Right before the fireworks started on the 4th of July, I fell asleep to the world. The kids were already in bed; Layla conked out before I could even put the cup of water by her bedside. I tried hard that day to stay awake long enough until a “normal” sleep time. I plopped into bed before 9 pm, sent a goodnight text to my mom so she wouldn’t worry if she called to check on us, and didn’t wake up until 4 am the next morning. And so began a few days of trying to cure some curious jet lag, which the CDC defines as something that “can be a problem for travelers who are crossing several time zones.” What can be the catalyst to a problem, crossing through time zones, was actually a glorious solution to everyday living.
When we booked our tickets to Amman, Jordan, we deliberately booked long-enough layovers to Rome, at which we roamed in for about 17 hours. And on the way back from our 10-day trip to Jordan, we stayed in Paris for about 9 hours. These book ends of the trip were more like adjacent dinnertime dishes, offering such a connection to each city, such a taste of its promises, that we, in turn, promised to return as soon as we could. At some point, I lost any grip of time trying to figure out what time it was back home, what time it was in Jordan, what time it was where we were, and most especially, how that relates to how we should feel.
This began the absolute perfect portal where our vacation began. I sank further into the release of time, its constraints, its productive demands, and its hold on my day. I slipped into an old world, though as modern and advanced as any. We allowed ourselves to be beguiled by the roundest corners of the old.
I suppose this is the effect of any relaxing vacation. Most of us don’t take those. If we go to a trip for wedding, it’s all rush-rush fun about festivities; if we go to Disney, you’re a factory of fun who needs a 3-day nap upon returning home. But when you cross over the Atlantic with clear goals to just be, spend time with family, see what the day brings, and sink into experience, something else can happen: time doesn’t really matter, so other things do.
Some realistic factors that play into this concept is that we stayed in my mother-in-law’s house, a home built 40 years ago. Like most homes there, it is built of limestone, sandstone, and marble; floors don’t creek and everything feels solid because it was likely meant to last life phases and lifetimes. It now sits on a manicured street in an area known for its jewelry district, but once it only had 2 other modern buildings on it that were adjacent to blank land and across from a lady who lived in a tin house and sold milk and produce. While Mama’s villa has hotel-style upgrades and all the modernity she desires, her royal, golden furniture collection and faded burgundy, linen wallpaper both beautiful and slightly furled over time, encapsulate the home with inhales of nostalgia. Around it now are sought-after residences, an established salon with neon blue lights which lured me to it often on this trip, and easy-access to basement shops, pharmacies, and grocery corners.
In fact, most places are just open. Somehow, any time we thought the day was over at 9 pm, we all went out to different towns only to be greeted by everyone else who wanted to be out. We’d order dinner–or whatever that meal that was; I’d rather call it a new name, “a justbecause“– at 11:30 pm, and after we’d finished our meal of fast-but-fresh-food like shawarma or dine-in manaeesh, someone else would sit down at the table next to us and start his or her order. Places are just awake, ready for summer visitors and for the night culture of the East, vendors selling twinkle-light balloons, saying “welcome in” when we pass their shops, offering coffee to us as if we were entering their very own living room.
The morning of our first day in Amman, my internal timing was off because we’d chopped up our sleep and spent our day in Rome, only to arrive in Jordan as a second morning.
We arrived in Amman at 3 am, ate breakfast with family at 5 am, and we all went back to sleep. In fact, we often woke up early and then fell back asleep, and didn’t start the day unless we had to before 11 am. This pattern established the decadent pattern of the summers in the middle east I’ve always heard of: we fell into patterns of sleeping late, waking up late, napping after meals—as the old persian saying goes—“bokhor and bekhab” (eat, then sleep). All the yellows of the day, from the ultrabright morning sun to the quiet, dim yellow before dusk just meant more and more beauty was ahead, for soon it would be the hills of Amman with its lights adorning houses escalating and descending upon each turn of the car that would awaken our eyes to a different way of the world.
