On my third night in Amman, I was sitting in a nice cafe on Rainbow Street with a old British guy I'd cabbed with from the hostel (it was kind of random that he'd stuck with me) and my new couchsurfing friend Mohammad (MK) and his friends. I was starting to feel kinda woozy. I didn't know if it was something I ate or if I'd picked up germs somewhere, but my night was over. I just wanted to sleep. So I called my friend Hakim, who I was supposed to stay with that night, and told him I was feeling sick and just needed a place to crash early. He told me he was in a meeting down the street, but the cafe had couches and I could rest there until he was done. So I said goodbye to my British friend Ron, and MK and Osama. Osama actually knew Hakim, they both did work in the field of outdoor adventuring in Jordan. Osama, more for fun. For Hakim, it was his life and profession. I'd been on one of his trips in 2008, a walk/swim through the canyons of Wadi Hassa. It was one of the coolest places I'd ever been.
Anyway, I hadn't seen Hakim in three years, and here I was, showing up in a cafe in Amman, looking like I was going to barf. I wandered inside and saw him hovering over a table of older guys, explaining something. He saw me and came to give me a hug. Yes, this was Hakim. Big, tall, shaggy-haired, wearing sweatpants and the "Homeland Security-Fighting Terrorism Since 1492" t-shirt with the picture of the Native Americans.
"You look sick." I tried to laugh.
He showed me to the couch and threw his jacket over me. I turned over and just about passed out. I listened to their conversation in Arabic and tried to pick out as many words as I could. It wasn't many. Someone brought me tea.
When Hakim finished, he came over and sat on the other couch. He looked amused.
"Yeah, I know. I'm a mess."
"Yeah, just a little bit."
We caught up over tea. I found out the meeting was about trying to establish a federation of all the outdoor adventure tour groups in Jordan. They wanted to put all the groups together under an umbrella with a council. I told him I was volunteering in Palestine, and trying to organize a nature walk as part of the guest program in Al Aqaba. Maybe he could help me.
"Wow. I went to Palestine a few times, never want to go back though."
That was the first time I'd heard that. Everyone else I'd talked to in Amman had either said "ahh, I'm from Jenin," or "I'm from Nablus," or "I'm from Hebron," or "take me with you"....
"I went to Jenin to build after it was bombed..."
"And I played a few basketball tournaments in Tel Aviv. Then I went through Eilat, and they left me standing there naked for 45 minutes."
"Yeah, they broke me, man. When I get over that, I'll go back.
I mean, I know it's stupid.....I know that's what they want, you know? But I just can't..."
My sickness was wearing off, and my head was feeling clear. But I felt hot. Anger, surprise. shame. I knew it happened all the time. But not to Hakim.
Back in college, my friend Becca was grossed out when I told her I'd been with a Jordanian. She'd dated a few Israeli soldiers while she was studying in Jerusalem, and I heard all about it. Sorority talk always bordered on graphic. I just remember something about a quickie in a military base. Everyone was like, "damn, that's so adventurous." And what did I do while I was studying abroad in the next country over? I hooked up with a Jordanian. Her response...."ew, why?" to which I replied, "he's half-Spanish...."
Hakim drove me home and on the way he stopped at the pharmacy. "I'm taking care of you today," he said as he shut the car door and bought Ibuprofen for my headache. Then we bought food for breakfast. I was feeling better, and getting hungry, so he bought me shawarma.
I knew when I'd gotten off the phone with him that afternoon that this was all I needed. I'd been going crazy back at the hostel, with no friends, no schedule, no sense of purpose. Then Hakim called me and I asked, "Hey, what are you doing today?" and he replied, "Well, I've got a meeting at 6, then I'm hanging out with this girl named Morgan, you know her?" and I laughed. The heaviness went away.
I toured his apartment while he bickered with his mother in Spanish. In his room I found two records-the Cabaret soundtrack and Genesis, and Into Thin Air. We watched Office Space, he'd never seen it. It's funnier with someone who's never seen it. The next night we went to a bar that was 80% foreigners. It was Tequila Tuesday. The music was American. I think. The next night some friends came over and played Settlers. Playing Settlers in mixed English/Arabic is really entertaining, especially when the guys keep yelling "I have wood!"
"I have weed."
"Oh, ok. I'll give you weed for a brick."
"How about rock for a brick?"
The next morning I woke up and Hakim was gone. I thought, it's time to go back to Palestine. I can't loaf around here. Maybe I'll miss the shared taxis. Maybe I'll miss the bridge. But I can't stay here.
So I crossed, and in the same day found myself sitting in an apartment in Ramallah with a girl I'd met at the checkpoint. Yeah, I just went home with her and hung out with her German mom and her 2-year-old son. Thinking, holy shit, I just crossed. Now what?