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.”