I'm sitting in my friend Jess's apartment in New Orleans, listening to Amy Winehouse and cozying up to the AC unit above Jess's bed. Jess is painting her toenails and I'm contemplating the week ahead.
The trip from Palestine was generally pleasant. The most common thought in my head was, "wow, there are so many people in this world." This thought was simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. Driving across Allenby bridge and towards Amman I kept looking back in the darkness and seeing the city of Jericho lit up. Goodbye for now.
My taxi driver, Mohammad, asked me why I was going to Zarqa, and not Amman. I was the first foreigner he'd met who wanted to go to Zarqa. I told him my friend's cousin lives in Zarqa. Even at that point I was wondering why the hell I was going there if my flight left in 8 hours. I considered going to Amman and checking into a hostel, then I looked down at the bag of grape leaves I was holding. Souli's mother had given them to me a few hours ago. I had some warak-dawali to deliver to the relatives. So I was going to Zarqa.
Zarqa is apparently a very Palestinian city. My driver, Mohammad, didn't seem too fond of it, because there was a well-known bomber who came from there. He stressed that in Islam, it's forbidden to use violence, unless you're being attacked, for example if someone enters your house with a weapon. Those terrorists are not true Muslims. I asked Mohammad where he was from, and he said Amman, but his parents were from Palestine. From Jaffa. Most people I've met in Jordan are originally from Jaffa, or Nablus, or Hebron...they tell me they're jealous of me, they wish they could go with me. "Khudi maek," said the guy at the exchange place. Take me with you!
Mohammad offered me a place to stay with his family, and I told him I already had a place, but when I came back to Amman I'd like to. I told him about Couch Surfing, and he was really interested in the idea. Having non-Arabs staying with his family, speaking English with his children.....he showed me pictures of his three kids.
Zarqa is a big city, the second biggest in Jordan. Mohammad called my host, Imad, and got the directions to the Electric Company, which everyone seems to use as a landmark. Imad was waiting for me there, and he was really pissed at Mohammad for charging me 35 dinars. He said he would've picked me up from the bridge himself....I tried to say goodbye to Mohammad politely, but it wasn't a good end to the trip. I had to explain to Imad that it was late at night, and there were no shared taxis at the bridge, and any private one-hour taxi would've charged me the same. He was still fuming.
Anyways, Imad was just about the best host ever. I was pretty tired at that point, but he asked me what I was hungry for and suggested Yemeni chicken and rice. That sounded great. So I dumped my stuff in his car and while we were waiting for his brother, he asked me what I like to play on the guitar. I said, just random stuff. He asked me if I knew Depeche Mode. I started singing "all I ever wanted, all I ever needed..." and he flipped out. He really likes Depeche Mode. He asked me if I knew Duran Duran, and I said yes, a little. More points. "Now for the real test...Alphaville." I said, oh yeah, Forever Young! His mind was blown. I was laughing, this guy loved 80's music. I told him I'd play Forever Young after dinner.
His brother Jamal drove us to the Yemeni restaurant, which was in a strip-mall type place on a busy street in Zarqa. I took about fifteen minutes to get there. This city really is quite big. There were colorfully lit-up trees and big pieces of art in the roundabouts, which caught my attention. In Palestinian cities there is some beautiful art, but it's almost always focused on resistance to the occupation. To see an apolotical statue in a roundabout was really something, a luxury that reminded me of Tel Aviv.
Upstairs at the restaurant there were booths where people sat on cushion couches around a low table, bedouin-style. The chicken was amazing. We got platters of rice and chicken to ourselves, and I could only polish off half a platter, which I thought was pretty good, considering. Jamal finished his plate, damn. I was impressed.
I'm having trouble remembering my conversations with Imad, but I asked him if he ever got to go visit his family in Hizma, and he said yes, a few years ago was the last time. He's allowed to visit Palestine for two weeks, but he has to leave his passport with the Israelis as collateral, so he's guaranteed not to stay.
"It's shit, you know. The Israeli state, it's really shit. This is the Holy Land. This is our history. You look under the ground, and you find something about Ibrahim, about Musa, about Mohammad.....it's really....wow. And we're kept away from it, from our place. And now there are people from Russia, and Africa, who can go and live there because they're Jewish...and our refugees can't even return."
I didn't expect to have this conversation in a Yemeni restaurant in Jordan, but I wasn't surprised.
