Archive for November, 2011

A day in the life of… an envelope vendor

Bawwab: ‘I still have the spirit in me’

By Mike Derderian

Star Staff Writer

Prancing around holding a small key to a mailbox, the eight-year-old boy approaches the central post office downtown. He is proud for his father finally allowed him to bring in the incoming mail, if there is any.

As he goes into the office he passes by an old man sitting next to a cardboard stall, where a bundle of large and small envelopes are neatly aligned next to a set of paper-writing pads adorned with flowery illustrations.

Sixteen years have passed now, the child has grown into a man and he no longer rushes to the mailbox, a lot of things have changed.

The post office was given a more modern metropolitan wrapping, as if it will affect the circulation of the incoming and outgoing mail, some shop owners passed away peacefully or retired leaving their ancient business in the hands of their sturdy offspring. Yet, one thing hasn’t changed entirely, except in age and appearance, over the past sixteen years.

Abu Ibraheem, the envelope vendor with his stall full of stationary, still lingers around the post office watching life as it changes through his wet spectacles, wearing a wool hat that shelters his balding head and his undying dream of having a decent kiosk.

For those whom haven’t bumped into Ismael Ibraheem Bawwab during their rushed strolls at the first leg of Prince Mohammed Street then they will fail to realize that he has been standing there for more than 35 years.

Abu Ibraheem’s story started in the mid sixties when he decided to open up his humble rickety-rackety stall next to the post office’s former entrance in order to provide ends meat to his family. Selling writing paper, envelopes and pens was his only way to earn money and still is.

“It was easier for people to buy the necessary postal stationary from here than to go to offices and bookshops far from the post office. In addition to its being a decent source of living I felt like I was offering people a service,” commenced the elderly man.

A Sri Lankan woman handing over the 60-year-old man a coin grabs the envelope and rushes away into the scattered multitudes, before a man throws a friendly salute to Abu Ibraheem, calling him by his first name.

“When you treat people decently, they will in return treat you the same. I haven’t harmed any one throughout the years I’ve stayed here minding my own business,” gently expressed Abu Ibraheem, whom appears to know everyone passing up and down the street.

Even the policeman, who assists the old man in pulling the small newspaper stand into shelter from the scattered rain drops, appears to be on friendly terms with him and jokes with him all throughout our interview.

“My only demand is that the Amman Municipality would allow me to put up a small kiosk that will allow me to sit in out of the sun’s reach—It’s been ages since I’ve asked for that,” added Abu Ibraheem, masking a sense of bitterness for the way he was treated.

Having a kiosk will not only help boast Abu Ibraheem work—which according to him is sufficient to cover the costs of living for himself and his family—but to provide a comfortable environment where he can sit during a rainy day or a cold frosty morning, allowing him to spend longer hours working. “Rainfall, to me, means folding my stall, packing everything inside the wooden box I have around the corner,” said Abu Ibraheem pointing at the post office’s back entrance, “and going home early.”

Off course the ride home is not as easy as person would expect for the man resides in Sahab and he has to ride three different transportations in order to get in and out of Downtown Amman.

Abu Ibraheem supports a family of nine girls and five boys, whom according to the vendor were allowed a decent education through his selling envelops. “There were times I used to sell a hundred Dinar’s worth of stationary,” said Abu Ibraheem, who further added that he now barley sells above thirty or forty—the arrival of the modern correspondence technologies led to a decrease in sales.

“One of my sons works in the air conditioning business, he only earns JD 170, which barely suffice his own family’s needs for he is married,” explained Abu Ibraheem on why he still works. “Even if they ask me to retire, I will work, so long I still have the spirit in me.”

On how he acquires his merchandise, Abu Ibraheem says that he buys the stationary from different libraries and sells them at his stand, where a person can also buy copies of local newspapers.

“Believe it or not, a lot of people approach me by saying that my prices are expensive until they go to a library and find out that my prices are actually less,” smilingly says Abu Ibraheem, whose customers are mainly foreign laborers residing in Jordan, like Indian and Sri Lankan nationals.

Ironic enough for a man whose living revolves around selling epistle stationary, Abu Ibraheem admits that he doesn’t know how to read and write, which is one of the major reasons why he can’t find another job.

P.S:

These pieces have been taken verbatim from the original edited series “A Day in the Life of a …” published in The Star Weekly on December, 16, 2004 , as I want to remind myself of my progression as a writer.

