Monday, July 16, 2012

The Moments That I Haven't Mentioned: Part 1

So, contrary to all the negativity I've been trying to gracefully express in recent posts, lots of good things happen in Amman too.

Today, after spending roughly three hours writing in a coffeeshop and catching up with my mother, I stepped into the brutally hot madness that is Sharia Jamia, or, University Street. Trying to catch a cab between 12:30 and 5 is virtually impossible. There are girls who move in packs and swipe taxis, and mousy teenaged boys who pop up out of nowhere and slide into cabs before you can really process what's going on. Plus, there aren't really any cabs to be had. They're all occupied, hustling busy Ammanites from place to places. It was with this knowledge that I ventured into the street at roughly 3 pm today, clutching my laptop and kicking myself for having broken my sunglasses. Squinting into oncoming traffic, I foresaw a long wait, and I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable break in sanity that accompanies these moments.

About seven or eight minutes into my wait, I finally get a taxi flagged down. He pulls in front of me, but then I remember that there's an elderly woman with her middle aged son behind me, and I offer them the cab. They gratefully accept and speed away in what might have been my vessel of escape. My twinge of regret is quickly countered by an image of the woman, Arab soap opera style, falling to the ground with heat stroke and her son melodramatically falling to his knees and screaming as I zoom away in a cab and the people in the streets curse my name. Better to avoid that scenario and find another cab.

Thinking I see one that is empty, I raise my right arm with exhaustion. The cab pulls in front of me, and perhaps the most regal looking woman I have ever seen in my life motions for me to come into the cab. I shuffle forward in my confused, sweaty, and disheveled state. I confirm that my destination is acceptable to the driver, and jump in, thanking the queen in the back seat in breathy Arabic.

She tells me she is heading to the University Hospital, and that from there Faisal will take me wherever I want. Her voice is soft but sure, and I turn to thank her. She is swathed in a black abaya, with a dark rose hijab surrounding her face and making her glow like sunset.  Her eyes are lined with bright black kohl, and her thick, arched eyebrows run parallel to her windswept cheeks. The smile she gives me only serves to illuminate her further. I hold to the belief that God manifests in many different forms throughout our day, and in this moment, she appeared to be no less than an angel of mercy.  Something told me I was in the presence of royalty, and I repeated, "Shukran jiddan," still dazed and out of breath.

Her name was Aem, and though she didn't speak much English and I don't speak much Arabic, we managed to hold a pretty substantial conversation with the help of Faisal. She told me she made Faisal stop because she thought I was beautiful, and it was not nice for women to have to wait for taxis anyways. She told me she was a teacher, and that I reminded her of one of her students. I couldn't believe she thought I was beautiful, when she was easily the most striking person I have ever seen in real life.  She teaches writing and literature at a private high school, so I told her writing was my first love (which is something I've only realized recently). She touched her hand to her heart and smiled wide. By this time, we had reached the hospital and we both got out of the car to say goodbye. We kissed three times on the cheek, as is the Arab custom, and I wished her well before she went on her way. My heart swelled with the sentiment of unexpected sisterhood.

I slid into the backseat and reminded Faisal where I was headed. After a moment, he clucked his tongue.

"Sad story, sad story."

"Whose? Aem?"

"Yes, yes."

"What is sad?"

"She has, uh, very bad sickness. I do not know the word in English. Starts very small and grows and grows. Wait one minute, it is on the building here…"

But before we have moved past the trees that block the English lettering on the building, I know what he is saying. Sure enough,  on the side of the beige tower, the word "cancer" beams at me in cobalt, washing over my smile.

"Oh no. Oh no."

"Yes. Sad story. She has big meeting tomorrow with doctor. With knife, you know?"

I wince at his language barrier enhanced description of surgery.

"I know. I will pray for her."

"Yes. She would like that."

We are silent and he rolls the windows up, opting for the buzz of air conditioning to fill the space Aem has left. I look to the miniature taxi bobbling on his dashboard.

"I like your small car," I say in Arabic, and he turns around with a smile.

"Ah, really? Speak Arabi?"

"Shweya." (A little).

Faisal becomes impassioned.

"Ah, Madison! I will teach you everything!"

The remainder of the ride is the equivalent of the world's most entertaining pre-school vocabulary lesson. He points with gusto to body parts and things we pass on the streets, and I laugh so hard that later, as I recount the tale to Jasmine and Atef, I find that I can't remember what I learned. When we arrive at my building, he refuses my money and asks that I take down his number, should I ever need a ride. I thank him profusely and head inside, not bothering to fight back the smile plastered on my face.

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