Thursday, April 09, 2009


There is a beautiful stillness to the air. In the minutes before twilight, nothing moves, and the serenity of the desert at dusk steals over the land. Muted lighting casts the tawny buildings in rose-colored softness; the green olive trees turn almost silver as the fading light brushes their leaves; the budding spring flowers turn towards the departing light, almost wistfully; the shadows of the gardens below deepen, and the trailing vines snake almost menacing along the low wall.

And, then, I hear it. Sunset. The mosque next door begins to chant, building in volume as the “Allah Akbars” add up. Doors slam in the flats downstairs, and men shuffle towards the mosque to perform the 4th prayer of the day. The scent of cooking is suddenly discernable on the air, drifting up from the neighbors below. A game of football commences in a nearby driveway, and the thump of the ball and the cries of children weave smoothly into the melody of the mosque.

Twilight. A balance of light and dark, day and night, suspended between an end and a beginning. Absent of sunshine and darkness, stuck somewhere in between. Emptiness.

This concept of emptiness is interesting, because it falls at a time of year when life is flourishing-reservoirs are overflowing with water, spring flowers are pushing stubbornly through the brittle ground, trees are sprouting green shoots of life. But, in a sense, it is devoid of meaning…In a few weeks, the flowers will wither and die, the leaves shrivel and brown in the relentless sunshine; in a few months, the reservoirs will be drained. A feeble gesture, it seems, this attempt at reconciliation, at renewing promises. I endure, each day, for those moments when life sparks verily, and the commonplace duplicity is replaced by the genuine. When emptiness is a refuge, not a void, when life’s twilights are a balance between truth and lies, mirth and sorrow.

Souq Hour, on a Friday. Waking up to the muted light of cloudy sunshine, scrambling eggs on the stove, walking for an hour to Dahayat Al-Rashid and meeting Jessica Jane, cabbing downtown to the chaos of Friday market in Abdali, walking amid the tables of second-hand shoes and overstocked clothes, ducking between the racks of children’s pants and women’s lingerie, dodging families with small children and Filipino maids searching for bargains, finding one in a pair of boots for yourself, encountering Sarah, your Arab friend, on the other side of a stack of purses, discovering a genuine University of Minnesota cheerleader's top amid the racks of tank tops, quite curious as to how it ended up in Amman, extricating yourself from its chaos to amble, with Jess and Sarah, Downtown, past the mosque of Al-Hussein, past the gold and silver sellers, past the embroidered gowns and patterned scarves, past the juice and tea sellers, past the pirated DVD stores and Petra souvenirs, into the calmness of Jafra, where a salad accompanies weary chatter.

Sheep Hour, on a Thursday. Looking out the window of your flat to espy the incongruity of a herd of sheep frolicking in the empty lot-turned-verdant-meadow next door, walking downstairs and amongst the furry beasts, laughing as the little lambs bleat and bound in short leaps over the uneven ground, smiling as their mothers maaaaaa as you approach, trotting away on spindly legs, gulping as the tautly muscled and horned ram stares at you, cooing as you cuddle the softness of the lamb you captured (see pic: left) , taking a photo of Jessica with the lamb she wanted to catch but could not (and so enlisted the aid of the shepherd, all too willing to aid the foreign women romping among the sheep like nymphs from a fairy tale).

Happy Hour, on a Wednesday. Sipping vodka and sodas in La Calle, whispering secrets across the table, tottering out of the bar, arm in arm, pausing at the top stair of descent, gazing in undiminshed awe at the Roman ruins of the Citadel soaring over the city, sloshing through the ‘sewage’ water from Jebel Amman to Downtown, laughing all the way…

Language Hour, on a Tuesday. Sitting on the steps of the Language Center, as usual, while conservatively veiled Heba joins you, drinking in the sun in your short-sleeved tee-shirt, tilting back your loose hair to catch streaming rays of golden sunlight, chatting with your friends as they pass you by, teaching Heba the phrase “leg waxing” in English, listening to your voice grow in confidence as the Arabic flows, incredulously, from your lips, sketching in your notebook as you attempt to explicate the meaning of traffic cone in Arabic. You succeed.

Kidnapping Hour(s), on a Monday. Loitering in the Raghdan bus station for an hour, Jessica and Rebecca, several inches shorter, on either side, watching humanity amble past, seeing black abayas brush colorful skirts and tight jeans, glancing boldly into the midnight eyes of a woman obfuscated behind a face veil, sighing in relief as Heba finally arrives, on Arab time, and escorts you to her home, a cool, half-constructed house overlooking the environs of East Amman, eating chicken and rice and salad until you nearly burst, and then eating more because that’s what you do in the Arab world, sipping the delicacy of Pepsi after the meal, sitting with her mother and sister for hours, chattering in rapid-fire Arabic and actually contributing to the conversation, stuttering as you find yourself the sole defender of the Jewish religion, wondering why you are the defender of the Jewish religion, realizing that you enjoy being the incendiary element in a conversation, indicating a desire to leave in the early afternoon, sipping tea several hours later, helping Heba write a 5-paragraph essay on the ideal vacation, thinking that Heba has likely never gone on the ideal vacation unless a pilgrimage to Mecca is your idea of an idyllic respite, piling into a cab, 7 hours after arriving, and listening to the splatter of rain on the windshield, grateful that rain, to your knowledge, doesn’t speak Arabic.

Teaching Hour, on a Sunday. Walking to school through the morning coolness, grimacing as the second carload of men shouts lewdities, blissfully ignorant due to country music serenading from my earbuds classes have ended at the language center, and you linger in the restaurant, Saveen, nearby, talking between mouthfuls of egg and hummus with your classmates, walking from the university to Khalda, down Sharia Medina Al-Munowarra, over to Sharia Gardens, up the giant hill, and down again, entering the gates of Zaha Center, nodding to the guards, trudging past the bright red buildings and yellow-shaded window sills, passing into the library, a clamor of children rushes in, fighting for the seats closest to you, calling for quiet, you begin the lesson, showing them the bribe of chocolate to the best student, calming their recalcitrance down with a smile, dismissing them with fondness, contemplating the walk home, and catching a cab.

Saturday. It is neither sleep nor wakefulness, but a dreamy state of drifting. It is too late to go home, and too early for beauty...

The curtains of the sunroom fall back, soundlessly, and the crepuscular light fades into darkness. A thousand memories meld into a mingling of color, laughter, fear, frustration, ecstasy, betrayal, triumph, exhaustion, and Arabic. My moment of luminescence fades, and my twilight turns to night. I settle in on the loveseat contentedly. Soon, the dark will dissipate, and mingle with the recrudescence of morning. A new kind of twilight is born, a new balance is created, a new clarity is realized….

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