Saturday, December 15, 2012

Amman: the city with too many faces

My stay in Amman comes to an end soon. The day that first seemed far away is near. Almost a year since I stepped into this country with two bags and one tear I refused to shed. And yet, now that the day has come, something is drawing me to stay... a bit longer. How can I suddenly get attached to the city that I hated at first sight? What made me say I leave next month when I had the choice to say now, tomorrow, or simply next week? When the words came out of my mouth, they just seemed the right thing to say, as if I needed time to bid this city farewell, the city where extreme seems to be the adjective to everything;

Where sweets are too sweet and summers too hot; where the sea is too salty and the waiters too rude; where restaurants are too smoky and women too fake; where alcohol is too expensive and excessively consumed; where deliveries take too long. The city where women wear too much makeup and men too much perfume; where houses are too white and bridges too gray; where everywhere looks exactly the same.

The city with no color has a street named 'Rainbow'.

The city where drivers respect circles but not fellow drivers; Where they drive too fast, talk too fast and think too slow; The city where the people take pride in their clean streets but turn a blind eye to the filth of their politicians, where the features of a king and a queen and a teenage boy seem more familiar than those of their own mothers, fathers, and children. This city where ugliness stares you in the face, yet beauty crawls from around hidden corners.

The city where all roads take you to the old town.

The city where people dance a little and talk too much, dress a little and dress too much, party a little and smoke too much; where someone opened a liquor store in front of a mosque; The city where sexy lesbian prostitutes with Arab looks dance to stoned men in a nightclub where cocktails are not served and where music sucks, where outside a beggar boy watches drunk teenagers make out in the trunk of a jeep, where the bouncer wouldn't let you in because he misspelled your name when you made the reservation, where you realize after a few weeks that your name is never on the list and that if you do not reserve and lie, there is high chance you will get in. The city where the currency is overvalued and life cheap. Where workers work too much and are paid a little, where the rich are too rich and the poor too poor. The city where there are too many bookstores and too few books; the city where the young generation thinks change is too early and the older too late.

The city where more than half the population has two identities.

The city that made me an extremist; turned me into a racist; the city where I had a fight with every waiter, every taxi driver, every driver, later, even before they did anything. The city that made me a workaholic; this is the city where I had the best burger in my life and the worst night in my life; where I woke up too early to watch the sunrise; where I hated too much and loved too much.

The city where I wanted to take self defense classes but instead learned to cook and play the guitar.

The city that has nothing to export but dust; the city with too many roundabouts and too few smiles.

The city I hated at first sight, and as I am about to leave it, I got used to it.

Friday, December 14, 2012


A teacher once stood in class and told his students with a firm and serious tone: I am throwing a party tonight, but tomorrow you might have an exam and you might not. Those of you who show up at the party tonight will fail the exam, if it takes place and those who don't will pass, again if it takes place. Remember there might be an exam and there might just be another normal day. It's your choice.
Next morning, all students showed up in class; those who were at the party were teasing the rest about how fun the party was, and those who weren't were saying: we will see who will laugh last. Some of those who studied all night were arguing that there would certainly be an exam for there is no meaning to the dilemma otherwise. Some of those who partied all  night argued that there certainly won't be an exam for why would the teacher throw the party himself. Some were in doubt, among them were those who went to the party with a high sense of guilt and those who missed it but wished they were there. The students argued for hours, they started fighting, blood was spilled.

The teacher never showed up.

Even if paradise and hell were a sure thing, I still wouldn't give up the sinful joys of life if only as a mere act of rebellion. Why would I want to spend the rest of my eternity with such a manipulative super being?

Imagine this alternate ending: Next morning, the teacher shows up. Silence. The teacher spoke: those who attended the party may leave the room. The rest of you here is your exam: Describe last night's party.

How it started

When I first started writing, it was on any piece of paper I come across, tissues sometimes. I would just write anything that comes to my mind. Just filling the whiteness of the paper. I do not wish to make it look very poetic because it wasn't. It was more like enjoying the exercise of emptying a pen on a piece of paper. Was it an urge to write? an impulse? maybe not. If I were talented at drawing, I would have preferred to draw. But I wasn't and I knew how to read and write, so I wrote. Mostly nonsense and nobody read it. I hated my writings, they were like my alter ego, everything I hate to be, but I knew that it was everything I was. When I later wrote stuff that I would not be ashamed of showing to others, they all turned out to have a very sarcastic voice. In between these two phases, I kept a teenage diary and wrote hundreds of love letters (to a real person). Years later, all my letters were sent back to me. I never sent his.
I still enjoy the same exercise but instead of emptying a pen on the whiteness of a paper, I play on the laptop keyboard  to make letters appear on the screen. What you read is the mere result of that. 


I was thinking the other day that there is no state of happiness, only a state of absence of unhappiness; In other words, you are happy if you are not unhappy. And then I realized that the overarching reason for unhappiness, besides the direct reasons, is Habit. Think of it: we are more unhappy when we are deprived of, or when we lose, something (or someone) than we are happy (read: not unhappy) when we have it. That's why they tell you you do not value what you have until you lose it. Because you are more unhappy when you lose it than you were happy when you had it. Take money for example: unhappiness without money is greater than happiness with money. Another example: we are much more unhappy when we lose someone we love (breakup for example or death) than we are happy when we have this person. why? Habit.

The only state of happiness I can think of -though very short-lived- is when there is what I would call "intervention" a sudden turn of event that for instance makes a very poor person rich overnight or a dying person heal from illness. But soon after habit sneaks in. So basically what brings unhappiness is developing a habit over a certain possession (people, health, whatever you can think of). So on the long run, what you develop a habit at having will eventually and gradually make you unhappy: it starts as mild (habit of having it eventually kills the thrill), then becomes moderate (fear of losing it), and ultimately, profound (losing it)... Some people like to explain this notion by saying that unhappiness comes from dependency on a certain need, in other words, if you do not develop or get attached to this need, you do not have to suffer when deprived of it, losing it or wanting to have it. Others tend to believe that is rather goals that make us unhappy, the striving for something that exists outside us rather than looking inward for that happiness that lies within... but that's taking it to a totally mystic level. But if it makes you feel good about yourself, don't get too used to it, habit, remember?

That's very Freudian. I know but it wasn't Freud who inspired me.

When we were kids, my sister used to say, mainly to tease me: don't do anything... nothing happens (nothing bad she meant). How I loved to argue and prove her wrong. With that motto in life, I used to say, you cannot be unhappy, true, but you cannot be happy either.. wait, that's the point, so she was right all along, though simple the words she used. Avoiding causes of unhappiness is also Freudian though I doubt she knew about Freud back then.

Freud believed that happiness was not in the plan of creation in the first place, even though that's what humans strive to achieve. But I like this idea better in the words of Woody Allen in Annie Hall: "I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable.” Got the idea?

That moment...

When someone explains to you, in a manner of educating you, and for free, out of love of spreading knowledge,  about the only subject you are an expert in, and breaking it to you with: you do not know that.. let me tell you.... You go: wallah? tell me more, please.