Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Irbed...

The thing I love most about Irbed, is that every time I go, on the way there, I feel like I’m going home, yet at the same time, when I’m going back to Amman I feel like I’m going home as well.

I’m originally from Irbed, most of my family still lives in Irbed, yet I’ve never really lived there, we don’t have a house there, and when we go we stay at my grandmother’s and visit the rest of our relatives, but it’s still home.

I don’t have a bed there, I don’t have towels or a toothbrush, but it’s home. I don’t know all the roads and all the directions there, but Irbed is home.

In Irbed, away from the pretentiousness of West Amman, you find people walking in the streets wearing their pajamas, kids running barefoot and guys going to the neighborhood’s hummus restaurant holding a plate and wearing slippers.

In Irbed, you’d be bored, get up, open the door of your neighbor’s house and join them in their afternoon tea rituals without even asking, no appointments like Amman, no formal visits planned a week ahead, and gathering your friends to go visit another one and say congratulations on your marriage or new baby doesn’t take more that the 5 minutes to call the 5 friends and tell them to meet you there tonight, my friend got married in January and the girls and I are still trying to come up with a day that suits all of us to go as a group.

In Irbed, when someone gets married, you go to the wedding to find people you never expected to see there, then you find that in one way or another, you’re related, or your parents used to be neighbors, or maybe your grandfathers used to be best friends.

In Irbed, you would go to a funeral, to find that your second cousin is married to your neighbor’s daughter, and that his mother in law witnessed the birth of your father.

I love how small it is, how close the people are no matter how fast it is growing. I love how people can tell who my father is by looking at the car I’m in, and I love how random people ask you if someone is your uncle because you have his eyes.

I love how you can ask your friend’s mom to make you that favorite dish of yours when you see her in the street without feeling embarrassed. 

I love the lack of formalities.

To people from Irbed living in Amman, Irbed’s bread, olive oil, yoghurt, cucumbers, figs, wheat, labaneh, falafel and everything else tastes better, richer and more original.

But the thing that I don’t like in Irbed, is that people with no loyalty, people who have no sense of belonging to that place, have turned the simple, flat streets of Irbed into garbage dumpsters, they turned the spacious fields of wheat and other crops into fields of plastic bags, Irbed has become the city richest in polymers because of those plastic bags! The green fields of Irbed are colored with blue, white, black and red plastic bags instead of the wild flowers that used to be there.

What’s happening to people? How can anyone see a place so green and so beautiful and still throw what’s left of their meal with the soda cans and the box there without feeling the slightest bit of guilt?

But the people are not the only side to blame here I guess, people there are so simple and undemanding that they can have the greatest evening by grabbing their chairs, argeelehs and snacks and driving to an empty street with very few buildings and very light traffic and setting up their own “ga3deh”. Some streets there are becoming so popular among the people of Irbed for such nights out, yet not a single garbage can is to be found there and the city officials couldn’t seem to care less.

Does it have to be a restaurant in an upscale neighborhood with valet parking, waiters who look so uncomfortable and a menu that contains dishes with names people can’t even pronounce for the city to care? Does the meal have to cost you four or five times the amount needed to prepare it for the city to care? 

And no, it’s not just the people who are responsible for this, every single housewife in Irbed that I know of has some kind of obsession with the cleanness of her house that makes it possible for you to pick up food that you drop on the floor and eat it. 

It’s just that the people at the municipality don’t care, then the rest of the people get upset that those don’t care so they stop caring, and we fall into this cycle, people lose their sense of belonging gradually, and the city turns into somewhere you can’t belong, it turns into a whole different place than the one you knew growing up, and days like Eid days filled with the sounds of the kids’ firecrackers, the smell of Arabic coffee and ma’moul and the scent of the breeze coming through grandma’s old Quina tree, become a distant memory and a picture of Irbed that you decide to hold onto and never forget, a picture that you associate with the name Irbed, along with pictures of old women sitting on their doorsteps watching people walk by, with grandma’s old coin purse that she keeps tucked between the cushions of her couch, with images of little girls with ugly embellished handbags counting how much money the collected from Eideyyat, with the smell of fresh bread your uncle just bought with that little brown paper bag of falafel and plate of hummus decorated with parsley leaves and chili powder sprinkled on the sides.

Unless people start caring again, which is not impossible hopefully.

So don’t blame me if I take Irbed’s side against Amman, I’m all for simplicity, it doesn’t mean I don’t belong to Amman, it’s also home, but that image of Irbed I just described beats the streets of Amman, because cleaner as they might be, and as modern as they get, I can’t smell the Quina tree. It’s not Irbed.