| Jordanians would probably be quick to tell you that Amman is a bore. It's not exactly a culture capital in the Middle East and other than the Arab Games which happened to be going on when we were there, locals seemed hard-up for things to do. Even our Iraqi-Armenian friends, the Berberians, who'd only been in Amman a few months would repeatedly lament their boredom to us. And yet tourists—ourselves included—seemed really to enjoy Amman.
I wondered what characterised this disparity of perceptions between locals and tourists. What emerged in my mind may be somewhat superficial but at least partially true. Being a city in the Arab world, Amman satisfied those travellers looking for the 'non-Western' experience. On the other hand, it was not daunting in its size nor pace. It felt familiar in a European sort of way, perhaps legacy to the British occupation of Transjordan and Palestine from the fall of the Ottoman Empire to 1948. The people loved their King and Queen, the city appeared to be well-run, and was picturesque the way it spread over the seven hills. As a smaller, less populous country, the economy was not as desperate as in Egypt and Morocco, resulting in less friction between locals and visitors. And perhaps most significantly, people seemed friendly and genuine in their intentions to welcome you to their country. Additionally for us, being web addicts and not club-goers, our appetites were easily satisfied with the glut of cybercafes in town—more than we could count.
Our return visit was five packed days updating our website and hanging out with the Berberians. Our hotel was just down a steep hill from our friends and from Camelot cybercafe. Gregg and I would have our morning coffee at one of our favorite balcony cafes, then head up the hill to meet the three Berberian sisters. They too, came everyday as it replaced school for them during the time they would be without a settled home. Sometime in the afternoon, we would follow the Berberians' home and sit with the family, treated to a home-cooked meal or sipping strong Turkish coffee and sampling delicacies brought from Iraq. Seated in the living room of their rented house, they would show us some of the few precious mementos they were allowed to bring out of Iraq—"silly things" as Lusine, the mother, would say, because they carried sentimental value but weren't of any material worth. Already we look back fondly on those afternoons passing time with the Berberians before we would return to Camelot to work until closing time.
Our second to last day I spent in the Berberians' kitchen cooking Chinese food for dinner. Gregg and I made a morning run to Safeway in Amman—yup, just like home with the 'International Foods' section and everything, except here veiled women pushed about the shopping carts. We picked up all the ingredients we needed and spent the rest of the day chopping and cooking in effort to bring a bit of our home to them. Meanwhile, Lusine machine-washed our laundry and took in my pants. After dinner, she gave me a long-overdue haircut. Feeling felt right at home we were easily persuaded to stay an extra day.
Prolonging our stay didn't make goodbyes any easier, but such is the life of a nomad. Here we had become close to a family whose acquaintance was so unlikely to begin with—they were fleeing their country which, despite all its internal problems, our government was bombing. Left with no choice but to leave for an uncertain future elsewhere, they took it upon themselves to offer a "home" to us—travelling of our own accord to see the world. It was frustrating to be able to offer nothing of consequence in return—to be without means to help them secure passage to America. We exchanged tearful hugs with Lusine, her usual cheer gave way to the sadness in her eyes at the prospect of saying goodbye, perhaps for good. But the girls were faces were full of smiles and youthful joy of having even become friends with us; their hugs firm with the hope of meeting again in America.
Departure morning, we rode in a comfortable shared taxi out of Amman, departing with fond memories of our home away from home and continuing our journey toward the Syrian border.