The series was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.

A total of 44 pieces were written. God willing I will publish one each month.

The brave people of Egypt in the past few months have proven, once and for all, that they have the best sense of humor among Arabs.

The following photographs are photoshoped images  that spread across the internet, like wildfire, through which Egyptian creatives reflected their sense of humor,  love of comics and pop-culture, and of course courage and freedom under fire.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is clinging to power neglecting the free will of Egyptians who are demanding that power be handed to a civilian governmental council until a president is democratically elected.

Hundreds of protesters have fallen and thousands injured yet many, young and old brave Egyptians, still stand their ground at Tahrir Square, where giant robots, UFOs, monsters, heroes and anti-heroes have been making an appearance, to protect their January 25 Revolution.

The first robot to appear was Mazinger Z. It is unclear if this heroic robot from Japan is with the freedom fighters of Egypt or with SCAF!

Mazinger Z’ second appearance. It hasn’t been confirmed yet if Mazinger Z actually used his Rocket Punch to hurt demonstrators, however, there are confirmed accounts of coward snipers who have been putting out the eyes of people present at Tahrir Square.

Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) than made an appearance. There are no reports of alien abductions, however, SCAF has been throwing people in jail for the most trivial of reasons: Freedom and democracy.

Another robot from Japan soon arrived to Egypt: Grendizer, manned by the heroic Duke Fleed, gave hope to thousands. The arrival of the alien robot makes us wonder if  SCAF are the minions of Vega?

The abundant use of tear gas, or the lack of as SCAF spokepersons have been trying to convince the media, brought a renowned anti-hero to the scene. What is the Goddamn Batman doing in Tahrir Square?

Another question that comes to mind with the appearance of the Dark Knight of Gotham in Tahrir Square: Are Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul on SCAF’s payroll?

To the marvel of everyone present the Amazing Spiderman, probably jealous of DC’s involvement, decided to make an appearance. No Stanley Lee wasn’t there!

Another less famous robot, thanks to Michael Bay’s unimaginative re-imagining of Transformers, decided to make an appearance: Bumblebee. Shia Labeouf was probably somewhere screaming his lungs out.

There were sightings of a bizarre creature that appeared to be throwing gas bombs at panicky bystanders. It seems that SCAF is working with some rather heavy dark forces.

Someone from SCAF actually thought that slipping inside a wooden horse was a good idea. Well, it beats the election campaigns of some candidates out there. “Can you do it!” a candidate asks his doppelgänger, who answers with a smirk, “Yes, I can because I lover her!” Damn freedom you have to hire some better writers.

Ezio Auditore da Firenze from Assassins Creed wasn’t able to keep a stealthy presence. Someone took a photograph of the master assassin. I am not a gamer but I’ve watched a colleague of mine play this game at the office.

In spite of the humorous approach of these photographs what is happening in Egypt and to its brave people is tragic and I hope the Egyptians find peace and the path to democracy as soon as SCAF decides to let go of power.

A big round of applause goes to the creatives and freedom fighters who created these images :-})

I Hate Snipers

Posted: November 22, 2011 in beTwixt & beTween
Tags: , , ,

Egyptian freedom fighters and protesters have been circulating a photograph of an Egyptian lieutenant/a sharpshooter who is targeting the eyes of protesters. They have his name and address and have put out a dead or alive reward on his head.

What type of sick disposition lies behind the modus operandi of such an individual?

Putting out people’s eyes … Pure evil! God be with the brave people of Egypt and Arabs fighting for freedom.

By Mike V. Derderian

March 3, 2010

Anyone turning the pages of a tourism guide would easily know that Amman is the capital city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

But to many Jordanians it is the city, where they were born and raised, where their lives thrive, and their stories are exchanged and written.

In the past few years a new term was coined to describe the dwellers of Amman, which has always been the center of unity for many Jordanians, including the one who is writing this piece.

The term is: Ammanites. Those are the brave men and women of the city, where they live, happy or sad, earn a living after shedding many a blood and sweat, experience their own colorful culture with a mix of Western influence, and eventually like everyone else raise their own offspring within its mountainous boundaries.

But what can a person visiting Amman for a few days or more do? Easy, when in Amman do as the Ammanites would do: visit all the places they grew up around and that they cherished over the years; and most importantly mingle with them.

