One of the many pleasures of finding temporary accommodation during reporting trips is dealing with maintenance. We take our daily habits and comfortable routine for granted until we parachute into a foreign culture.
A few days in, the toilet broke down. It took half a day for a beginner plumber to decide it needed a new part. He disappeared for an hour and came back with a brand new whatever. Another half a day later, he decided it was the wrong part. He vanished again.
When he patched up the toilet finally, we realized the washer, full of laundry, hasn’t made a sound in hours. The plumber and doorman played with the On/Off switch about three hundred times then simply walked away. My colleague, Valentina Ruiz Leotaud, moved the stubborn machine an inch, and voila; it spoke.
We came home in the evening to a flooded bathroom. Woke up the next day to no Internet.
The doorman is responsible for maintenance, but your luck varies depending on the guy you get with the apartment. I had the curious opportunity to watch Adel bite into the TV remote control batteries to get it working again.
All of this to say, it makes our trip ever more interesting. Reporting means a lot of time spent on the road, building trust with the people you interview, and definitely the occasional evening out or road trip with the locals.
It’s no secret that driving around Amman and Russeifah constitute an environmental nightmare. Heaps of garbage and factory debris line many streets and some streams close to Jerash historical city. Rich areas crawl upwards, away from the valleys. Downtown is one of my favourite spots, however, with its blackened coffee nooks, gold markets, and historic surprises. I especially enjoy watching drivers, taxis and Service cars maneuver around each other through tight streets. I’m convinced they’re all superb chess players.
As for us, we shadow people, stripping image from sound, recording the echoes of a door handle being pulled, the clicking of heels on tiled floors, make up kits opening and closing, the cheers and clapping of a private women’s party, and the ululations of men. Yes, men do it, too! Every room we enter offers fresh tea, coffee, canned juice or Pepsi. We got into the habit of carrying bottles of water, as the sun over Amman is ever so vengeful.
But the work doesn’t stop when we’re home. There is one glass, dinner table in the living room, and now it’s covered in papers, laptops, recorders and battery chargers. You can spot remnants of the occasional late meal and cups of tea and water rotate constantly. The large windows are open to let in bird chirping, cat fights, the doorman’s handiwork around the building, and neighbours in their balconies.
We listen back to our tape, review the photographs we managed to capture and start transcribing. Then we prepare for the next day with interview questions based on character analysis, hash out ethical concerns, and focus the story:
Why is this important? How do we get listeners to care?
The latter question playing a bigger part in reporting than I’d like it to. We should care. People are stories, and I want to hear them all.
Wild dogs monopolize Queen Alia International Airport’s parking lots. The airport itself is small, beige, with a concave ceiling at the entrance, which magnifies the faintest of whispers, and snippets of farewells, wishes and much louder reunions. A structure funded by the French over a 25-year period.
Signs in concise English and blunt Arabic direct arrivals to a modest hall for baggage claims. As possessions catch up to us, a cue of concerned faces hobble around a small opening in a wall with ‘Baggage Issues’ printed faintly under a blinking neon light.
It’s a 40-minute ride to the capital, on a road funded by the Saudi government. Windows are down. A pungent, acidic scent of residues from olive factories and sheep saturates my face. My jet lag is sharpened.
Every few blinks and eye rubs, I catch a glimpse of a tiny, beige structure with a single window lit by a dim light, promising a cup of traditional Arabic coffee for mere cents. Despite the late hour, around 2:30 a.m., men group in wall corners and around stoves. Smoking, drinking tea or coffee. Always throwing a glance our way.
We pass signs for the Iraqi border, Ma’dabah; the province of mosaics and old churches, and the Dead Sea. Streets filled with restaurants, and falafel and shawerma joints rise up from the sand. Interrupted by mosques, government ministries and embassies. Official guards gesturing and yelling at their cell phones. Men and young boys are everywhere; as if sleep is reserved for women.
We took a right at a Moroccan bath, past the Bank of Independence, and stopped at an old car repair shop. Our apartment is just greasy around the corner.
We are back in Amman.
The capital lashes out with 30° during the day, defeated by a shy breeze in the intimate hours preceding dawn.
Life here is coated with sand. Wild cats have just as much presence as tourists. The next street over is called Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Street, after one of the holiest of the Muslim figures, who fought side by side with the prophet Muhammad. Oddly enough, this area is widely known as Rainbow Street! Regardless, it is filled with coffee shops, restaurants, and gelato sanctuaries. The aroma of Armenian kabab spices and fresh falafel on sesame bread cured my jet lag.
Amman is loud.
Women, young boys, tradesmen, school buses, gas trucks, car alarms, constant beeping of horns, traffic shouts, truckers yelling sales, tourists, and of course, the call for prayer azan.
Most men here are dressed in tight, weather appropriate clothes. Women vary: those with hijab and denim, niqab, girls in summer dresses or tank tops and athletic pants, and female tourists in low-key, baggy attire – usually with a hat and sandals.
It’s been three days since we landed here, and we’re finally ready to start reporting; two Canadian and one Venezuelan journalist for a month… in this beautiful desert.