Drowning in Hummus

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The guy behind the desk at the Ali Baba Cafe must have the easiest job in the world right now. It’s just gone half-past three in the afternoon and the cafe is buzzing. Anywhere else on a lovely summer’s day like today, there’d be half-finished cups of coffee on every table and the smell of something baked to perfection in a back room, and the guy behind the counter would be buzzing about like a bluebottle trying to balance the lunchtime rush hour. But I’m in Jordan, it’s the height of Ramadan, and my stomach will vouch for the total absence of anything resembling food. And still the guy sits behind the counter, watching what I can only assume to be Youtube video after Youtube video to pass the time (R Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet would be a good shout). Basically, he’s getting paid to do what most students do every night. Like I said, the easiest job in the world – which is more than can be said for being an Arabist.

‘I’m not sure my body can handle the sheer amount of hummus and falafel I’m taking in.’ Andrew’s skyping our Arabic teacher back in Durham to discuss his Target Language Research Project and in one sentence he’s just summed up the last two and a half weeks. I was really looking forward to some serious Arabic food, but we seem to have fallen into a bit of a rut, Andrew and I: fried vegetables and eggs with bread and hummus for breakfast, bread and hummus for lunch, dinner of a falafel wrap with bread and hummus. Snack of additional bread and hummus optional. Even Heston Blumenthal would struggle to make something fancy out of a repertoire like that. I reckon a home-stay would be the best way to get in on some of that authentic Jordanian cuisine, but it’s a mixed bag option: either they overfeed you or they neglect you utterly. Not that that’s our problem: being men, we aren’t allowed to take part in the home-stays on offer. Cultural taboo and all that. So we’ll be wading through the sea of hummus for a little while longer, at least until such a time as Amman shows us a new and inventive means of sating those Ramadan hunger pangs.

A little background. Amman’s huge. More than that, it’s immense. Terrifyingly so. But then, I thought Durham was immense, so that might give you an idea of the kind of backwater upbringing I’ve had. Naturally, I spent my first few days here in anticipation of a city-induced nervous breakdown, but it didn’t strike too hard, so I guess I should be thankful for small mercies. Amman’s not the most lively place in the world – for a country-loving greenie like me, it could be Hell on Earth – but it’s got a friendly character to it and it’s homely enough to last me the next month and a bit. We’re worked hard, of course, so there’s next to no time to kick your heels until the weekend, what with all the homework, language assistant sessions and reading we have on our hands. Brilliant for the Arabic, though. It’s getting easier to rabbit away in fusHa at speed, even if I’m still lacking the odd crucial word or two. For the last two years I’ve been labouring under the understanding that al-Kitaab is basically the Arabic Bible by which all students swear. Apparently not. The Swedish guy blitzing his way through Asaas keeps coming out with handy words like ‘fork’ and ‘plate’. Far more useful than any United Nations related jargon. That said, there is actually a girl here whose walid really does ya’mal for the umam al-mutahida, so I guess it wasn’t a totally redundant phrase.

No use in getting glum, though. It’s Eid al-Fitr this weekend, which means lunch – that mythical entity – might finally come back into existence. Most everyone else will be taking a well-earned break, but I feel the need for a real adventure coming on. I’ll keep you posted. BB x

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