desert – to the Wild West.
I am not, however, a lone gun man. I am rather innocent anthropologist from the cold north who tried to embark on his field work. In jail we all ended up anyhow. I tell myself that it is only the beginning though. My Wild West is the Middle East (sorry for the pun), and my field has just been altered, since I find myself still in this cell, alone. And even though some distant noise creeps in through the window, I feel like the last man on earth. I drag myself to the bed, lie down and start reading the scribbling on the wall. Here is a selection of what it read:

“I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me”
(Philipias 4:13 [?])


“If Jesus says yes, who can say no”

And perhaps the most disturbing:

“I am covered with the blood of Jesus Christ”

At the same time as I am lying in the bunk bed reading this, my bones shiver when my eye fix on a murky, red stain on the steel railing of the bed over me. Perhaps the guy really tried to commit suicide here. Right here – in this bed. Who knows. All I know is that my addition to the wall scribbling was more profane: “Free Palestine”.
Enter Antawn. The cell door opens and led inside by a police officer, is Antawn, a black man with rugged clothes. At the time, I am lying down on one of the filthy bunk beds trying to sleep. He sits down on one of the other beds. Our greetings are almost undistinguishable head nods. I ask him (I always wanted to ask somebody this): “So what are you in for?”
“I don’t really know,” he says “Maybe ‘cause it ain’t allowed to spread the word of Gawd [God] in this country. Maybe ‘cause they don’t agree with the teachings of our lord Jesus.” Even as the first syllables left his mouth, I knew he was American. He had a poor man’s dialect. And after a few moments of silence where both of us secretly study each other, he asks me what I am doing here. I tell him the brief version. And I ask him where he is from and all other vital questions we ask people to make a good impression pretending we care. He was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (although, when I mentioned the Three Mile Island nuclear accident of 1979, he looked like he wasn’t sure of what I was talking about); 51-years old, unmarried. The reason he constantly kept mentioning Jesus, is explained by the following story: He had just served four years out of a five-year prison sentence for armed robbery, when he responded to the calling of Jesus, mediated by an older inmate. It changed his life – drastically. He swore off drugs, drinking and cigarettes –all bad things, he told me. Only the voice of God through his son Jesus counted nowadays, and ever since he got out of prison, he had been traveling throughout the United States, and then crossed the ocean – to Europe and Africa. His choice of proselytism is rather odd: he recites the King James Bible onto old tape cassettes. Now, since the holy book is a fairly large piece of text, the whole procedure is captured by no less than forty-eight tapes. And to the present destination, Israel, he had brought two filled suitcases, totaling six volumes (almost 300 tapes). His plan with this myriad of tapes, was to strategically place them, one by one, in different public locations, such as phone booths, or perhaps half-tucked away in the backseat of a bus. A public bathroom, right inside the metal toilet paper holder, was his favorite spot, he said. In such a place, people don’t expect to find anything, he continued. They are alone. They have the time to think, to ponder their existence, or whatever they do in there. They are vulnerable. Jesus can reach them there.
“The thing is”, he concluded, now sitting on the edge of the bed: “you never know when Jesus will talk to you. First time he spoke to me, I waddn’t ready to listen. Now I am.”
Here I am, in an Israeli airport jail, getting my ears filled with messianic messages by a fellow cellmate. He was just about to describe how Jesus would punish all the sinners of the Day of Judgment, when the iron door is opened, and a guard tells us to get our stuffs: we are being moved to another cell, a sleeping cell. In this dark 5 times 5 meters room, bunk beds are piled against the walls. I pick one of the few empty ones, and lay down. Except for some snoring, there is utter silence.
Two hours later – I hadn’t been able to sleep – the door is opened and my name is called. A plane is waiting for me to leave. After driving me to the plane, they literally put me on it, and exchange courteous greetings with the pilot. The plane takes off at 5.30 am, November 3rd 2008: I had just spent 14 unofficial hours in Israel.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Eavesdropping at Books@café

I know it’s bad to eavesdrop, but today I couldn’t resist. Sitting and devouring a gigantic pizza toppled with canned, smoked turkey, I happened to over-hear two Italian photographers in the midst of taking flashy photos of the Books@café. They asked a couple seated at a table next to mine if they could recommend some other places that represented the “new” Amman; the chic- and trendy Amman, overflowed with money and bling-bling. The Jordanian couple seemed very happy to comply, and began telling places that they “must see”, also buying them coffee which was happily excepted by the Italians. The latter were also exalted by the fact that one can still smoke in bars here in Jordan. They lit up and sipped their coffees with expressions on their faces as only Italians (and perhaps French) can give when drinking coffee anywhere outside of Rome.
Then, out of the blue, they switched to talking in French, and my eavesdropping was effectively ended. Fucking French.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Salt and bitter lemon

