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).