Saturday, 9 October 2010


Jordanian flag near citadelImage by APAAME via FlickrAisha took us downhill into a leafy avenue of fine old houses before she gestured, her wooden bangles clacking. ‘This is the First Circle, the centre of old Amman and it’s becoming fashionable for cafés and bars. There’s a place here that may be within your budget, but it’s unfurnished. It’s just up the street from the Wild Café, quite a popular place that the Americans built as a gift to Jordan. They like to give us little gifts.’

I stayed quiet as Aisha pulled the car to a stop in front of a flight of stone steps leading up to a house that stood apart on the hillside, ornate wrought-iron railings protecting its windows and a vine trailing on the pergola in the garden to the front of it. I found myself following the swing of Aisha’s hips as she led the way up the steps from the road. She stopped abruptly at the top, turned to catch me looking at her bum and raised an eyebrow. I felt my face reddening. She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her burgundy handbag and offered them to me.

‘I don’t, thanks.’

‘Suit yourself,’ she said, lighting up and inhaling hungrily, her lipstick leaving a dark red mark on the white filter and her head raised to let the smoke go. I noticed she had ink on her fingers, like a naughty schoolgirl, an incongruity in someone so sophisticated. ‘It’s owned by a lawyer and his wife. It’s on two floors, there’s a Swedish guy who rents the upper floor. You would get the ground floor and the use of the garden area.’ She opened the door and waited for me to go in. It wasn’t huge, a traditional house built maybe in the thirties or forties and clad in pale Jordan stone. A green painted door led straight into the cool, terracotta-floored kitchen. I wandered around the echoing rooms before going back outside and standing in the lush little garden.

I looked out across to the Jordanian flag flapping merrily atop the Citadel, the central hill of the seven that Amman was founded upon. The buildings carpeting the city around us glowed deep orange in the sunset. I listened to the sound of a cricket in the bushes, taking in the fresh breeze and wishing time would stop and leave me with these feelings for ever. All thoughts of police charges and cells were gone, chased away by my joy at the little house. I heard Aisha’s step behind me and caught a whiff of her cigarette smoke, looking round and seeing the glow of the setting sun on her skin.

‘I want to live here.' I said, 'This is beautiful.’



‘It means thanks to God. Why do you look so worried if you like it?’

‘How am I going to furnish it?’

‘I can get the landlord to defer the first three month’s rent if you agree to leave the furniture behind you when you go.’

I glanced at Aisha, her brown eyes alive, gauging my reaction. I looked around the garden again, at the trellises and the wooden table and chairs under the vines. She ground the cigarette out under her foot. ‘Who’s the landlord?’ I asked.

Aisha walked back to the car. ‘Come on, I’ll take you to your hotel.’

I laughed and persisted. ‘Who’s the landlord?’

She stopped and turned, grinning. ‘My cousin.’ Then she flicked her hair at me and carried on down the steps.



And so, in the first serious book wot I wrote, Olives, Paul Stokes settles down into life in Jordan, where he is betrayed and in turn betrays because betrayal is all he eventually has left. I'm back in Amman, the country where the book is set, for the first time since I finished re-writing it and I'm grinning like an idiot to be back. The drivers always ask, 'Is this your first time in Jordan, seer?' and I enjoy the reaction to my, 'No, the sixty fourth' almost as much as I enjoy talking about petrol prices with London cabbies. I have spent a lot of time in this country and have many friends here. It's a sort of third home.

I called my pal Ra'ed and told him how very much I loved his country. His reaction, instinctively Jordanian, was 'Why? What's the problem?'

It's great to be back!
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Macthomson said...

Is the Paul Stokes story anywhere online? This sounds like my kind of read, as opposed to comedy... which is not my thing!

I only once visited Jordan to meet with Dr. Omar Al-Khatib, a well known scholar, academic and media personality, most famous for his television show 'Bank Alma’loomat'. The plan was to lauch a new interactive version on Abu Dhabi Television.

That never happened but Dr. Omar showed me his city which I found truly amazing and took me with his family on an outing to the Dead Sea.

From the Mövenpick resort I watched a sunset over 'the West Bank'... in the company of a sweet gentleman who passed away almost a year ago.

Oussama said...

This brings fond memories, I grew up in Amman at a time when Amman also grew. When the First Circle was no longer the center of the City. I remember drives to Wadi El Seer going across agricultural land of what is now the 4th through the 8th circles.
But What I remember most is the quite and lazy Summer afternoons when even the birds seemed to be taking a siesta.

alexander... said...

No, Mac, sorry. The first 10k were on authonomy for a while before the great POD scandal.

I rather hope it makes it onto paper one of the days!

jansait said...

Hi.. how can I contact you? is there an email i can use? thanks.

alexander... said...

I'm dead easily contactable on twitter at @alexandermcnabb or alexm at spotonpr dot com!

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