Today I show up to the office earlier than usual. Well, I show up half an hour earlier than usual, so at 9 AM. As I wait in front of the elevator, a white haired man in a nice plaid shirt and khakis approaches me. I recognize him as one of the people Akram and I showed around the new center space but I don’t know what his name is or what he does. “Come with me,” he says, “You can wait in my office.” He doesn’t seem dangerous so I accept. We go up to the third floor and enter his office, which is cluttered like Akram’s, but with more typical office stuff like piles of paperwork rather than horse statues. We sit down and his attendant brings us coffee. The white haired man reminisces to me about Jordan’s climate. Apparently, a few decades ago, it was colder and wetter in Jordan, so they would get snow in the winter and lots of rain in the summer. He talks about vacations he’s taken and a bit about pigeon hunting. He’s very pleasant, the coffee is good and I’ve given up on understanding what’s going on, so I’m happy to listen to his soothing, uneventful stories. There’s a knock at the door and a blond, middle-aged man enters the office. He introduces himself, but I can barely make out the sounds of his name, let alone pronounce them. He doesn’t speak English, so when the white haired man leaves the office we’re left with nothing but the universal language of awkward silence. To my relief the white haired man quickly returns and with Akram in tow. Akram knows all these guys, he warmly greets my unpronounceable acquaintance, and he acts as though it’s totally normal that I’m in this other guy’s office. I later find out that this other guy’s name is Abu Ashraf and that he is the manager of the office building.
Akram, Abu Ashraf, the unpronounceable man and I head to the ADT offices. Mahmoud and the General are already in Akram’s office along with two other men I don’t recognize, making this the biggest meeting I’ve ever witnessed in the room. Then I remember what’s going on. Today ADT is registering the new center so that work can be started on it. Once all the important guys have gathered they get up to go to some government office to do the registration. I’m tasked with holding down the fort while they’re gone.
So I post up at my desk. I write my blog and read Wikipedia articles on the Syrian conflict. Maybe I also read some other stuff online that isn’t directly related to ADT’s activities. I hear a knock at the door. I get up to answer it and see a disabled man limping into the office. One of his arms is longer than the other, his posture is badly warped and one of his legs is paralyzed. He comes up to me in ragged clothes with a look of permanent pain on his face and one hand outstretched. I know he’s asking for money, but I pretend to not understand and direct him back through the door. I recognize the irony in refusing a disable person at ADT, but I’m not willing to risk setting a precedent with this guy or anyone he might talk to. I’ve done a fair bit of work with the homeless and the disabled for my age, and I’ve come to believe that one is not always morally obligated to help them. It takes thought and preparation to do them real good, and in this case I had neither.
A few hours later Akram and Mahmoud return. Presumably everyone else went to their respective offices. Akram practically falls into the chair across from me and looks at me vacantly. “How did it go?” I ask him and he says, “Good, good…” as if he were describing a doctor’s appointment. Akram looks like he’s on the verge of passing out. He explains that he only had four hours of sleep last night. However, some of Akram’s energy returns once a beautiful woman floats into the office. Akram’s eyes light up as she approaches us. They have a short exchange in Arabic and Akram kisses her hand. Then she turns to me and Akram tells me that she is Dr. Nieveen.
I’ve heard a lot about Dr. Nieveen. She is a psychologist who works at the Salaam Center School, an elementary school for Syrian refugees. There, children who have been displaced by the war are provided with psychological diagnoses, trauma support and education. Dr. Nieveen has an intensely pretty face surrounded by dyed blonde hair. Her features are long and slender, and her overall impression is elf-like. After we go over the niceties of “great to finally meet you” and so on, she talks about the work being done at the Salaam Center. As part of their art therapy program, a hygiene specialist is coming in to teach the kids how to make their own organic soap. That way the kids can gain some hands-on skills, some self-efficacy, and information about hygiene. Dr. Nieveen goes on to describe the various reinforcement systems they implement at the Salaam Center, their methods for diagnosing trauma and the kinds of treatment they employ. Being a psychology dilettante, I’m tempted to just geek out and ask her a million questions, but my socially reinforced super-ego employs a behavioral schema to repress these desires. Dr. Nieveen and Akram plan for me to visit the Salaam Center on Tuesday the 25th.
After Dr. Nieveen leaves Akram lies down on a couch and begins to drift off. He mumbles, “What do you think of Dr. Nieveen?” to me, which, by the way, is a pretty loaded question. I obviously can’t say “I think this person you’ve chosen to work with is a cheap charlatan”. But it’s a social nicety, so I lay out a few compliments (which are genuine). Akram kind of says something in response, but his eyelids are fluttering and I don’t think my answer fully landed. Akram snaps out of his hypnagogia for just long enough to yell a command at Mahmoud, who hurries over to lay a blanket across Akram. Mahmoud and I tiptoe out of the room.
With Akram asleep, Mahmoud and I are free to pilfer the snack drawer. We take some leftover basbousa and two containers of the Jordanian equivalent of raman. “Very spicy,” Mahmoud warns me, “be careful”. Once the pasta is heated up we take the food back to our desks. As we eat (the pasta really is quite spicy) Mahmoud pulls up some music videos to jam out to. He’s an interesting DJ. In addition to some Middle Eastern music I don’t recognize, he plays “Dance Me to the End of Love” by Leonard Cohen, “Careless Whisper” by George Michael and something by Enrique Iglesias. “Mahmoud turn that shit off!” let’s us know that Akram is awake again. We toss our wrappers into the nearest trash bin. Akram steps from his office and, bleary eyed, says, “Yella,” gesturing towards the door. We pack up our things and go.
Cockroaches have made a few appearances in my apartment. These awful things live up to their reputation for being difficult to kill. Even after hammering one with a broom (I don’t want that on my shoe) upwards of five times it was still twitching as I threw it into the toilet. This isn’t my first encounter with cockroaches. Once I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn with a rampant cockroach infestation. My roommate at the time was the uncleanest person I have ever met, leaving literal trails of slime in his wake, along with dirty dishes and piles of rotten unrefrigerated produce. This lead to the classic scenario of flicking the lights on and witnessing a spit-second orgy of movement that leaves behind an ostensibly bugless kitchen. I think cities say a lot about about human beings in that when we engineer an ecosystem it attracts the likes of rats and cockroaches rather than flowers or colorful birds. The cockroaches in Amman may be a blessing of sorts because they’ve compelled me to be fastidious with my dishes, which is a generally good habit. I haven’t seen them in a while so this strategy seems to be working. If they return I’ll have to buy some Raid, or at least a heavier broom.
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.