Vitamin Wow

A steep climb leads me into discoveries in the centre of Amman. Walking is the solution to the congested traffic at this hour. A friend has tempted me to go explore in this direction. In the Arabic world often the best things come your way via connections and when you least expect it. We are passing offices, small supermarkets, art galleries and shops. The owner of one of them has reserved his parking space by putting out a decoration of a small leather camel with its calf. IMG_3776
I ask shopkeepers for the right directions, they indicate little roads, pointing either east or west. I am moving forward slowly honoring the summer heat, trying to relax into its temperatures. A little alley is turning to the west, leading up to one of the older houses of Amman. The gate is widely open as if to welcome visitors, though it also looks like I am about to enter a private house. ´Salaam Aleikum?´ I call, in order to make sure that we are not disturbing anything. It feels like walking into a garden of Eden with a richness of perfumes. Lemon plants, jasmine and geranium. When opening the door of this Beit al Saboun, House of Soap, we discover an oasis of inspiration.

´Love yourself first,´ is their motto. The colors and fragrances are mesmerizing,  lifting the heart and mind; all you want to do is stay here forever. The owner walks in, welcoming us in his House of Soap, home to his family for generations. He shows me an old picture of Amman and explains dreamily: ´Imagine, this is how Amman looked when I was young, it was still a small city.´ His eyes sparkle with joy. ´We were always biking, everybody knew each other, a mosaic of people of different walks and talks. If someone phone you and you were not at home, it didn´t take long before the phone would ring in the place you were visiting.´ When he finds out I am Dutch he mentions his regular visits to this famous Dutch Fragrance company. Connections are everywhere.

We walk outside into the garden. He points out the seven hills of Amman. In the bright sunlight the hustle and bustle on the legendary hills form the rhythm and history of the city. ´Just like Rome,´ he says. ´Look there is the amphitheatre and there down below is the Husseini Mosque were there are demonstrations every Friday nowadays. Amman has changed and grown. Still the ancient vital heart of Jordan is beating since the 13th century BC. Originally home to the Ammonites and later Assyrians. Currently the kingdom of the Hashemites with lots of visitors. More than half a million Syrians have arrived and many more are expected, nearly half a million Iraqis are living here, three hundred and fifty thousand Egyptians and many Libyans. Last but not least the largest part, sixty percent of the population in Jordan officially consists of Palestinians.IMG_3772

Refreshed I take a taxi back home. Mazen, the taxidriver is in a good mood too and shares his dream with me: ´I want to become a doctor.´When I ask him where he is originally from, he explains that he is Palestinian. It is quite common here. Even the second generation of Palestinians whose fathers and mothers have been born in Jordan, will tell you that they are from Quds (Jerusalem), Gaza or Bethlehem. Many of them still keep the key to their houses in a safe place, waiting for the day to go back home. When Mazen finds out that I have worked for the UN, he asks me if I can help him to find a job there. ´You mean you need a wasta´? I ask. He laughs:´You know about Vitamin Wow, Vitamin Relation?´ It is one of the crucial vitamins in Arabic society. ‘He says this is why my counsin is studying for doctor in Ukraine, here we don’t have the right wasta, connection. If not every society is built on these vitamins of relations but here things can get really complicated. Weaving an intricate web of connections and collective energy in which to operate. Often creating obligations and reciprocity, dilemmas and expectations. In the case of the young Palestinian coming back to Jordan as a doctor he will have good chance to find a better job. Of course the relations in any society basically form a net of protection. In more individualistic countries you can only escape from The Relation Vitamin because there are government structures to lean on. Though even if you try to escape from it, there is always a connection it seems. Facebook and Twitter are a great hit both in East and West. Vitamin Wow?

Over Esseline van de Sande

Opmerkelijke Ontmoetingen Wondrous Encounters
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