Sunday 17 November 2019

Into The Light - Remembering the 2005 Amman Bombings

The names of the 57 victims of the 2005 Amman bombing remembered 

We have got into the habit of collecting a poster from all the places we visit and there's a very big, very white wall in our villa which is hung with many of these. It's full now, so we've started using the floor. So Bohemian, dahling.

Two of special significance (I've mentioned 'em before) come from an exhibition held in Amman to protest the 2005 Amman Bombings. One of the sponsors of the show was the PR company wot I used to work for, Spot On PR, which was one of very many reasons I was deeply proud of said company.

Our Jordan office was in the Zara Centre, connected to the Grand Hyatt Amman - one of the three hotels targeted by Al Qaeda/Daesh in the attack. We had organised a large number of, often very large scale, events there over the years and we knew the staff of the hotel very well indeed. A great number of them were cut down by the bomb, a 'dirty bomb' packed with nails and ball bearings, which ricocheted around the stone-walled lobby lounge in an evil fusillade of high speed projectiles that tore through flesh and smashed glass and furniture.

A friend was at the front desk in the lobby at the time of the blast, thankfully for her it was set in a dogleg away from the main lobby and she watched the glass walled entrance of the hotel shatter as the concussion wave and deadly hail of projectiles passed her by. She was entirely unharmed by the whole thing.
The bomb scythed through them, an awful parabola of concussing violence, bodies flung against the screaming living, glass flying and tearing cloth, biting flesh. The bar in pieces, bottles smashed. Drink streamed down the broken wood.
The force hit me, shards flying in the air, tossed me back against the wall. I saw Aisha’s hair thrown up in a surreal halo as she jerked backwards and hit the bar with a sickening force that distorted her fine features.
Faux beams falling, a woman crawling towards me as I staggered to my feet, deafened. An awful silence, mouths open, soundless screaming. A man walking, his hands to his ears and blood running down his face like rain, the falling drops spattering on the dusty floor in a steady flow like a broken gutter. I felt wetness on my cheek, saw the blood on my fingers. Aisha. Aish.
A woman lay on the floor, her head thrown back and her eyes impossibly wide, her hair fanned out on the wooden boards, her hips jerking obscenely, nostrils flared. The iron tang of blood.
Dust, coughing, thick dust. Ring a ring of roses. I turned, alone. Small fires as the drapes burned up, smoke and dust, choking me. Silence as I turned, gaping, torn flesh around me, open wounds, tangled limbs and open mouths, dresses torn and dead eyes blurring as I turned around, brown flesh, white flesh, red flesh. Brown, white, red. Children playing and mother calling us in from the sun for tea. A pocket full of posies. Whirling madness. Choking smoke and stillness, except for a single dark figure, spinning in the middle of the deadly tableau.
Aisha. Aisha. Aisha.
I’m somewhere white and beautiful, the breeze caressing my skin and she calls out, answering me as I come to a standstill, screaming her name as I double up in pain.
The olive trees are her courtiers, the olive princess.
I actually first wrote Olives - A Violent Romance in 2004*, and the idea of a bombing in an Amman hotel back then was inconceivable. Despite being in a very tough neighbourhood indeed, Amman had been a peaceful haven for decades. When the actual bombings happened, I never thought of my fictional bombing for a second - it was later, much later, that I went back to that manuscript and saw the bomb I had imagined and made the connection to the one that actually took place.

When I checked into the Grand Hyatt on my trip to attend the show, the week after the bombings, I was one of sixteen guests in the 311-room hotel. The lobby had been completely blocked off with plasterboard. Behind it was wreckage and dark bloodstains - the cleanup and reconstruction hadn't even started. There was a gift-wrapped book waiting for me in my room and I thought it was a 'Thanks for being a brave little guest' present. It wasn't - it was to mark my 40th stay in the hotel. I hadn't been counting, but the Grand Hyatt team had.

I added my stays in other hotels and started keeping track myself. Now, when I land in Jordan and the airport pick-up asks the inevitable, 'Is this your first time in Jordan, Seer?' I can happily tell them, 'No, it's my 74th.'

It does tend to rather take the wind out of their sails, bless 'em...

*Oh, God. 19 years ago!

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