Saturday, June 17, 2006

We told the taxi driver where we wanted to go.
Ah, he said, but it's a guys (shabab) place.
I didn't quite understand. R took me there last year and it was very westernized cozy hangout. I
couldn't quite imagine it as a men-dominated middle eastern cafe . Maybe in the evenings? or maybe he had some other place in mind? it didn't make sense.
Is it not a good place for a woman? asked K from the back seat of the taxi.
No, there's no problem, he assured her. it's just a shabab place.
When we got there - I recognized the huge balcony with wall painted blue - I was about to leave the taxi, as he whispered to me, cheerfuly: hada gay place!
now it clicked.

and certainly the vibe was there, although it wasn't not exactly Soho, or the Vauxhall Tavern.

* * *

Where am I from? the taxi drivers ask me and I say London. But then I usually add (depends how comfortable I feel) - originally from alquds.
Israeli yaani?

Most of them - actually all of them I think - are Palestinians, so I ask where exactly. Many Jerusalemites, some Nablusi. One Nablusi guy told me he can't go to visit anymore - since Sharon went to the Haram - but the family sends them olive oil from their grove.
Is it better from local Jordanian oil?
He looked at me reproachfully.
Are you joking? a thousand times better.

* * *

H is a friend of the friend I'm staying with. He gave me a lift back home; I found him soft spoken, pleasant to talk with, and extremely cynical. He's into real estate and construction here
, which is the right place to be: Amman property market is booming, construction work is everywhere. 'It's Iraqi money' he told me. 'They come here with suitcases full of banknotes'.
Where's the money from?
The war, he shrugged. They're stealing everything. You can see them here on the roads, always driving the most expensive cars.
And aren't you afraid that the troubles in Iraq will spill over to Jordan?
The more troubles our neighbours have, the better off we are, he said. Jordan is prospering on Iraqi money. Problems in Lebanon, Palestine? they'll all come here. I'm waiting to see how it works with Syria, or Iran. We'll make a profit. It's good for us. We're the only safe place in this region.

Perhaps he was being deliberately cynical, but as far as I could see he meant it. I didn't know how to react, and I was relieved to see that we had reached my host's house. There was something about him I liked, as much as I was appalled. He made no claim to be morally justified: he made it clear he was taking advantage of the world as it was. A line from Monkey Grip came to my mind: 'you're the emeny, mate, the ruling class. What are we going to do about it?'

It's stupid and simplistic, I know. But what do you do with people who have benefited enormously from globablization and its discontents - here, everywhere - and are unwilling to face the consquences for the much larger number of people whose lives have become much more difficult? Here in Jordan it is extremely visible: the gap between the poor and the rich is visible, but also the desperation of Palestine on one side, and the even worse devastation of Iraq on the other.

Visiblity is a key word. Living in the West, we do not see the consequences of our way of life, we do not see our slaves, our servants: the people on whose backs we are living. The agricultural labourers in Banana plantations, the hifi factory workers in Malaysia, the people making our clothes in Chinese sweatshops. What one doesn't see, doesn't exist. Perphas we are less ostentatious than the splurdging nouveaux-super-rich of "developing" countries. But can we claim to be morally different? The fact that I - personally - hardly paticipate in this economy, that I live on waste (my clothes found, my food skipped) - does not exempt me. I know well my current way of life is not much more than a fluc, a temporary arrangment.

* * *

Sorry. Didn't meant to be so serious and gloomy. It is a sunny day, and the air in Amman is amazingly fresh sweet. It's even better from the air in Jerusalem air.

I enjoyed the conference. Met some sisters and brothers-in-arms (or in-laptops). Exchanged emails and bibliographies. Practiced my rusty arabic - the drivers must find my accent strange. Since the last time I properly spoke Arabic was with Sinai Beduins, I keep saying Han and Hanak instead of Hon and Honak (for 'Here' and 'There). Heard good presentations which got my intellectual andernaline going (a good paper is better than drugs). Met my most admired social historian of Modern Palestine, Salim Tamari from Beir Zeit. Going home Sunday, to the Elephant and Castle.


The Letter N said...

it must have been books at cafe, i cant think of anywhere else that fits the description. i wish we were there too, it would have been fun to hang out. so, um, what's your research on?

mink said...

"Shitty beginnings - sewage in British ruled Palestine and the introduction of Water Closet to the holy land"

btw yes it was Books Cafe