Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekends in Amman

     The wild, adventurous female side of me, the one who didn't really give a hoot about what she looked like, but who wanted more than anything to go exploring over the whole of the big, wide world, loved these weekend outings! I had read so many adventure stories growing up, and then when I was in college and my reading turned more towards cannonized male authors, I began to dream of living like Ernest Hemmingway, or Jack Kerouac, or Mark Twain, or Henry Miller, being free to travel and come and go as I pleased. To be an observer of and a participant in the world! To be like Amelia Earhart, who flew around the globe before she got lost at sea, or even like Agatha Christie. Of course, I didn't want a lover on every continent, or even one who stayed at home and waited for my return so much as I wanted a lover by my side. One who either showed me the world, or who saw it with me.
And so these weekends in Amman brought out the more spirited side of me as I donned one or the other of the only two clean outfits I had brought with me to change into when I wasn't digging. With my husband I would go walking the streets of this foreign capital city that had evidence of a rich occupational history that went back as far as almost 9,000 years (the city was known as Philadelphia, the southernmost city of the Decapolis, during Roman times), and which was now home to both Arabs and Palestinians alike since 1967. Hailing taxis that would take us exploring around the diverse areas located off of its eight city circles (or major roundabouts), we would visit its many restaurants and cafes and bakeries, its various shopping districts, making a special trip to the suq in the downtown district where interested travelers could buy gold and silver by weight, or to shops where we could purchase in-laid mother-of-pearl boxes or hand-crafted baskets or rugs, or to its more modern area with its multi-storied mall, or to its many museums and galleries, its archaeological sites, or even its grocery stores where we could buy, less expensively, Jordanian teas and spices (especially saffron, which is much cheaper over there than in the US) to take home with us. One afternoon we even went to a local movie theater where Robin Hood: Men in Tights was playing. After we purchased our tickets, we went inside where we were ushered to our assigned seats (which meant we didn't get to sit as close to the screen as we would have preferred). The voices, of course, had been dubbed in Arabic, using English subtitles which we read like with any other foreign film (except that the actors' lips really were moving to English words, so it was a little weird). Halfway through the movie there was an intermission (I think because most Jordanians smoke and needed the break!); again, something Americans are not used to, unless, of course, it is an extremely long Kevin Costner film! Anyway, the movie was hilarious, not only to us, but to the Jordanian movie patrons as well. As I sat there laughing at not only the slapstick humor, but also at some of the more subtle verbal humor, I wondered at how much of it could have possibly been accurately translated into the Arabic language! Even the fact that such a film as this was being shown in a Muslim country demonstrated how much less religiously restricted everyone was in the city (although I have to say, it didn't appear that many men brought dates to that film). But in Jordan everything was different! Everything was exotic! From the storefronts (in the cities and in the villages) displaying outside whatever was being sold inside, from animal carcasses, to tires or mufflers, to kitchenware, to children's clothing, or shoes; from all of the street signs and billboards and menus being written in Arabic (a script I have yet to learn to read, except for the word ALLAH); from the way people dressed, with all the men in their traditional red and white checkered headresses (keffiyehs), while some wore long robes (gumbazs) and sandals, and the women wore their long, sometimes more ornately embroidered robes (thobs), while still other men and women in Amman dressed more like westerners in suits, or slacks and dresses, or jeans (though every woman wore a scarf); from the way taxi drivers honked persistently as they drove, just barely missing hitting each other, screaming out words I didn't understand, and then always saying in English to us how much they wished they could get a visa to go to America. A fiercely masculine culture (and anti-homosexual culture) where young men often held hands as they walked down the street together, and where all men kissed each other on the cheeks when they greeted each other, and where women smoked hooka pipes after dinner along with their husbands and friends. Where restaurants had special seating for men dining alone, keeping them separated from the areas where families dined together, and where women never publicly touched any man, even their own husbands. A culture where there were no copyright laws, and where you could buy any music or movie you wanted if you just waited a minute while the store clerk made a copy for you if it weren't already on the shelf. A culture where you could walk into any drugstore and buy any drug over the counter. No prescriptions were ever needed. A culture where you could never buy alcohol except in fancy hotel restaurants. A culture where weddings lasted a week, where dogs were never kept as pets, and where showing someone the bottom of your foot was a sign of disrespect. All of this I took in and tried to remember and understand. The sights, the sounds, the foods, the smells; the religion, the language, the dress, the culture. It wasn't America, and it wasn't Europe. It was the Middle East, a place I had found myself in (for better or for worse) for eight weeks! And I was falling in love.