Today I embark on my first full day in Amman. At 9:30 AM Mahmoud knocks on my door and we walk over to the Asia Development Training offices one building over. We’re going to meet Akram al Ramini, the executive director of ADT and my de facto boss. We go up two floors in the elevator and enter the offices. I walk in and see a model skeleton hanging in the corner of an otherwise standard conference room. Mahmoud and I pass through this room quickly and enter into Akram’s office.
This room is large as well, with a line of big windows looking onto the street below. It can feel small, however, because it is packed with furniture, including a rectangle of puffy red chairs and couches arranged around a glass table, many cabinets, a widescreen television, an enormous desk and countless little odd objects. There’s a three foot high metal horse statue, a large model of the Eiffel Tower, little statues of dancing women, a wooden case of ornate pistols and all manner of mysterious things that I haven’t had the time to memorize. These are all gifts Akram has received from company presidents, mayors and kings from around the world. Then there’s Akram himself, leaning way back in a swivel chair behind the enormous desk and smoking a Marlboro gold through a white cigarette holder. He’s wearing a white dishdasha, an arabian piece of clothing that functions like an open-bottomed cloth jumpsuit. He leans forward when he sees me and waves me over, smilining through his cigarette. “Welcome to Amman!” he says. Akram has an incredible style to his nature. His every movement is fluid yet precise, especially with his hands. His head is shaved like a monk’s but he has black caterpillar eyebrows that twist gravely during the dramatic pauses that frequent his speech. He also has a tiny leather Prada bag that he carries everywhere. “We are a family here,” he tells me after I’ve seated, “You need anything,” his hand glides through the air, “just call me.” He makes a toothy grin and pulses his eyebrows as he taps his cigarette against its ashtray.
Soon another man enters the room. He’s called “The General”. The General doesn’t speak much, but he given the impression of being inwardly powerful. He looks a little older than Akram and Mahmoud and he’s got a stocky build. He wears simple but nice button-ups and khakis and has a pitch black cigar-shaped mustache. The General is clearly important but his specific role is unknown to me. He sits with us and he, Akram and Mahmoud discuss something in Arabic. I nod when it seems appropriate and laugh when everyone laughs. I know it’s weird but I think the alternative would be weirder. Eventually Akram looks at me and says, “Today we’re going to go to the prosthetics center so you can meet the people there and see the facilities.” This is exciting. Michael has repeatedly told me how interesting prosthetics are and I’m going to see it right off the bat. We all get up to head for the cars. Akram winces and clutches his stomach. He’s recently had appendicitis surgery. Apparently that’s why he’s wearing the dishdasha.
Akram and The General go in one car and I go with Mahmoud. Driving with Mahmoud, I get my first good look at Amman in daylight. As I mentioned before, it’s almost entirely beige. The desert ground is beige and every single building is made out of beige sandstone. The beige is only interrupted by advertisements and restaurant signs. Speaking of restaurants, westernization is very prominent in Amman. There are numberless McDonalds, Burger Kings, KFCs, Dairy Queens and Pizza Huts sandwiched between falafel shops and argileh lounges. Even worse is that all of the billboard models and newscasters are either white or done up in makeup and hair coloring to look white. I’m no better though. At one point Mahmoud fools me into believing that he’s never heard of a stoplight before, just as we’re pulling up to a stoplight.
We drive into the parking lot of a church complex called Our Lady of Peace. This is where the prosthetics center is held. Mahmoud walks me in and we take a tour of the school section of the complex. A young Jordanian woman shows us through various rooms filled with tiny desks and taped up crayon drawings. One room has a complete supermarket of toy foods in miniature aisles. These rooms are used to educate children with learning disabilities like autism and deafness. After we’ve seen all the rooms Mahmoud and I thank our guide and head to the prosthetics center.
We walk down a narrow white hallway. Mahmoud points out a stack of empty cardboard boxes and tells me that they once contained equipment sent by the Polus Center. At the end of the hallway, a door opens and a man on crutches emerges to greet us. He is Maher Odeh, and he runs the prosthetic center. Maher emits an aura of nobleness. He has a handsome face with sad eyes and his hair and beard are metallic gray. His legs are paralyzed so he needs the crutches to get around but he can stand without external support. A number of other personnel weave in and out of the prosthetics center with things like tea, questions and clipboards, but they all clearly orbit around Maher.
Mahmoud and Maher have a brief exchange in Arabic and then Maher speaks to me. I’m relieved to discover that he speaks English. He gives me a tour of the prosthetics center. It’s divided into several rooms. There’s a fitting room, a plaster room, a storage room and a big shop room, which Maher and I are in. It has all kinds of machinery: saws, sanders, ovens, vacuums and lots of things I don’t recognize. Maher brings me to a metal shelf holding some prosthetic legs, which is what Our Lady of Peace specializes in. He shows them to me at various stages of construction. The fully constructed one is covered in skin-colored cloth and looks just like a manikin leg. Without the cloth, you can see the different components of the leg, with the artificial foot, the steel pipe providing the central support and the large plastic cavity on the top that the amputee’s stump fits into. Maher shows me how a latex sheath fits around the amputee’s stump for comfort and adhesion and can be screwed through the base of the cavity into the steel pipe to create a stable whole. The legs he shows me aren’t jointed but they are surprisingly light and sturdy.