The first place that one should visit in Amman is Al Balad (down town). There you must visit Hashem’s, where a hot Fava beans plate along with Homous and a platter of chopped tomatoes, onions and mint, would most certainly tickle your palate. There you can also read the dozen framed articles hanging on its walls, and that describe its unique place in the hearts of people passing through Al Balad.

Just across the street from the postal office one can visit Al Istiklal Bookshop, where time old notebooks, pens, erasers, rulers and drawing pads—my favorite buy—are found. Next to the bookshop’s steep staircase lies Jafra, a cultural café frequented by Jordanians seeking good food, hot drinks, nargiles and a shelter from the hustle and bustle of Down Town Amman.

Search the Greater Amman Municipality’s website, http://www.ammancity.gov.jo, and you will find out that Jordanians used to refer to Amman as Al Madinah, which is one of the twenty-seven regions constituting Jordan.

Amman has always been a center for arts, culture and literature. It is now filled with over 30 cultural venues, ranging between art galleries, cultural centers and art-house-cum-cafes. The new generation is more and more realizing the necessity of chronicling the tales of its old inhabitants and examining its unique architecture.

Now back to our walk through the crowded streets of Al Balad. Traveling Al Balad should be done on foot so park your car somewhere between the 1st circle, Rainbow Street and Jabal Amman and start walking downwards.

Once you get there you will be amazed how the old embraces the new. There you will see people from all walks of life crowding its streets. Some are there to do business and shop, while, others are there to enjoy what a simple walk in the street has to offer: A crowded sanctuary amidst faded facades that surround old streets, where the scent of vegetables, spices and Jordanian air greet one’s sense of smell.

If you find yourself facing an ancient Roman edifice surrounded by haphazard buildings then you have reached the Roman Amphitheater. Mind you it is not the only one as Amman, and its surrounding areas, was an ancient Roman colony. If you have the time you must visit Jerash, and of course the non-Roman historical and archeological wonder Petra.

After ascending the steps of the Roman Amphitheater in Al Balad a person can visit the Folklore Museum, where one can learn about the old faces and traditions of Amman’s people. I remember visiting it back in the 80s part of a school trip. It is until this day unchanged; even the artifacts and the wax puppets are still the same. Sadly the museum lost its past glamor and is almost forgotten.

Facing the silent stones of the Roman Amphitheater that echo of voices, whenever a concert or a festival is held there, is the Citadel. Perched over a flat hill the white stones of this area can be seen from anyplace in Amman. Artificial lights accentuate the whiteness of its stones no sooner darkness spreads its cool blanket over our skies.

The Citadel is a magical place, where one can stand and gaze in bewilderment at the cascading edifices of Amman’s asymmetrical buildings. There Amin Matalaqa’s Captain Abu Raed, the main character in his celebrated 2007 movie, sat on a large wall to tell his fascinating stories to enthused children, who were eager to grow up and travel the world the same way he did, and become accomplished storytellers as he was.

From a distance Jordan’s largest flag can be seen moving to the voiceless tempo of the wind that sweeps through our nights. Since its erection it became part of a fascinating ancient background.

Now, what really amazes me is how some Jordanians storytellers fail to acknowledge Ashrafia, and other areas around Amman, as a center of fascinating stories. Maybe they just haven’t lived there to know any story. For me this area holds Hay Al Arman (the Armenian neighborhood), where Armenians lived upon arriving to Jordan after their Diaspora back in 1915. It is also the area where the first Armenian church and school were built.

Every Friday my parents used to send me and my sister to one of the Armenian clubs that exist there to be part of the Armenian scouts. I remember the warm Friday afternoons that I’ve spent there playing basketball and buying ice-cream from Abu Majdee’s grocery store that now evolved into a supermarket.

There we used to have verbal fights with neighborhood boys, who came for a friendly game of football and basketball. Losers simply cannot tolerate the bragging of winners. Why brag winning when you commend a good game. I cannot remember how many games I lost but to tell you the truth it never irked me as I always had more fun playing basketball than actually wining; still that doesn’t mean I didn’t block people thanks to my good jump. Gone are those days.

If you are passing by Wadi Abdoun on a Friday just take a look to the overhanging facades that are built on cascading cliffs and you’ll see a dozen or more kites adorning the clear blue skies. Children living in areas like Al Ashrafia, and who haven’t forgotten the taste of handmade toys, go through a lot to get these colorful kites, made out of paper, wooden reeds and strings, up in the air.

