When the sun goes down in Amman it feels like you could be in any city in the world. Beautiful new highways twist around each other on the way to the airport or to Petra or to the Dead Sea.The lights of the city could be the lights of any city. The Abdoun Bridge seems to hang above a great cavern. You might even think there is a river below.
Amman has the the largest Starbucks franchise in the world. This is according to Tamer, my new friend and driver for ARC in Amman. I’m not sure I believe him, and I’m not sure it matters. I saw it. It’s big.
Tamer loves Friends. He’s mad for it. I had heard this about him and asked him about it when he picked me up at the airport which is why we talked about the show for the entire hour drive to the apartment. We talked about his favorite episode (“The one where Rachel and Ross accidentally get married”). We tried to rank the 6 friends of Friends. His list started with Rachel, then Joey, and end with “This is impossible!” We talked about the Thanksgiving episodes which he loved despite having never celebrated the American holiday.
“When Joey has his head stuck in a chicken, it’s hilarious!” (sic)
My first hour in Jordan was so delightfully cross-cultural. The week would roll on like this. With Menal, I drank Armenian coffee (she called it Turkish, but we know) and read her future in the grounds the Armenian way, making it all up as I went along. (“Look! It’s three women in ball gowns! Their names are Joy, Wisdom … and Family.”) We were both delighted. In Za’atari Refugee Camp, I filmed a volleyball game and felt inadequate when I clumsily threw the ball back in to play (just like back home!). All week long I drove by Burger Kings and Hardee’s, then at night I walked by the shisha restaurants in my neighborhood.
On the second day the dust storm rolled in. This shocked me. My first day and a half had been crisp and blue and cool.
Then that storm rolled in with a haze you could breath.
Everything changed for me with that storm. I have been thinking about a conversation I had with a friend about the power of landscape, how it shapes you, how your soul fits into it like water in cup. Your soul takes on it’s shape.
Driving around Jordan, the desert overtakes you. You don’t get this feeling driving across the bridges of Amman or past Burger King, unless the landscape is reaching over the city and slapping the buildings with sand. The desert wins outside the city where there is only sand and rocks forever. Where will you go in this land? How would you ever fill this space?
I saw a pen of sheep not far from the highway when we drove to Za’atari Camp. The sheep were pressed up against each other in the pen. Next to the pen was a hut made of mud bricks with a tarp stretched from wall to wall to make a roof held down with stones. There was not a shrub in sight.
“What is he doing out here?” Tamer said. “What is he feeding them? There is no water.”
Tamer spoke for me. I live in a land of 10,000 lakes, and here I couldn’t find a puddle.
Five minutes later, with the pen of sheep behind us, I asked Tamer to turn up the radio. His favorite artist, Bon Jovi, was singing “Livin’ On a Prayer”, and we joined him, the car full of us singing into the desert, seeing how far we could reach with our voices.