When I landed in Amman late Thursday night it was the first time I could say that I was arriving home in Jordan. There was chaos at Queen Alia Airport, chaos I’ve learned how to navigate and to a certain extent appreciate. Things in the US were so organized I wasn’t sure what to do with myself! When I exited the customs area, drums were pounding and ladies ululating as a tribe was welcoming a recent graduate returning triumphantly – he wore his graduation robes on the plane. It’s the holy month of Ramadan, so everything here, especially in the nighttime hours, seems heightened, tense, festive.
Less than 24 hours later I was at Auntie Selwa’s house for Iftar, the breaking of the fast meal, just before 8pm locally. No food or water has passed most people’s lips since sunrise. Soup and dates and apricot nectar and tamarind juice and lamb with rice and grape leaves and knafe (a shredded phyllo and cheese dessert). It was a delightful evening spent seeing all of my aunties and uncles who have taken me in so warmly. We all sat out in the cool night air of the garden after dinner, drinking tea with mint.
Then the festivities continued last night as my brother-in-law arrived from Nalchik in the Caucasus and my energetic mother-in-law prepared a lovely meal in his honor. New to me was the decadent Atayef, a dessert served only during Ramadan. It’s a little pancake-like dough which encases chopped walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon (there are other fillings but she assured me that this was the only good one). The crescent pastries are then deep fried to a golden brown before being dropped into a sugar syrup bath.
After seriously violating my I Quit Sugar diet with the delicious Atayef we grabbed a cousin and drove downtown to the Balad, the old commercial district of Amman (I’ve written about visiting the markets down here before). I love visiting the Balad because it feels like the real Jordan to me, not the one full of fancy people who speak English perfectly and went to university abroad. Because it’s Ramadan the streets have been decorated with festive lights, much like we have at Christmas time back home. Families and groups of friends fill the streets, stopping for fresh pressed fruit juice and knafe and hummus, filling up before a very late bedtime and then a day of fasting ahead. As we walked back to our car around 1am families were just sitting down to enjoy S-Hoor, the last meal eaten before fasting begins again. Plastic tables were set up on the sidewalks to accommodate everyone at Hashem Restaurant, a hummus and falafel restaurant that’s been in business for more than 50 years, and some say the best in Amman.
As the four of us walked around and I couldn’t resist taking pictures to share with all of you. I’m told we timed our visit perfectly as there are only four days left of Ramadan and soon the Balad with be teeming with serious shoppers buying presents for Eid and sweets for the many guests they’ll have or perhaps a new dress or suit for visiting with family.For now it was an exotic feast for the senses that reminded me why we’ve chosen to move here and get caught up in the chaos.