“I want to give you a time you will never forget,” said Shaddi, my taxi driver and guide to some of the ancient sites in the city of Amman, Jordan – the citadel, an old Umayyad castle, and the amphitheater. He told me this as we were eating our falafel sandwiches in a park. He then proceeded to lavish me with praise and tell me about the pleasure he wanted to give me, using words such as “my queen,” “rose,” and “moon.” I tried not to laugh.
I said I was flattered, but that I did not feel the same way about him. To my surprise this did not deter him. I thought about the Arabic literature I have read and the flowery language used by the men when wooing girls. Shaddi’s English was quite good, but it was clear he was translating into English the expressions he normally used in Arabic. And he kept talking and talking and talking.
He told me about the love of his life, an Israeli girl. Her parents had told Shaddi to leave her alone, because they felt that an Israeli could never marry an Arab. She had not argued with them. Since then his life had been filled with short love affairs, especially with foreign women, whom he knew would not be around long enough for him to fall in love with them (a strange thing to say, I thought, to a girl you are trying to pick up). I never felt threatened, but he was certainly persistent.
I was in Amman for the World Economic Forum. MEND were there to do fundraising, but more importantly to make contacts that might help the organization’s sustainability in the future. Unfortunately, I could not go to the Forum on the Dead Sea because it was only for executives and heads of organizations. Instead, I remained in Amman to keep things organized, make appointments, and deal with the small emergencies that arose. I’m impressed, not only with the aspirations of this small organization, but by how far they’ve come and the response they’ve been getting from those who will listen. The small size of their staff and their relatively young age has not deterred them, and the disorganization that I see everyday in the office has not hampered them. They have taken full advantage of this great opportunity.
My time in Amman was mainly spent staying in the Howard Johnson Palace Hotel, and going to the Safeway, the 7-11 and the mall. All of the restaurants I went to were no different from trendy eateries in DC, and while the architecture was clearly Middle Eastern, in many ways the city blocks were very Western. These things made an impression on me, and not simply because of the extent of the westernization taking place. Amman is only 80km from Jerusalem and a large percentage of its population is Palestinian, yet it is worlds away from Beit Hanina and Shu’fat. I am aware that I saw the elite part of Amman, and that which caters heavily to tourists, but even the areas of Amman that are not as wealthy seem cleaner and better off than the middle class suburbs of East Jerusalem. I have read about the guilt that some Palestinians living in the diaspora feel, since they did not stay and are not living under occupation or in one of the refugee camps. Now that I have had the chance to see the difference in living standards between those who left and those who stayed, I can better understand why.
Posted By Caitlin Williams
Posted Jun 27th, 2003