My language partner is a skinny 21-year old boy from the town As-Salt (and no; Salt doesn’t mean “salt” in English). Let’s call him Musa. It’s a bright and fairly warm day, so we decide to sit down on a wooden bench in the middle of the busy University of Jordan campus. Musa tells me he wants to be a lawyer (because they make money) but now he is studying English, because it’s useful. Musa thinks English sucks, in fact, he thinks studying sucks, period.
He is a rather shy young gentleman, which, however, doesn’t stop him from constantly scanning the area for girls; during our conversation, his eyes constantly wander off towards groups of passing ladies. And when his prayers are heard and a girl finally looks back at him, he immediately looks the other way. And I swear: even blushes.
So what about the ladies Musa? Well, he’s never kissed one, but he’s dying to. Like most 21-year olds, that’s pretty much what occupies his mind. When asked about marriage, he says that when the time is right (in a couple of years, maybe next year) his mom will round up a fine selection of goods, sorry women that he could then choose from. He trusts his mother. Now, isn’t that nice?
I think I am going to have to switch language partner.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Books@café continued

Last Ramadan the café found itself in the middle of a scandal. Now, what the scandal actually consisted in remains a matter of disagreement. There are two sides to this story, as there usually is. Let’s get marinated in the facts first: during Ramadan it is normally illegal to sell food during the day in the Kingdom of Jordan. The owners of the café had, however, attained a license from the local government to serve not only food, but also alcohol to its patrons. How they managed this, I don’t know. Nevertheless, one day in the midst of Ramadan, police barges into the place and shuts it down.
A lively debate followed, particularly on various blog forums. Let’s name the two sides the “I-do-as-I-want”-folks and the “You-should-do-as-I want”-folks respectively for reasons of simplification. Amongst other things, the latter state (probably correctly) that Jordan is a Muslim country with about 95% Islamic coverage, and hence non-Muslims (and non-practicing Muslims) ought to respect that The former say: So what? What happened to personal freedom? Why should anyone care if a few people have a few beers in a few isolated places? How sipping a beer inside a bar, far from any practicing Muslims automatically means that one disrespects Islam, they say, is just a matter of hypocrisy.
Let it simmer for awhile. Wait for it. Let’s now imagine it’s boiled down to this: Where is Jordan going? Almost all commentators seem to agree on the fact that this case has wider ramifications than being just about one place, in one month. The million dinar question is, in fact, a question about Jordan’s role in the world (and perhaps foremost about its own self-identity) with forces wishing to drag it south, towards its Saudi borders and brothers, and forces desperate to keep feeding Jordan deep-pan pizzas, washed down with slurps of Starbucks vanilla-flavored coffee.
Ah, it doesn’t get more old school than this. The ol’West vs. East enigma. That West Amman just happens to be West of East Amman (if you know what I mean) is only a geographical coincidence, a fluke.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Water world

Arabs are not the most prolific swimmers. Today I went to to swim at a upper-scale gym in the equally upper-scale Abdoun area, and there I witnessed the following: In the gigantic pool are 8 middle-aged men, half of them sporting huge but neatly trimmed mustasches, all of them overwight. They all look like they are struggling to stay afloat. But then I realize that the petite, twenty-something woman standing at the poolside, holding a whistle, is actually giving them intructions - or screaming would be a more fitting word; in her nasal voice, she shouts (in English mind you); "Move your arms! And you; move your feet, higher, higher!".
It was so surreal I forgot to put on the obligatory shower cap I had been given when I jumped in. It only took 20 seconds before she started screaming at me. The matriarchy has perhaps not come to the Middle East yet, but in West Amman it is darn close.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


It’s impossible for a foreigner between the ages of 20 to 40 to visit Amman and avoid ending up grabbing over-priced beers at Books@café.
The bookshop with its restaurant/bar upstairs has become the epitome of the crowd of young and not-so-young, but nonetheless hip Ammanites (the term they themselves actually prefer since it connotes “parasites”…) and actually was the one place that started the whole gentrification process that’s currently unfolding beneath our very eyes. It was opened by two artist brothers in 1996; one openly gay (as open as you can get in Jordan), the other I have no clue about, although he wears a fez. The new thing about this bar (aside from its very gay friendly ambiance) was that the waiters were as cool as – if not cooler – than the patrons. And they were all aspiring writers, musicians, painters, whathaveyous. Now, for reasons I still haven’t excavated, these waiters all rented cheap flats in the surrounding neighborhood, hence up-ing the hip factor.
Oh, and they do still sell books downstairs, believe it or not. More to follow, soon.