I sit down with Maher and he describes the process of fitting a person with prosthetics. First, many of the amputations done in Syria are done in haste by unexperienced medics. This means that amputees often have to go through several subsequent surgeries before they’re ready to be fitted for a prosthetic. Due to a lack of resources and trained personnel, amputees can wait for months before they receive prosthetic treatment and physical therapy. During this time, their muscles and ligaments often atrophy from excessive sitting. This means that once an amputee becomes a patient at a center like Our Lady of Peace they have to go through physical therapy before being fitted. Once the patient is measured and a prosthetic is constructed there is then another round of physical therapy to accustom the patient to the prosthetic. There is also a psychological component to the therapy. Patients often have unrealistic expectations for how soon and how easily they will be able to walk again. This easily leads to discouragement, which hinders the process. This necessitates that the rehabilitation staff talk to the patients about what to expect. Even after a patient is walking, they will likely have to return eventually and get refitted, especially if they’re a child, because their body has changed.
The complexity of getting just one amputee walking is head-spinning. Maher tells me how many for-profit prosthetic clinics cut corners on quality in order to have impressive prices and patient flow to show to donors. It was obvious from everything he’d said that these services can’t be fast, cheap and good. That is why institutions like Our Lady of Peace, which are not for profit and therefore prioritize the patients, are important. Additionally, Our Lady of Peace provides training in prosthetics and orthotics at a time when the demand for treatment in these areas greatly exceeds the number of people and organizations who can meet this demand. According to Maher, the field of prosthetic care is just getting established in Jordan. The courses taught at universities are largely theoretical and don’t give people the practical skills that Maher teaches at Our Lady of Peace. Maher looks a little exhausted after explaining all of this to me.
It’s time to go. Mahmoud and I thank everybody at the center and head back to the car. We drive to another site called Souriyat Without Borders where we reconvene with Akram and the General. Akram and the General have a long conversation with the staff there, but it’s in Arabic so I have nothing to say about it. After this meeting we head back to the ADT offices, debrief, and we’re done for the day.
I stumble back to my apartment building. The jetlag is coming on strong. Just as I’m about to walk in I hear the sound of drums and a strange bagpipe coming from around the corner. I walk over and see the final moments of a wedding taking place. There’s a long procession of cars taking up an entire street. The bride and groom are in the last car and around them dance everyone from little baby nephew to grandma. There are maybe ten young guys with drums just hammering away, plus the guy with the strange bagpipes. I wave to the bride and groom as they drive by as do the other random people who have gathered on the street to watch. The whole scene dissipates almost immediately after the nuptial car disappears around a corner, so I head back to my room to crash out and maybe get some writing done.
They drink this stuff in Amman called Turkish coffee. It tastes, for lack of a better word, exotic compared to American coffee. Its earthiness and bitterness are slightly lighter than those of American coffee and it has an additional smokey flavour from cardamom that is blended in with the coffee grounds. I watched Mahmoud make it once. He started by placing a little metal pitcher of water on a hot plate. Then he put in a spoonful of stevia, which I really wish he wouldn’t do. Next he took out a plastic jar of extremely fine coffee grounds mixed with cardamom and dumped in four heaping spoonfuls. He brought the mixture to a boil, then lifted the pitcher off the heat, let it cool, then put it back on the heat to make it boil again, and then repeated this process. Then the coffee was ready, so he poured it out into the dainty little coffee cups they keep around here. Because the grounds are never strained, when you get to the bottom of your cup there’s a little mound of coffee-sludge waiting for you. The first few times I had turkish coffee I thought you were supposed to drink this, until I noticed that no one around me was subjecting himself to this unpleasantness.
The interesting thing about Turkish coffee is that it’s probably much closer to the original forms of coffee than American coffee is. The earliest known references to coffee are from 15th Century Yemen. Medievals Sufis used coffee to stay awake during long religious rites. It wasn’t until the mid-17th century, after the Pope Clement VIII gave the greenlight on this Muslim beverage, that the first European coffee shops were established in Italy. It was when coffee entered Europe, specifically France by some accounts, that people started straining coffee grounds to avoid the aforementioned coffee-sludge. So drinking Turkish coffee is a nice history lesson for the tastebuds, and another reminder of how important Middle Eastern culture is to world history. I could do without the stevia though.
This blog is written by Sam Copeland, an intern with the Polus Center and Asia Development Training, about his time in Amman during the summer of 2017. It is meant to be read in a linear manner, so scroll down to the bottom and then go up for the full experience.