Tuesday, September 29, 2009

معجزة العيد

It rained on the morning of Eid al-Fitr. I had padded out through the kitchen early, opening the balcony door to wait for the call to prayer -- it's supposed to be especially long* and beautiful on the morning of this Eid, to mark the end of Ramadan. I didn't recognize the sound at first, mixed in with the "Allaaaaaaaaaaahu AK-bar!"s churning out of the mosques and running over the buildings. The cloud burst lasted only just long enough for me to register: water! Then a single flash of lightning and the drops died away. The few cars moving along the street below were giving off a tires on wet pavement noise that reminded me of Florida.

Later I told Ben what he'd missed: "Rain! It's like an Eid miracle." More miraculous: the thought of having lunch out.

*Ben jokingly refers to it as "the extended dance remix."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cornflakes for Dinner

Awake since 2am -- I never sleep through the night anymore. For once I can pair a reason to my insomnia: a woman I was trying to save died, and I woke up with her name pacing doggedly back and forth through my head. My brain is still trying to solve a problem that has solved itself, and all the reasoning in the world won't coax it back to sleep. Reading is generally preferable to trite tossing and turning; at random intervals I walk my book over to the kitchen to eat from the pile of aging figs in my refrigerator. Briefly I considered my cornflakes, but that's for dinner. I have to match my cornflake supply just so to my milk supply; excess milk goes off quickly, usually before I have a chance to get more cereal. I test the weight of the milk box to see what's remaining, then test the weight of the cornflakes. More pointless problem solving at zero dark thirty.

Weeks ago at the hospital I started to cry while my FSN and I waited for the Embassy driver to fix a flat tire. "She is going to die here because I can't do my job." What I secretly longed for her to say was that I'm good at what I'm doing, that this was a situation of the woman's own making, that we had done everything possible. The FSN watched me silently for a bit while I pressed a handkerchief over my mouth and nose to muffle the noise. "Sometimes there are obstacles," was the eventual reply. She had learned this word from me when I had delivered her present from India: a little carving of Ganesha. "He's supposed to help remove obstacles in your work," I'd explained. Now I wish I'd gotten one for myself.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Sometimes I fear I'm getting inured to new experience; that maybe by virtue of having seen more of the world, each additional trek has become less a thing of wonder and discovery and more an experiment in logistics and achievement of photographic goals -- the travel equivalent of plotting how to beat the Baptists to the good lunch spots instead of listening to the sermon. India seemed to have confirmed this fear: not as exotic feeling as I'd hoped, not as eye-opening, not as jarring and stupefying and perplexing as I'd heard tales of. Watching the other tourists, ragged Lonely Planets poked inside equally ragged bags, dreadlocks and sandlewood necklaces hanging over slouchy t-shirts done up with images of gods and (somewhat incongruously) Che Guevara, I couldn't help wondering: what is it they are seeing that I am not?

But now when I spot ghee on the shelf in the store, I think about the man on the train to Fatehpur Sikri who fed me homemade sweets and told me about the near mystical health benefits of clarified butter. When I see a clear, unbroken Amman sky -- the same bright, cloudless scene as each day previous for the past three or more months -- I remember walking in the monsoon downpour of Delhi, thinking the most precious gift I could bring back to Jordan would be my sopping wet clothing to wring out over the dessicated soil. When I notice the kites flying over the Citadel, I recall their miniature versions being jerked and teased into brief airborne moments over the Indian slums laid out by the railway tracks. India was at its best as a series of vignettes framed by train windows and the open doors of tuk tuk cabs. My memory of it is best that way, too: little fragments of a bigger whole I can't take in all at once.