Last night I met some of the “original” books@café (see above) guests. Sitting opposite of me was Omar no. 1; to my immediate right Omar no.2; and on his right was a New Yorker fittingly named Aura (but spelled Ora). Apart from the latter, who joined the gang in 1999, these characters have frequented the bar/bookshop/restaurant since its inauguration in 1996. They have all, at one time or another, worked as bartenders/waiters there, and still hang out there to the extent that, I presume, they could be considered part of the furniture. They all share the view (not uncommon amongst people who see themselves as the original gallery) that the atmosphere of the place has imploded ever since the early twentieth century. And I also painfully realize that ethnographers working with, say, purist Muslims get away with a cheaper bar tab.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Eftersom vår kära drottning nu har fått sitt val av gemak betingad, bevingad och något ord som jag inte kommer på men som ska betyda, ah, nu kom jag på det: nagelfarad, i den svenska pressen, kan jag glädja svenska rojalister och idioter med att även på ett litet fuktigt kontor i Amman, Jordanien, fascinerar Viktorias val. Den joviale direktören för JARA (se nedan) blir alldeles till sig när jag nämner att jag minsann kommer från Sverige (”Ah, Crown Princess Viktoria is getting married! Congratulations!” Och så tar han min hand och skakar den uppriktigt. Sedan följer en bisarr föreställning (eller föreläsning) då han undervisar mig om Sveriges kungalängd och dess politiska följder genom historien. Själv sitter jag på framkanten på stolen och gör mitt yttersta för att inte försöka se ovetande ut. Dra på trissor – han vet till och med vår nuvarande kung är dyslektiker. Resten av vad han berättade om kungar och drottningar och annat löst folk har jag redan glömt. Men det var definitivt underhållande.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why Rainbow street REALLY is Rainbow street

Today I had an informal meeting with the executive director of JARA (Jabal Amman Residency Association). Over a tiny cup of Turkish coffee he told me, among other things, this anecdote from last year: The JARA had proposed a meeting at a nearby restaurant for all shopkeepers on Rainbow street, which was by then congested with loading trucks and various debris from the ongoing reconstruction/modernization. The shopkeepers were worried that they were losing customers since the street was virtually inaccessible to anyone without a yellow helmet and jack-hammer. The JARA played one of their finest card and invited them to a get-together with the mayor of Amman. All seated, the mayor asked if they were happy with the current and official name of the street (Abu Bakr as-Saddiq street) or if they wanted him to tap some pencil pusher on his shoulder down in the Greater Amman Municipality’s (GAM) office to magically rename the street to the colloquial name: Rainbow street.
Everyone stood up and shouted. Rainbow street! Except one. Still sitting down, partly due to old age, but mostly due to a more conservative outlook on life, an older gentleman who owns a small book/newspaper shop on the middle of the street raised his voice: Abu Bakr as-Sadiq was the prophet’s friend and hence it’s the proper name for this street!
Showing who’s in possession of the magic wand, the mayor silenced and satisfied the man by promising to name a new street in the ever-sprawling city Abu Bakr as-Sadiq street. Maybe even two.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

En annan sorts taxichaufför

Klockan är ett på natten och jag hojtar. Taxin tvärnitar och efter hur-mycket-till-Rainbow-street?- hagglande nöjer sig både chauffören och jag oss med 2 dinar. Efter de sedvanliga hälsningsfraserna och kommenterande om vädret (som jag tagit med mig från Sverige) ställer jag någon allmän fråga om Jordanien, glömt vilken. Svaret kommer snabbt: ”Fuck You Jordan! Fuck YOOOOOOU Jordan!” - samtidigt som mannen ler. Jasså? svarar jag. Men tyvärr kan han inte mer engelska än dessa tre ord, så resten blev en osande kaskad på arabiska riktad mot hans hemland. Av det lilla jag förstår är kungen dum i huvudet, parlamentet snika vargar, folket i allmänhet och palestinierna i synnerhet slöa i huvudet. De senare är också aggressiva och obildade åsnor. Här sviker dock min arabiska mig. Han kan också sagt något helt annat än jag här återgett. Men att döma av alla Fuck YOU Jordan inslängde lite här och var, och att han sen ville utforska hur det var att bo i Sverige – ”Good Sweden, good city, very nice people, very buoootiful!”. Han log lika mycket nu som när han sågade av Jordanien längs fotknölarna. Jag gav honom en extra halv dinar. Det var trots allt sent på kvällen och han hade fortfarande några timmar kvar av sitt skift. Mina tre öl tidigare på kvällen kostade mer än han skulle tjänat om han kört mig hela vägen till Syrien.
Jo absolut får man lite dåligt samvete. Men...nej förresten, inga men.

Taxichaufför från Rinkeby

När jag svarar på den ständigt återkommande – men dock trevliga – frågan om varifrån jag kommer, brister taxichauffören Ahmed ut i ett stort leende, släpper ratten och tar min hand med båda sina; bilen tekniskt sett förarlös eftersom han samtidigt tittar på mig. Oj, oj, oj, skriker han, från Sverige! Va rolit! Jag bodde Rinkeby 3 månader!
Ahmed al-Jiddi gillar Stockholm – Gamla stan, vad fin! – men älskar Amman. Han är jordansk palestinier från Lod (nuvarande Israel) men har aldrig varit där. Han kör egen taxi och kan på en bra dag tjäna in 50 JD (ca 700 kr). Dessutom har han en liten supermarket (det spelar ingen roll hur liten en affär här är – alltid heter de Ahmed’s supermarket eller så, trots att torrt bröd, tonfisk på burk och några ruttna påsar med chips är allt de har att erbjuda). Han bor på Jabal Hussein som ligger några kullar bort från Rainbow Street. Ogift. 30 år. Inte bra (säger han). Jag lovar att hälsa på i hans supermarket en vacker dag.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


En liten episod från min flygresa hit: bredvid mig (stilla sovandes halva resan; högt snarkandes resten) halvligger en ihärdigt sminkad kvinna från Amerika. Mitt emellan två sjok av sömn, frågar hon lite försynt mig om det möjligtvis var första gången jag flög till Jordanien. Nej, svarade jag, och här kan man inte gärna bara vända sida i boken man läser och fortsätta, så man anstränger fram ett leende och motfrågar. Gud nej; sjätte gången. Eller sjunde kanske, svarar hon och skrattar: More than I would have liked!
Eftersom jag då slipper fråga om det är business eller pleasure, frågar jag ”i vilken linje av arbete” hon är. Och här följer ett ungefärligt utdrag ur vår 3-minuters dialog.
- Contractors.
- Aha…
- Well, we work with the American government, I am an engineer.
- Oh, that sounds interesting. What kind of an engineer?
- Mostly we fix problems with Humvees.
- (nu börjar jag ana vart det bär hän). Ok…so you work for the Pentagon, or…
- We are independent contractors, but we mainly do work for the State Department.
- Aha…
- Sorry, are you gonna eat those pretzels?
(hennes hand smyghugger mot min platsbricka där det ligger ett paket oöppnade och förmodligen oätliga ”complimentary pretzels”).
- No, please, go ahead (hon tar dem med ett blygt leende). But, so why Jordan? Why not Iraq, ’cause I would assume that’s where they break down?
- (skrattandes på ett flickaktigt sätt, precis som jag sagt något lustigt men liksom ba’ guuu’ va konsti’): But that’s where we all go – except me! They think its too dangerous for little me!
- …
- My colleges go
(hon pekar hastigt och diffust några rader längre fram). The men (och så himlar hon med ögonen, liksom för att visa, titta hur knasigt det är med förlegade könsroller hit och dit, va, här har vi inte kommit längre. – And they let me stay behind and do all the boring paperwork!

Ja, så knasigt det kan vara. Här sitter man och språkar med en lätt överviktigt, tjejig amerikansk ingenjör som tycker att det konstigaste med hela grejen, är att hon – ”because I am just a little girl, hihhi” – inte får åka och fixa sönderskjutna Humvees i ett av de själva sönderskjutet land. Snart snarkar hon igen. Och jag vänder försiktigt det tunna bladet i min bok.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rainbow Street, part II

The grand opening of an upscale coffee shop (Tsche Tsche) took place the other night in a for-the-purpose-built house, strategically erected where the pot of gold would be located if indeed Rainbow Street was a rainbow. It surely looks impressive, even by Abdoun, (or why not Stockholm) standards. Flocking around the minimalist décor were the not-so-bold and the beautiful, sipping pricey moccas and nibbling away on prefabricated sweets. I hate to sound working-class nostalgic after living only two weeks on this street, but that’s what we Western bohemian bourgeoisie always are. Alas, I miss the days where the menus here weren’t displayed with graffiti font in English, boldly asking for 2 JDs (3 Euros) for basically the same black shit you get 10 meters away, from the chubby but cheerful guy and his frail coffee wagon on the 1st circle – for a quarter of the price. It tastes like camel piss and it’s usually tepid, but at least it’s served without any exchange of words in stupefied English.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Good Bookshop

