Posts Tagged ‘Walid Kalaji’

A day in the life of a… salop vendor

Shukri: Winter is the best season for sweets

Mike Derderian
Star Staff Writer

For those passing through downtown Amman on a cold winter day nothing beats a cup of hot salop (sa7lab) to warm their chilled bones and stop their teeth from clattering. Of course if you are one of those people who grew up with the traditional ambience of our old marketplace  then you are no stranger to Abu Rateb’s place where Mohammad Shukri has been making and selling the stuff for more than 17 years.

“Our recipe hasn’t changed; it is prepared by our employer’s sons, my father and myself,” commenced Shukri before being interrupted by a client, who asked if they had licorice juice. “No sorry, we only serve it during summer,” politely answered the 30 year-old Shukri to the disappointed teenager.

Located at the corner of Al Khayam Cinema’s Uphill Street, Al Mardini’s place according to Shukri has been around since 1951 and like the many shops in Al Balad (downtown) it has become a household name to a lot of Jordanians, especially to those who savor the spicy white blend.

Placed on a slow fire, salop gradually brews into a white thick liquid that consists of milk, starch and vanilla for flavor, announces Shukri. Before scooping salop from the brass caldron into a cup for an eager customer he slowly stirs it once or twice. The young man then skillfully sprinkles shredded coconut and cinnamon over the warm salop and places a wide straw in the cup before handing it over to the customer who takes careful sips—salop is near boiling—as he walks away in delight.

“In wintertime we switch to salop; however in the summer we sell cold beverages like lemon, licorice, carob and tamarind. We also sell warm harisa, which is our specialty, in addition to awama and the traditional sweet known as Asabe’ Sit Zeinab,” elaborated Shukri, “winter is the best season for sweets.”

Expressing his comfort at working with the Mardini family, Shukri says that a person working in downtown grows accustomed to the area, streets and neighboring shopkeepers. Consequently his long working hours at the shop appear shorter and less tedious.

“We open shop at 6:00 a.m. My shift starts at 4:00 p.m. and continues until 12:30 and sometimes till one past midnight. My father has been working with the Mardini’s for 37 years; today he happens to be on leave,” said Shukri, who further added that it was because of his father that he continued working in the business, “I wanted to help him out and here I am.”

On how they prepare the juices and sweets Shukri said that they have a small workshop located atop the shop where most of the beverages are mixed and sweets packed.

“I am an active person. As my shift starts late, I utilize mornings in doing my usual errands. Basically I don’t have a holiday but that doesn’t bother me much,” added Shukri, “our working days are almost the same and nothing much changes during festivities and holidays.”

As in any profession, the juice business isn’t void of intruders, who are in for the easy gain as the young man puts it. “Not everyone knows that it is vital to work according to a recipe. It is a lucrative business and this is what attracts them.”

According to Shukri people of all sorts and ages, especially the younger generation, are attracted to Abu Ratib’s salop place by word of mouth. “They come to us saying that their parents or grandparents used to come here and no matter how late or early it is, people still come to us,” joyfully added Shukri.

Most Jordanians nowadays live by the clock and are always in a hurry, so it is no longer a favorable pastime to stand placidly opposite Abu Ratib’s marble counter in order to enjoy a hot or cold drink, where trays of hot harisa glitter as the neon light reflects off its syrupy surface. However, you can always order a takeaway salop as Shukri puts it pointing to the plastic containers that are neatly placed on a shelf next to the hot caldron.

“A lot of Jordanians drink salop; it is a nutritious drink for the body, and wherever you go people know salop which is a very old recipe,” expressed Skukri, “there are a lot of salop vending shops in Jordan yet people prefer to come to us because of our reputation and the unique flavor we offer.”

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.

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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.

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.