Sunday, January 18, 2009

Amman Views -1

Outside the office window in the distance, on the “largest flag pole in the world” a majestic Jordanian flag lazes in the breeze over one of King Abdullah’s Palaces, intermittently obscuring one of the Amman hills in the background.

A streetlight post is swaying just as lazily underneath this 3rd floor window, overlooking the unkempt field of dirt and debris that stretches for a city block. This is where they sell the sheep for Eid-al-fitr, which means that this derelict looking patch of land is quite by design. Later in the week, a family of gypsies will have pitched a tent in the field to witness the occasional herd of suburban sheep grazing past.

We are located on the outskirts of downtown Amman, on the way to Hashmi-Shmali, which is a more modest northern suburb, as compared to Maghdoon, where my hotel is located, alongside large homes and apartment buildings, with BMWs and shiny SUVs buzzing about.

The office itself has no central heating, and upon entry, you notice the building’s inherent heat dissipation and coolness retention properties. What passes for a great boon during summertime is cause for shivering dismay at this time of year. I am introduced to our local staff on the first floor, huddled around a gas heater with arms stretched down and hands cupped like satellite around the heater to intercept the heat waves.

They have the gleam and lightness of proud new-hires, and the warmth and openness their culture affords new guests (who come invited). I feel an immediate connection. The Iraqis, the Jordanians, the Palestinians, all keen to say hello to the HQ emissary. As soon as my name is mentioned, a layer of formality is lifted; they probably have cousins or siblings with the same name. Are you Arabic, they ask and my answer doesn’t deter the kindnesses. Iran? I love Googoosh. (the 70s singer/youth symbol of Iran) says one. Another claims the Persian cuisine as his favorite.

We step into the conference room, newly appointed with freshly painted walls, an easel and Whiteboard at the ready in the corner, and tables and chairs arranged in a rectangle so all can see each other. With informal chatter out of the way, we spend a few minutes in formal introductions. Self introductions provide some information about people’s backgrounds, and some insight into who they perceive themselves to be (by what they choose to divulge). One has a PhD in Religious studies, another was raised in Ramallah. Someone has worked in the UN, another is here because of the children.

I divulge that I have been with the organization for 7 years. What does that say about me?

Left to ourselves, we could continue sharing and comparing our cultures and personal stories, but the westerners are keen on the schedule of training. I, along with Admin staff, leave the team to their at times harrowing discourse on the subject of torture and rehabilitation.