For the second time in less than a year, I’m back in Jordan for a reporting trip.
I came to Amman in December 2014 as one of the fellows in UBC’s International Reporting Program. I remember that back then I kept trying to soak up every little aspect of the experience, because I was convinced that it was very unlikely for me to come back to the Middle East any time soon.
Well, life had different plans.
From a yellow-walled apartment near Amman’s Rainbow Street, I write these lines almost in disbelief. But here I am. The story of how I got here is long in struggles and filled with almost-miraculous events that I was only able to overcome thanks to the support of my partners-in-crime Hala Kamaliddin and Clea Machold. Long story short, we applied for an IDRC grant, got it, and are set to spend a month here reporting on an great story.
Still jet-lagged, we have managed to schedule interviews, settle in our temporary home, trouble-shoot plumbing issues, and stock our kitchen with canned fava beans foul, pita bread, fresh cheese, and cardamom coffee -whose smell has just spread throughout the whole house. We’ve also made good use of our time by mingling with the locals.
Today, that’s exactly what we did. Hala wanted to go to a bookstore she used to visit when she lived in Amman. We got there in the middle of the afternoon and were welcomed by an incredibly cheerful character, with whom we would spend the next couple of hours. His name is Sami and, believe it or not, he remembered my colleague even though he had not seen her in 10 years.
Hala approached him with an air of modesty, and started telling him who she was. In the middle of the sentence, she was interrupted by a burst of laughter. Sami knew who she was and from that moment on, a huge smile was printed on his face like a permanent tattoo.
Not only he remembered who my friend was, Sami was even able to recollect the type of books she likes. I guess that’s one of the abilities you develop as the owner of the oldest bookstore in downtown Amman.
While they caught up and discussed everything from politics to eBooks, Clea and I just nodded and smiled as we were able to grasp some specific words that allowed us to make sense of the parts of the conversation Hala didn’t have time to translate. But more than key-words, it was Sami’s energy and excitement what allowed us to make sense of what was going on.
At what point, he started coming in and out from his storeroom with several volumes he knew Hala would like. For every title, he had a story to share and sometimes even a photo of him posing with the book’s author.
Sami is definitely proud of his job.
Obviously — as the Arab he is — his generosity went beyond sharing his good mood and his literary wisdom. He also invited us for tea. In this case, a special treat: strong Iraqi tea with mint leaves.
As we sipped the tea and explored with our eyes the thousand titles that pack his 2×2 square-metre shop, Sami packed the books he brought for Hala, gave me a copy of the Qur’an as a present, and didn’t expect a full-payment right away. He expects us to go back. And we will. As he would say, insha’Allah.