Why am I not referring to the so called divide between Eastern and Western Amman that so many Jordanian storytellers refer to in their stories? Well, that’s another story but I’ll tell you this: I did not live under a tin roof like so many veteran Jordanian writers claim. I grew up in an apartment situated in a building on the first leg of Wadi Abdoun and I used to fly kites like any other Jordanian kid from Eastern Amman. Does that make me any less of an Ammanite or a storyteller for that matter? No…

Now Al Ashrafia is hardly a walking area as its steep serpentine streets would tire the most experienced pedestrians and walking enthusiasts. Ever tried walking uphill from Ra’s Al Ein to Abu Darweesh mosque? I remember a boy, who didn’t want to spend his allowance on a taxi fare, so instead he went uphill and enjoyed a very grueling climb.

Our Amman was originally built on seven hills, but it now spans an area of over nineteen hills, each known as a Jabal meaning mountain.

Speaking of Jabals, if you don’t visit Jabal Amman then you have hardly visited any place in Amman especially Rainbow Street. Around each corner in Jabal Amman you will find an art gallery or a café adorned with paintings.

Back in the 80’s Rainbow Street was the place to be. There you can have an enjoyable stroll through its narrow, very recently cobbled, streets. If you smell something good on your way then it must be the smell of Falafel Al Quds. All you have to do is buy a sandwich or two and continue walking in any direction as on your way you will stumble upon an array of cafes and interesting hangouts like Books@cafe.

One should not forget to visit Souk Jara, which must be the niftiest flea market in the world, on Thursdays and Fridays. If you want another flea market, with a different feel, go to Souk (market) Al Abdali or Al Joura, which translates to The Pit, on a Friday morning.

Now let us move on from familiar places to familiar faces: Ours. If people want a Jordanian character study they must see Emad Hajjaj’s caricatures that will assist them in knowing more about us.

Hajjaj’s work tackles everything from daily life, social norms, art, government performance, parliament, love and hate, taboos, the do’s and don’ts, and of course what it is like to be a Jordanian.

His main and loud mouthed character Abu Mahjoub is most certainly one of us but as they say in Arabic not all your fingers are the same. To the chagrin of foreigners Hajjaj’s work is in Arabic but maybe one day he will eventually translate his valuable canon into English.

Over the years the Jordanian cartooning scene witnessed the emergence of amazing Jordanian caricaturists and cartoonist like Omar Al Abdallat, Mahmoud Hindawi, Mahmoud Al Rifai and Osama Hajjaj with works that also reflect our inherent nature.

It is hard to sum up all the places, alleys and neighborhoods that you have to visit in Amman. Whenever I have the chance to do so you will come across a blog post here.

What you can do until then is to allow your eyes and ears to guide you through our streets. If you are not able to do so ask a friend, who knows the city by heart, to show you around. Wish I had the time to accompany you but I walk alone; sometimes accompanied by my Canon AV- 1, which is hanging from my shoulder, waiting for “the” right photograph and its elements to fall into place, the same way the right words find their way into a paragraph.

If you are here, and most probably reading this, why don’t you celebrate Amman’s coming of age with us by reading its stories and of course creating your own the same way I am doing.

Amman is my New York evermore… I am one of its children and no more…

Photograph taken by a CANON AV-1 by Mike V. Derderian

I used to think I was a Batman junkie until I met Mike Mignola’s Hellboy …

Word bubble: 

Not everyone should be in parliament. Vote for the right candidates people! Demons, like this cute fella, are everywhere.

A Day in the Life of a … Bus Driver

Abu Mariam: ‘Nobody can imagine the mistreatment we undergo’

By Mike Derderian

Star Staff Writer

They are the silent bystanders of a bustling life, the captains who guide their 13-meter yellow vessels through asphalt rivers, carrying those who cannot afford taking any other means of transportation as they go about their day-to-day lives.

Sameer George Abu Mariam is one of those bus drivers, whom you’d meet as you ride Al Sharq Al Awsat (Mideast) bus, and you cannot but to admire the veteran driver.

As people file slowly towards the half empty bus at the station, the sound of dropping coins in the toll box doesn’t distract Abu Mariam who examines those entering the bus with inquisitive eyes.

A young woman scouring through her purse’s contents approaches the toll box and tells Abu Mariam, “It’s hard to find change? I have half a JD; is it good enough?”

“The problem is we do not give change,” exclaimed Abu Mariam, who has been driving for more than 51 years, while the woman tossed the coin and proceeded to the closest seat.

