(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for Jordan

Nazi Barista

Leaving Jordan, I ordered a Turkish coffee from the comfortable looking counter-and-chairs cafe at the entrance of Queen Alia Airport. As he stirred, the barista launched into a long account of his extra-curricular activities: listening to music, reliving the glory of the Third Reich, and playing in a cover band in his friend Rashid’s garage.

He loved languages, too. French, he spoke as a resident of the outer reaches of a Francophone mandate. English, he’d taught himself in just three years from books and television. Italian, he wanted to learn because it is as beautiful as the women who speak it. And German.

“Why German?” he bid I ask him.
I hazarded: “Tons of German tourists. And you’ll learn easy — it’s like English.” Wrong.
“I love Hitler!”

This is when I started recording, furtively, on my phone. Listen below, and/or follow along with our fragmented negotiations about the actuality of certain facts, and my sad, scant accounts of ancient history.

NB: … I think myself he is true.
A: He’s true?
NB: Yeah.
A: How do you mean ‘he’s true’?
NB: ‘Heil Hitler’. [laughs]
A: What do you mean? Well yeah, but there are a lot of people that do terrible things but that doesn’t make them… good guys
NB: Ah okay. Like you… — I love a strong man, okay.
A: Sure.
NB: Yeah. It’s a strong man, this will be a good man for the future. Because… I have a lot of things for the Hitler, okay. I read it, what Hitler [—] listen all the [—], get [—] for him. I love that.
A: But there are lots of strong men —
NB: — yeah it’s a strong man
A: — that are not mass murders.
NB: But I love him! Everybody here ‘why you love Hitler?’ I love Hitler! [laughs]
A: But he — but he was killing people, you know.
NB: — okay, okay…
A: — like children, and people that did nothing.
NB: Not children.
A: Tons of children. [pause] Oh, tons of children.
NB: No.
A: Babies, children, everyone.
NB: No.
A: You know in Germany they had these camps, they just took entire families sent them [—]. The only people that lived were the guys that could work and most of them died anyway.
NB: Yeah.
A: But men were kept alive to like, you know —
NB: Okay
A: — work, but babies, children, women, oh my god —
NB: Okay I know.
A: That can’t be good.
NB: I know. That’s, that’s point is — not good for him.
A: That’s one thing against him, yeah.
NB: That’s one — Just one, that’s one —
A: Well…
NB: That’s a point that’s not good for him. It’s a [—] not good for, the world is hate him because that’s point.
A: Well, it’s —
NB: Yeah.
A: It’s — it’s a big one.
NB: Yeah.
A: There aren’t many bigger points to make about a person —
NB: [laughing] yeah —
A: — than that they kill women and children
NB: Yeah, but he’s when — have like a king is very — very cool [—]
A: Right.
NB: And like a king is very good. Cause he’s strong man. I love him!
A: But the you know like Alexander the Great, you know, big guy — he did some debatable things —
NB: Yeah
A: — you know — there’s, there could be some problems, but still really strong and did some also amazing things.
NB: Don’t kill anybody, don’t kill anything.
A: Yeah he did kill people — so that’s not great. But he also expanded culture and you know, made the world a, a you know —
NB: Like a mixing for…
A: Mixing was good, yeah.
NB: Yeah.
A: Hitler wasn’t so much about the mixing or the sharing, it was kinda like —
NB: [laughs]
A: — let’s get — like, he wouldn’t — you might’ve like — he wouldn’t’ve liked you though.
NB: Yeah.
A: He wouldn’t’ve — I don’t think he would’ve been friends.
NB: It’s hot or cold?
A: It’s hot, it’s great coffee.
NB: Yeah?
A: Yeah, it’s really good.

Instant Billionaire

They all sat outside the amphitheater selling bills, most no longer worth their ink, most from a decade of a ruler demised, or a leader deposed. Saddam Hussein glared up from the street, girdled in wide greenish-blue dinar. Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and African heads of state lay side by side in neat spreads replicated near identically by each squatting vendor.

For 1 JD, about a buck-fifty, any one of them can be yours. Buy more and strike bargain territory. I took greater interest in those currencies long out of print, those minted in a day when one language was good enough and a banknote never traveled far. Just across the border from a land divided, a land that was once theirs, these money markets are the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what the bill can buy now. It doesn’t matter what it ever could have bought. It doesn’t matter what it’s selling for on eBay — now it costs one Jordanian Dinar.

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(في هذه الظروف (جزء الثاني — Under These Circumstances (Part Two)

Part One
Part Two

“Let’s go, man.”

We took the long way back to the parking lot, every moment asking why? — why are we doing this? why are you doing it with me? Given each action, each movement, under what circumstances would they make sense? If you’re trying to rob me? If you’re just trying to hang out?

“I don’t normally come here,” Salim said about the downtown quarter. “But I like to walk with company, because of this one.” He patted his belly.

He walked me into a falafel shop — I’d mentioned I was hungry. I ordered one, then two, and Salim paid. Weird. Sure, they were about 50 cents each, but when did a cab driver ever take his fare to lunch? Either he felt it was only fair considering how many thousands of dollars of electronics and dirty sweatshirts he was going to steal from me, or he bizarrely wanted to make a nice gesture for a tourist in his city.

Whatever his game, I decided to fight back. We paused at a streetside tea vendor. I paid. Maybe if I was nice enough, and melted his heart with warm mint tea, he’d call off the hit.

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(في هذه الظروف (جزء الاول — Under These Circumstances (Part One)

“Seventy-five dinar,” the dispatcher said.
“No. It’s thirty to the airport, and it’s not more than twice that.”
“Okay. Forty-five.”

It all seemed a bit too easy, but for sixty dollars I had hired a driver from the Hussein Bridge Border Crossing to take me into downtown Amman, and later, to the airport —more than two hours of total driving. Plus, I’d have three hours to see the Jordanian capital before my flight back to Abu Dhabi. I put my duffel in the trunk, jammed my backpack into the back seat and slid in the front.

Salim was from Palestine and had lived almost everywhere his visa would let him. He lit a cigarette and spoke in better English than my Arabic.

“How’s Abu Dhabi?”
“Abu Dhabi’s okay,” I told him. “Hot. Jordan’s so nice in the wintertime.”
“I don’t like the cold.”

After an hour and a half and several bouts of involuntary napping, I opened my eyes at the city limits, where swaths of identical square houses cover every inch of hillside. Where Jerusalem stone is white, textured, the façade of Amman is yellow and brown, its flat boxes textured only by pressing against and climbing over one another like a cubist painting.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting… to Take Buses from Amman to Tel Aviv

The Conclusive Guide to Crossing (In and Out Of)
Jordan by Land

If I’d spent Hanukkah in the United Arab Emirates, I had to spend Christmas in Israel. At a dark 5:30 in the morning, a muezzin belted out the dawn Call to Get Moving from the Grand Mosque. We few “Members of the Tribe” left for an 8:00 flight to Jordan, the civilized among us connecting to Tel Aviv by air. Not me. Here’s how to do it by bus:
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