“Welcome”

I arrived in Jordan on January 2nd. I was greeted at the airport by Victoria and her daughter, Yasmine (say “yas-meen.”) Victoria is a friend of my daughter, Sarah, and she works for the United Nations. She was scheduled to leave the next day on a mission for the U.N. and I was going to watch her house and her cat, Fatoush, while she was gone. And, by the way, I would have a place to stay in Jordan, paying only the heating and electric bills and bottled water service.

Both mother and daughter are very personable people, and I was happy to meet them. I spent most of the day and a half with them as they ran errands around town, taking the dog Lola to the dog-sitter, getting a new carry-on for Yasmine, hair-cuts, etc. I was realizing how little Arabic I know, but still looking forward to a couple of months in Jordan.

They were both flying out of Jordan late at night on January 3rd, Yasmine back to Montreal and college, and Victoria to her mission in Africa. I waved good-bye as they left about 10:30 p.m. and Fatoush, and I settled down to read before turning in. It had been a busy couple of days, so it wasn’t long before I was asleep in bed.

At about 3:00 a.m., I was wakened by what sounded like the front door opening. When I opened the door to the living room, I was relieved to see Victoria, but then, surprised and curious. Victoria related that Yasmine was on her way to Montreal, but she (Victoria) was not allowed on her plane because she didn’t already have a visa for her destination. This was a confusion that would get worked out by her office. In the meantime, “Hi! I’m back!” So, day by day for the next week, Victoria didn’t know when she was leaving, until last Tuesday morning, when she greeted me with, “I have news!” She was leaving. That morning. In about an hour.

Victoria had never unpacked her bags, really, so that was easy, and I waved to her again. Having spent a week together, we hugged this time. She is a nice person whose father came from Palestine (when it was still a separate country) and whose mother came from Lebanon. Her parents moved to Canada, where she was born and her mother still lives. Her father passed away before Yasmine was born.

Victoria’s house is a charming place near Rainbow Street, a very “current” place with coffee shops and art galleries and restaurants. The entrance is down fifty steps and through a locked gate, which is the entry to Victoria’s courtyard and house, which sits, literally, on top of her landlord’s house and courtyard. She has a terrace on the north side with a wonderful view of Amman.

On the same Tuesday that Victoria left, I had signed up for an AirBnB “experience,” a tour of art galleries. Yasmine and I had visited the Zara Gallery in the Grand Hyatt while Victoria was taking care of an errand. Zara Gallery had some very interesting and well done works – paintings and prints, but my favorites were the sculptures that were there. Dana Rousan, who was in charge of the gallery, graciously showed us around, even though we were obviously not buyers. She is just getting started in putting her stamp on the gallery and is excited about the possibilities. You can see more about the gallery on Facebook at Zara Gallery (Amman, Jordan) and Dana Rousan, who is an artist in her own right by Googling her name. Upstairs, there was a separate gift shop with fine handcrafts, jewelry, and some books about the region, but the art was the fun part.

The rendezvous point for the AirBnB experience tour turned out to be about 463 feet from my gate according to Google Maps, and I met Hind (short “i”) in front of the Nofa Creative Space. I was the only person who had signed up, so she and I had a good time, getting to know one another and visiting the galleries, which were all within one or two blocks of Victoria’s house. Hind is a writer and artist, who had recently left her work as an arts columnist for the Amman newspaper to focus on her own art full-time.

Amman is a comfortable home for the arts in the region. Jordan views itself as a society that is tolerant of other religions and societies. While I think it would be possible to push that boundary too far, it would be political rather than social. In my part of Amman, women commonly do not cover their hair or face, nor do they wear robes over their clothing. I see women who do cover, as well, but both styles seem to coexist easily.

The galleries mostly held paintings. One gallery had a sculptor who cast in bronze, and another had an exhibit of artists designing fashion. The artists came from Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. The themes in their paintings ranged from local musicians, political statements about Palestine and women’s social freedoms, to abstract images reminiscent of Jackson Pollock. Styles varied similarly.

In one gallery, the woman who owned it was exhibiting an art project organized by Raya Kassis, the director of a “haven for sixteen adults with disabilities.” The installation was exhibited in a room paneled with mirrors, and the objects the adults made were hung on clear lines and displayed on representations of a sea bed. Ms. Kassis “invites the viewer to be visually overwhelmed by the space, never forgetting that the pieces in view are the product of these sixteen persons.” It was really quite stunning:

Hind was a great tour guide, and a very nice person. I find that Oman and Jordan are different in customs and culture, but consistent in their openness to visitors. I cannot count the times that strangers have said, “Welcome to Jordan,” or “Welcome to Oman,” or simply, “Welcome.”

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