“When it comes to my work as a bus driver, if I was counting on its income to support my family, we would have died from hunger. The JD 160 they are paying us is nothing in light of the growing expenses of life. In addition to this primary salary they pay us JD 5 for Friday,” continued Abu Mariam.

“My first trip starts at 6:00am and ends at 7:30pm—as you can see I’ve just arrived here,” added the father of two boys and two girls. “The long hours are to ensure transport continuity for we are lacking drivers.”

Before becoming a bus driver, Abu Mariam operated heavy machinery and was a trainer with a CCC license and a long experience. But in order to keep his meter running, the 68-year-old man became a driver at the end of his career; he says that a man at his age should not stop working.

“I worked at a lot of projects; however, whenever I finish working in a project I go back to driving buses. In that line of work I’ve toured the world; went to the Faukland, Botswana, Lesoto and even South Africa,” proudly said Abu Mariam, who also expressed his disappointment on the way people look down at drivers.

“What we suffer most here in Jordan is the treatment we get from people—the passengers. Nobody can imagine the mistreatment we undergo and it doesn’t stop with those who like to bargain their ride,” stated Abu Mariam, adding that this type of people argue a lot and tend to give them a lot of hard time. “In addition to that our major problem is that people do not abide to bus stops.”

Abu Mariam’s bus route, that consists of eleven buses, eight of which work around the hour, starts from Al Sharq Al Awsat station going through Ra’as Al Ein, the Fifth circle, King Abdullah’s Gardens, Safeway street, which is one of the rough spots for drivers according to Abu Mariam, and the final stop at the Jordan University.

“Today, a lot of people stand under the bridge adjacent to the Safeway seeking shelter from the sun. So, when I am driving a 13-meter bus I can’t simply stop for a young man gesturing for a ride under the bridge,” explained Abu Mariam. “First it’s against the traffic regulations in Jordan, second it’s prohibited and the third reason is if I get a ticket for loading passengers from there the company will tell me that it was against regulations, so I’ll be in trouble.”

Not only he has to account for his company’s strict regulations, but Abu Mariam also encounters transgressions of impolite passengers, like that 17-year-old teenager, who spat on the bus no sooner it went past him because Abu Mariam refused to pull over in a spot other than the designated bus stop.

“I did nothing! What can I do? So, I swallowed the insult and went on to the next bus stop, to my amazement he simply went on board not remembering his act,” said Abu Mariam, who added if he scolded the boy people would blame him, since he is older.

One would think that a day of driving from one bus stop to another consists of only problems such as these, whereas, Abu Mariam’s day is further disrupted by taxi drivers. “Our colleagues fail to see that a bus licensed to a load of 60 to 70 passengers cannot stop easily, as they foolishly dash in front of us.”

“I am simply passing time, I used to work in Oman as a heavy machinery trainer,” said Abu Mariam, who first obtained his driving license in 1953 and the heavy machinery license three years later.

The hard working bus driver, who resides in Al Ashrafia, has no problem in waking up at 5:00am to go to the bus station. And sometimes, Abu Mariam uses his own car to get to the bus stop whenever the company car fails to pick him up saying that money doesn’t count as much as the importance of getting to work on time, since he has to move at 6:00am.

Once work is done, Abu Mariam heads home where he finds comfort spending the remainder of the evening with his wife and children as he watches recorded television episodes of his favorite programs that he missed while driving people around Amman.

“Until now there are some passengers who fail to notice that they boarded the wrong bus. Bus drivers like me in other countries are totally respected by passengers. We drive you to your work, school and university so a little respect for drivers won’t hurt anyone,” concluded Abu Mariam. “I have to say that pedestrians, more than drivers, should be aware of traffic regulations, especially those who cannot wait to jump out of the bus no sooner it begins to slow down or the moment the door opens.”

P.S:

These pieces have been taken verbatim from the original edited series “A Day in the Life of a …” published in The Star Weekly on October, 7, 2004 , as I want to remind myself of my progression as a writer.

The series was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.

A total of 44 pieces were written. God willing I will publish one each month with a symbolic illustration of the interviewee and his/her profession.

I was supposed to illustrate this but for lack of time I decided to take a shortcut. Palestine is now officially the 194th UNESCO member. Some folk are angry! Need I say more?

I should have though written American Administration instead of American. My bad! Apologies to the inspiring free thinkers and people of America :-})