On one of our car rides, we drove down Kal’s memory lane, taking pictures of his old school, one in which late King Hussein attended in his youth, and Layla asked Kal why he left Jordan anyway. He said he felt there was more out there for him, a sense that he could do more, and that his brother was in the States, too. I think this can be a package phrase as to why many–who have a choice–may leave their home: promise of a life more fulfilled accompanied by the allure of a loved one already in a vivacious new place. It seemed to me in my conversation with so many who left and came back or who left and consistently bring their kids back every summer that coming to Jordan was not only a way for kids to embrace their culture and connect with their parents through it but also–and likely one I’m ascribing–a way for the kids to enjoy a different way, the way of the present.
In a loosely “orientalism” way, I observe that my regular days in America are all about herding and gathering for the future, and yet it feels for many reasons that other countries–most importantly the people within them–take each day as it comes. In fact, planning is relatively loose–something may or may not happen on this day or that day whereas dates and times are paramount back home, so much so that it breeds an anxiety and current that harms our bodies when all we truly need is a nap, a damn good nap where the world around us understands that it is just rest time. You’ll hear the infamous echoes of a prayer call 5 times a day, and whether it means you will kneel down to pray or get up to inhale the enchanting echoes of everyone hearing the same poetry in unison, they punctuate the day, each day. And then the day starts anew with the first prayer call, and then it ends with the last one, and so the week continues in a series of gradient yellows and sounds.
Like our South, old homes are born with new purpose. A home built by an old Syrian businessmen was turned into an art gallery in the new art scene in Jordan. I nearly cried when I saw the oval gallery office with its layout of art for sale and of the balcony overlooking old Amman. In fact, I felt more emotionally-gripped on this trip than I’ve felt in some time. From the art show in an old home with lemon and clementine trees around it, we walked up to a modern coffee house with its elegant new-ness, always going from a beguiling old and new, old and new.
I’m choosing not to rehash our time in Petra on horseback or when I floated in the Dead Sea, because while they were memorable, they were not the experiences I can’t stop thinking about.
The most decoratively beguiling image I have spent waking moments researching is the courtyards of Amman. Courtyards are one of the oldest architectural features of a home. Some argue that it was Africans who brought the concept of the porch to the front of the house; it is relatively clear, too, that both the front porch of West and the courtyard of the East can be traced back to the ancient Romans.
I took walks in the neighborhoods and entered homes wanting to take millions of photos of the house entrances and courtyards. But I couldn’t do so without violating the essence of a courtyard: privacy. As a result, all I have of my courtyard fancies are in my head. Every home–or villa– seems to have one; and each one is adorned with such breathtaking air and charm that I know it will somehow affect me forever. In fact, when we were at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, I asked for a book on balconies or terraces–not knowing then that the word I was truly searching for was courtyards–and while there was one in that delicious store, they couldn’t find it.
The courtyards of Amman, before I knew it then, were the symbol of a different time. In history, they have had their functional stages (i.e. cooking outside), and even more so, they offer a conservative culture a chance at an open space for gathering. One description says, “traditionally, the Islamic Arab world has adopted the courtyard house design because it can satisfy the privacy and social activity requirements of its residents.“ This spot that often leads to a welcoming, cool balcony or veranda or a magnificent foyer filled with family pictures and benches, is the visual stamp of this trip.
At this current time of reflection, now here in the States, 3-days post-jet laggish feelings, no longer filled with the spike of arabic coffee and gently easing back into our southern days here, satiated with the beauty of family moments and thoughtfulness, I have connected this trip of a welcoming and modern Jordan– where I lost track of time and lost myself in it–to three of the oldest entrances of sentiment: the fascinating courtyards and the ornamental gates that sing open; the feeling I had when I saw the art gallery center for the first time, and the sound of my elderly mother in law’s voice against the cool, immeasurable Jordanian breeze, saying that at this stage in time, at this point in her life, all she craves from people are “kind words and peace; that’s all I really want.” I can’t imagine a phrase more timeless than that.