We headed back to Imad's and I played lots of guitar. I hadn't played in a while, so my fingers got really sore. But Imad was so encouraging. He said I had a great voice, but I wasn't using all of my potential. That was really blunt of him, and I appreciated it. He showed me some Alphaville songs. I'd never heard any except for Forever Young, but they have some good stuff. I showed him some CSNY and Porcupine Tree.
At around 2:30, the coffee stopped working, and I had to nap. So I slept for two hours, when Jamal came back to pick me up. We drove to the airport on empty streets, and I said goodbye, until next time.
The trip went pretty smoothly. My airline, bmi, was unexpectedly the best airline I've ever flown. British Midland International. The crew was super friendly, the seats were leather, the food was great, and the flight wasn't full so I nabbed three empty seats and sprawled out for five hours. I caught a little bit of Sherlock Holmes 2 and the new muppet movie. Most of the songs were pretty lame, but there was one where Jason Siegel is having an identity crisis and he's singing "Am I a man?? Or am I a muppet? If I'm a muppet....I'm a really manly muppet....." and it was really dramatic. I laughed. When we landed in London I told Eduardo the steward that this was the best flight I'd ever been on and he was awesome.
Heathrow was insane. I walked what seemed like a few miles, then rode a 10-minute bus, then stood in a massive line with some Americans who were interning around Europe, then perched myself in a noodle bar because I thought I was close to my gate, then bought the Hunger Games, then realized I wasn't close to my gate at all! So I took an elevator, a train, and bolted up a few escalators to get to the C gates. Fortunately the flight was still boarding, but I felt like such an idiot. Note to self: see the gate first before hitting up the noodle bar.
The second flight was also very nice. I was actually in a section in front of the door, where first class usually. When I saw how nice the seats were, and checked out my kit with socks, tooth brush, and ear plugs, I wondered if I was actually in first class. No, turns out British Airways is just awesome! I passed out immediately and woke up when we were in the air. I asked the man next to me if I'd snored. He said no, no snoring, no dribbling. Awesome. Throughout that flight I had a few pangs, seeing couples around and wondering how it would've been to travel on a plane with Souli, like we planned way back in the beginning and he suggested for this flight. His flight to Norway was supposed to leave around the same time, so he asked if I could fly to another European city so he could book the same flight. His trip to Norway was cancelled at the last minute, so thank goodness we didn't do that. But it still made me wish he was sitting next to me. I didn't feel like putting my head on this random guy's shoulder. I watched him working on his laptop a bit, it looked like a really boring document full of business words. I told myself I was lucky that I wasn't him. I told myself that, but I didn't feel it. After eight months of freedom and travel, I still felt weighed down by uncertainty. I knew I was lucky, incredibly lucky, but I still had a lot to untangle.
I didn't sleep much for the rest of the flight, but I watched J. Edgar with Leo DiCaprio, a documentary about the history of Eurovision, an episode of 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Simpsons, and I started to watch Tintin, but we were about to land, so I began my tradition of "start to doze off before landing so the disembarking process is as miserable as possible." But the staff were bright and bubbly and handed me my guitar from the closet, so I left in relatively good spirits. Well done, British Airways.
O'Hare was a blur. Immigration was so easy, baggage claim was stressful because I knew I was in a rush, but I went through the motions as quickly as possible. I made it to the New Orleans gate just as it was boarding. I wished I could sit and get a sandwich or some coffee or something. I just looked around at the food court and reeled at all the choices. Look at all these people...just.....eating!
The flight to New Orleans went pretty fast. I started the Hunger Games, and got about a fourth of the way through it. It's really interesting. I wish I'd read it before I knew about the movies and the plot and the actress...Jennifer something. Now I hear her voice in my head. It's so much better when you create your own faces and voices....that's why I don't buy books that have movie actors on the front....
We landed in New Orleans, and the air outside the plane was humid and wonderful.
Long story short, I shared a taxi to Canal Street with two business people who paid our fare (yess) and I called my friend Jess from the Sheraton, and she picked me up.
This morning Jess and I ate at Surrey's, an old favorite. I got eggs and sausage and grits. It was heavenly. Then I bought a cheap new phone and activated my new number. I also got an adapter for my laptop, which I bought in Palestine, and has three weird circular prongs. Then we walked around Magazine Street and looked for cheap dresses.
I keep playing with my necklace with the Palestine coin from 1927. It's weird to be back. Tonight I'll be going to a double birthday-party. I'm thinking of the question, "how was Palestine?" oooooof. Sounds like an extra good occasion to drink.