I have been in Jordan for just over 24 hours now. My first proper visit here since 1999. I don’t count the total of 16 hours in Queen Alia airport in 2008 on my way to and from a Jerusalem wedding (I was living in the UAE at the time; direct flights are not available), nor a couple of nights in 2007 chewing the cud with some colleagues with little focus on Jordan other than its hospitality).
In Amman snow still lies on the ground, while I walk around in little more than my clothes for the Saudi leg of the trip plus a woolly cardigan purchased in Jeddah. There are times when this trip to the region has reminded me of being stuck for three months in the California Hotel in Dubai (see March-May 2007 entries). Staying in middling hotels, pounding my laptop, trying to make sense of barely legible notes, perpetually on the outside of things, never hitting a stride, speaking bad Arabic. At least in Jordan my bad Arabic has a point – for one thing it is actually spoken to Arabs, and they appreciate it, but mostly speak back to me in English. I arrived at the Jordanian weekend – being exhausted I was delighted to take Friday off, and after a desultory nap I headed by taxi to the Downtown area. A sweet laid back old guy (probably my age) drove me there. He told me the upcoming elections were important and a duty to take part in (an East Banker taxi driver?).
After dark the wet, cold streets should perhaps have been full of foreboding but were strangely welcoming after the stultifying blandness of Saudi (aside from Batta’ – see below). Downtown Amman feels like Ramallah pre “peace process”, but writ large. An incredible warren of life where probably anything can be bought, even if it mostly appears to be mobile phones, cheap clothes and cigarettes. I found a hole in the wall and enjoyed a great meal of kebab, homous and salad where, despite being the only Inglayze in the place, nobody gave a tom tit about me (which is how I like it). Washing hands afterwards – an obligation that I often don’t feel in London – was the Deira/Bur Dubai recognisable fair of cold tap and grease-proof paper to dry your hands. To the streets and a ride with a younger driver whose surname, Abu Ghosh, spoke to his family’s roots in a pretty Jerusalem village that he will never see. He, however, is more desperate to get a visa to the west. He has never voted, and won’t be doing so this time.
Back at the hotel I relaxed, enjoying the warmth and a well-fed and pleasantly tired feeling, at least until I muffed it and started stressing about the next day and ended up speaking to an old contact with whom I then made a cocked up arrangement that I spent the subsequent half an hour trying to rectify.
Today has been a damp squib – a pleasant time in the gym, although talking to an Iraqi about the war is not an easy thing to do (his second home is Australia, he told me, although most of his family escaped Iraq for Jordan after the war and he is studying in Amman). Nothing has come through this afternoon by way of a meeting. A walk to a local shop for an alternative to the tap water allowed me to take in a street full of car show rooms. My repeated calls to a local Muslim Brotherhood official have unsurprisingly not been picked up or returned. Tomorrow will be a more structured day, in sha-Allah.