Live blogging simply isn’t possible for me here in Jordan. As much as I’d like to send out minute by minute reports on what I’m seeing and doing, I won’t be able to do more than copy my notes from notepad to computer screen a day or two after events transpire. The only live blogging I could do would be from either the internet cafe or the little restaurant next to my hotel with the wireless connection and, I assure you, such “live blogging” would get a little old, unless you were interested in “A Minute Report on the Daily Work of a Jordanian Waiter” or “Interior Decor and Ambiance of Jordanian Internet Cafes”. Instead, I submit to you an excerpt from my notebook, written during my weekend trip to the port city of ‘Aqaba.
‘Aqaba on the Red Sea is a very different place than most tourist stops in the Middle East. Even though it is a tourist center it has somehow managed to retain a mormalacy of daily living that I never saw in any of the tourist locales I’ve visited in Egypt, Tunisia, or Lebanon. The city center is only minutes from the fancy hotels but there still are surprisingly few tourist shops or english signs, no pushy vendors, and hardly a raised eyebrow or attempt to attract the attention of an obvious foreigner.
I finally managed to get away from the fancy resort hotel that my fellow traveller elected for us to stay at and am sitting alone at a little street-side restaurant/shawerma stand. Tonight a big soccer game between Jordan and some guys in white uniforms (the Arabic script on the TV screen is too small for me to read) and it seems that at least 80% of the men in this city have gathered in the alleys behind the coffee shops and in the windows surrounding the restaurants airing the game. Sitting among these men, I have a sense of unity and commonality with them that transcends the language barrier and the differences created by cultural dispositions. It is calming, reassuring even, to sit and share a common love with these men who, I am told, are miles apart from my way of seeing the world. Crisp footwork and fluid teamwork can be appreciated, by Christian and Muslim, hawk and dove, alike. One of the things I most enjoy, and am continually conscious of, is the similarities that exist between the people I meet whenever I travel. Surely there are great differences between a conservative Christian from America and an old Muslim street cleaner, but I find the common nature of man is more pronounced when surrounded by manifold differences.
Whoa! Hold on! A fist fight just started behind me and the whole cafe jumped up to break it up. I can’t understand the problem, but one of the cafe workers has apparently angered another man. Quite the crowd is gathering around to stop and gawk at the combatants; but it is over before it even really got started. A number of men almost immediately jumped in and got between the fighters, holding them back and shaming them for the behavior. After breaking up the fight, the peacemakers bring it to the attention of some police. Now there is a small group gathered around the police booth, each trying to eplain what happened and why. I think I would have felt much more nervous witnessing a street fight in my home city, but here I only felt an idle curiousity; personal danger only crossed my mind briefly, but it was pretty obvious that the bystanders here knew exactly how to diffuse the situation and keep it from getting out of hand.
Hmmm….back to my thoughts on ‘Aqaba. It is interesting to compare this city to the capital of Jordan where I’ve been staying and living. The very first thing I’ve noticed is that traditional clothing is in much greater abundance here among men and women than in the city center of ‘Amman. There are a lot more galabayahs (robes, or “man-dresses”), especially white ones on the men, and a lot more full black dresses and veils among the women. In contrast to the traditional clothes, this is the first place that I’ve seen Jordanian men wearing shorts. It may seem odd that even 90 degree weather in ‘Amman doesn’t bring out summer tank tops and shorts the way it would in the States, but Arab-Muslim culture is much more conservative in its dress (in certain ways) than the Western countries. Still, my guess is that I’m seeing shorts here in ‘Aqaba, not because it is more Westernized than ‘Amman (it certainly is not), but perhaps because shorts are seen as lower-class apparel of the type that trendy ‘Ammanians wouldn’t be caught dead in.
One thing I love about sitting out in one of the open coffee shops that are so popular in this country is watching the men interact with one another. It is obvious that these men know each other and probably frequent this restaurant often. Guys sitting down to Pepsi and falafel sandwhiches (it’s nearly 11:00 PM, but I don’t think it is ever too late for good falafel) shout greetings to men waking by, occasionally jumping up to greet one another with a kiss, insisting that they sit down and join them at their meal, if only for a minute. The affability of these men contrasts severely with their macho appearance and persona. Most have some sort of facial hair—sporting two days stubble seems to be the popular look—, dark eyes and wear either punk style shirts and pants (the younger crowd) or slacks and polo or dress shirt with rolled sleeves (the older group).
Even thought I’m sitting in the middle of a city, the place has local feel that I’ve never experienced in any city in the States. It is common to see people stop and greet each other in passing, as though they were old friends, families walk up and down the streets between stall selling food, drink, household appliances, cell phones, and clothes, and clusters of young people stop to talk in the plazas and on the street corners. Perhaps this is one of the things that attracts me to the Middle East. Although the news anchors might have us believe that the region is nothing but turmoil and struggle and warfare, the fact remains that life goes on among these people, and in a neighborly manner that I’ve only heard of from my grandfather’s stories about life in Smalltown, USA in the twenties and thirties. While this is certainly a generalization, it is still true that life is lived a little more fully here; even though the average person works more and makes a lot less than the average American, he still seems to be able to find time for maintaining relationships and focusing on the people around him.
Whatever else can be said for the Arab, he certainly cannot be accused of not knowing what it is to care for his brother…although, I might add, God help the man who is not his brother.
Other posts on my travels in Jordan: