once upon a time in the east.

since the day i started driving, i’ve dreaded exploring new areas – maps make no sense to me; sudden turns catch me off-guard; and my sense of direction never guides me to the right road. venturing into a new part of town usually requires a companion, a full tank of gas, and air-conditioning turned up to arctic temperatures. all this makes sense when you factor in how often i manage to get lost during a short trip.

driving through abdali was once considered an adventure equal to scaling kilimanjaro for me. but like the mountain climber that made it to uhuru peak after a few failed attempts, i eventually realized that there were higher levels for me to reach.

with that realization came a renewed feeling of anxiety. i had managed abdali because getting lost meant only going around in circles – the big mosque was to my left, then it was to my right, eventually it was to my left again – and exiting that circle meant safely landing back in the confound of familiarity. so when i decided to muster up the courage and venture beyond the safety of west amman on sunday, i knew to expect discomfort, but i didn’t know i’d find relief.

it was on the way back from madaba, when i, in extremely typical fashion, got distracted by the hook of superficial lyrics and realized i had missed my exit twenty seconds too late. and so the adventure began. rather than u turning and risk missing the exit again (don’t ridicule the thought, i’d managed to do that quite a few times just hours before), i went straight.

the first twenty minutes of the road were filled with non-events, save for the pangs of angst, moment of intense doubt that i would arrive home, curses at myself muttered under my breath between mainstream songs that were barely audible (i turn the music down when i’m nervous), and freezing temperatures rushing at me from the air conditioning vents that would put a DC snowstorm to shame.

it was when the straight road began to twist like a hissing cobra secretly maneuvering towards its prey that my panic peaked. the random side streets that seemed to move in cyclical ways; nothing had a hint of mathematical reason to it – where were the parallel roads, the perpendicular cross streets? where were the signs that directed me back? where was i?

then, in a moment of clarity, another realization dawned on me: this perceived chaos had the most beautiful rhyme and reason. lanes merged into each other. pedestrians took over the streets as they casually flirted with oncoming traffic. cars moved slowly as if drivers and passengers who were unsure about their destination were taking in their options. yet there was no obnoxious honking, no tires screeching to a halt, no hand gestures worthy of HBO shows. so, i turned off the AC, rolled down my window, and took in the sights and sounds of being lost.

to my left and right, on this narrow road, was history forgotten. old stone buildings stood erect with quiet dignity that could marvel any modern day structure. uneven sidewalks pushed children to trot as if balancing on a trampoline. and smiles wider than the basin of the dead sea were everywhere. but the most magical sight was right in front of me. as my car idled on a steep and twisted decline, the incline ahead took my breath away. thousands of lights shone from hundreds of houses, clumsily yet neatly stacked atop each other on a hill that held the weight of a generation once in the limelight. they glittered like a million little pieces of crystal under the brightest crescent i ever cared to notice. they captivated me, and, unexpectedly, i was no longer afraid of being lost.

i’ve seen this sight before – amman, after all, was built on seven hills – but like the baker’s daughter who takes the flour for granted, i never saw the beauty of this city in its simplest form. the narrow alleyways, the fabled architecture, the enchanting character, confined areas that feel spacious not claustrophobic.

the crescent that lit the city was only two days old, but the light it emitted was brighter than any full moon to rise overhead. what a joy to be lost in a city struggling to be found.

(this post was originally written october 15, 2007 as a note to myself. i stumbled onto it while searching for my notes for things to do in amman during the eid and thought it would be an appropriate time to share it here. happy to eid to everyone that celebrates!)

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4 Responses to once upon a time in the east.

  1. Duaa says:

    I was waiting to finish reading and see a picture or 2 of what you have seen :) but i guess the mobile didn’t had a camera back in 2007? or did it? I don’t remember :)


  2. Haleh Shekarchian says:

    Another perfectly written article!!


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