No, it’s not a religious bookshop, although they sport a selection of Bibles and Korans in all types and colors, children's version as well. If it, in fact, adheres to any religion, it would have to be the modern Western lifestyle cliché; bookshelves stuffed with titles such as “How To Make Your First Million”, “Your Boyfriend Left You? Get back at him! 10 best tips” and you get the point. Naturally, they offer you a Colgate smile and a quite tasty café latte as soon as you arrive to make use of their wireless internet connection, just like (it seems) the rest of Amman’s expat community.
According to the two guys working behind the counter, the Rainbow Street Project cost 3 million JD (4 million Euros) and one of the major points was to make it traffic-free. I guess someone (or everyone) protested and what I walk up and down every day now has more cars than ever. That they made it into a one-way street doesn’t seem to have changed that fact. “They should have given the money to every Jordanian instead”, one of the guys says, “45 piasters to each citizen. Then he could have bought a decent shawarma and all would have been well.”
A thwarted version of socialism where everyone gets his or her share of public funding? This coming from a guy with designer jeans working in this bookshop, I don’t think so.
Now, why is this interesting? Well, I have started to nurture a hypothesis that goes something like this: Rainbow Street is (wants to be) the future of Amman, and perhaps Jordan. It offers the mix of Western culture and a few sprinkled remains of Arab culture. Most people who live in the area are educated middle-class, and perhaps because of this, it exudes an air of cosmopolitanism, indeed very different from the rest of West Amman with its Starbucks, mega malls, and diamond clad women (and men). Here on Rainbow Street– if you were to get a whim of a diamond – it is much more likely to be pierced in some Jordanian hipsters’ nose as opposed to around the neck in Abdoun (the most affluent neighborhood in West Amman).
The street really breaths a casual, bohemian feel, like a place that at least outwardly welcomes diversity, be it in nationalities, level of education, or denomination. And if Jordan ever adopts a more leisured attitude towards homosexuality, it’s a no-brainer where the first open gay club would be located.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rainbow Street, part I

Taxi drivers hate it. Foreigners and high-flying, bohemian bourgeoisie Jordanians love it. The recently cobbled street with its new cosmopolitan name “Rainbow Street” stirs up emotions here in Amman. Or at least within me. Situated on top on the old Jebal Amman (mountain of Amman), the street formerly known as “Abu Bakr as-Saddiq” (and still according to some official maps) has gone through substantial changes the past few years, much like Amman itself. Now there are wooden benches neatly placed along the street for the intrepid pedestrian – a rare phenomenon in the Los Angeles-like West Amman.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention: Amman is a divided city. Not in the now classic Middle Eastern way with barbed wire or concrete walls, but more in the American other-side-of-the-tracks sense. The rich West vs. the impoverished East; the West with bars and restaurants lining the roads with Humvees parked outside and the East with shouting shop owners and Arabic coffee off the guy with the funny fez hat; noses covered in bandages vs. heads covered in hijabs. The Rainbow street area is (or at least wants to be) what Södermalm is for Stockholm, what perhaps the 6th and 7th districts are for Vienna, i.e. gentrified working class neighborhoods that have gone through an extreme makeover, whilst at the same time trying to remain their lure as “genuine” outposts of a disappearing culture (for the benefit of us foreigners?).
A difficult juggling act indeed.


Han är ju inte direkt ful, kungen. Men inte speciellt vacker. Efter några dagar i Jordanien har man haft tillräckligt med tillfällen att studera hans ansikte på ganska nära håll; meterhöga posters överallt längs vägarna, och mindre porträtt av honom i varenda affär och privata hem, ibland i militäruniform, ibland i club blazer. Alltid leendes, ofta blickandes lite åt sidan, lite uppåt, dvs. framåt, som alla män i liknande positioner tenderar att göra på bilder. Lite knubbig kan man nog säga utan att få den ökända jordanska underrättelsetjänsten över sig. Rösten går ner en oktav varje gång jag frågat någon om honom. Visserligen har de bara gott att säga om honom. Förstås. Visserligen skulle man då kunna undra varför de talar lägre. En taxichaufför svarar att nej, an är inte palestinier, vilket nästan alla chaufförer är. Och alla, fortsätter han, icke-palestinska chaufförer jobbar för ”mukhabarat” (säkerhetspolisen), blink blink. Jaha, säger jag. Resten av resan pratar han bara om hur fin, vacker och fantastisk kungen och dennes familj är, så man undrar ju samtidigt som man nickar och instämmer till fullo. Kungen är inte ful, faktiskt riktigt vacker. Blink, blink.