Really, Hamzeh… not now.
Again, how slack I have been in updating my blog! Time is whizzing by faster each day, I’ve been here one month (hence my meeting with Hamzeh, who loves me, but more on that in a tic), and things are really going pretty darn well… at least I like to think so.
The original plan has changed a bit. When I left Australia my plan was to spend a month here in Amman working on this here Iraqis project, and then spend the first two weeks of September in Syria, doing a kind of same-same but different type thing. As August rolled on, however, and I realised how MASSIVE the story is here in Amman alone, I’ve decided to can the Syrian part of the work (for now) and focus my time on the people I’ve gained access to here in Jordan. That, and seeing as it took me two weeks to meet people who were happy to have me around, interview them and photograph their lives, the Syrian part of this story can wait on the shelf for the time being.
Which brings me to a point in Amman where I need to extend my Jordanian visa – valid for a month only… apparently very easy to extend at your friendly neighborhood police station. So yesterday , having been here just about one month, I wandered off to the downtown police station to renew my visa. Down the laneway from the hotel, past the cats, through the thick Ramadan traffic and across the street. Say ‘Marhaba’ to the copper at the front door, up the stairs, and into a foyer with about 4 doors. Walk past the guys sitting on the chairs in the foyer, into the room emanating the most noise, hence containing the most people- usually the place to get things done in the Middle East. Straight ahead, a large desk surrounded by about eight policemen all discussing something very loudly, and to the left, a big cage full of men. Yes. A cage. In the corner. Full of men. Not a jail cell. A cage. (Actually, kind of like the one we had in the backyard at Abercrombie St for anyone who came to those mad cage-inspired house parties back in the day.)
The cops at the desk turn to me, the foreign guy standing with passport in hand pointing to the page with the Jordanian visa: “Mumkin, bassporr, visa?” I say. The noise in the room stops as they continue to stare at me. One of the officers looks at me, looks at the cage, looks at me again. Then, like something from a Roadrunner cartoon, I see it click in his head that it’s not so good to have the foreign guy see the cage full of men in the corner. He moves into gear. “Ahhh, mister, what do you want?”, he says as he kind of shuffles me toward the door and out into the foyer again. “I need to renew my visa”, I reply as I shuffle backwards, smiling as I realised what might have been going on in the busy room.
(Imagined translation of Arabic conversation that was going on as I entered the noisy room:
Police officer 1: “How the hell did those guys get into that cage in the corner? Where did the cage come from? How do we get them out?”
Police officer 2: “Don’t ask me, I just came on shift! Talk to Larry, he did the night shift, and when I left here for Iftar yesterday that cage wasn’t here!”
Police officer 1: “Well, get them out of here before the boss arrives in 15 minutes. You know how he hates being caught off guard, and now his wife won’t let him drink coffee at Ramadan – I don’t want to cop it.”
Police officer 2: “Who the hell is that American guy in the corner with the passport”
Police officer 1: “Get him out of here too!”
“Oh, neeeew viiisa fi basspoorrr?”, says the pushy officer to me. “Aiwa, Ana min Ustralia wa… uhh… I need a new visa”. “Go. Markaz shurta philadelphia, yalla…” (shakes his hand at me like ‘get lost’, I understand: “Go away, wrong station buddy, this is where we lock guys up in cages in the corner not where we renew visas. You need to go to the Philadelphia Police Station”).
So I leave. Out of the foyer, down the stairs, ask the copper at the front door where the other police station is and then off to find it, again dodging the downtown Ramadan traffic to get across the street and around the corner.
I rock up at Philadelphia police station and say hi to the twenty or so officers sitting out the front, smoking. They tell me to go to the second floor for visa renewals. Into the lift. Out of the lift. Nobody home. I spy a guy one floor down and go talk to him. “Yes, please.” He says. I explain my visa situation. He smiles. I explain it again (in my busted Arabic) and he seems to get what I’m saying with an “aha” look on his face and takes my passport and signals for me to follow. We get in the lift, go to the second floor. Nobody home. Aha!
We go back to level one. By this stage we had found an Egyptian guy walking about the police station, also looking for a visa extension. Strength in numbers! Our policeman guide takes us to a room overlooking the front entrance, where the 20 or so coppers were having a smoko on my way in. Our copper shouts to the other coppers, “Ya! Habibi! Hun Ustraliii wa Misrii visa something something bassporrr something!” (You can imagine your own translation for that one).
Copper-friend takes us back to the lift. We get in. Door closes. I extend my hand and tell him my name is Ed. He says “Australia beautiful.” I agree and tell him Jordan is also beautiful, especially Amman (*cough*). He says thanks. Shakes my hand again and says “my name is Hamzeh. I love you.”
Hamzeh. Thank you.
The door opens. In front of us stands a furrowed-brow attached to a man in a Jordanian police uniform. He looks at me, the Egyptian and Hamzeh. We step out of the lift. Hamzeh tells the uniformed furrow-brow that we’re after visa extensions. He turns to the Egyptian and starts to yell, for at least one minute, about what I got was something to do with “Egyptian” and “dogs”. Once done, the Egyptian scurries. Ouch. We re-enter the lift.
Exiting on the second floor (hello, old friend), we enter the u.f.b.’s office. He sits down and takes my passport (Hamzeh left us at the lift). UFB looks a the passport. He looks at me. I say, “how’s it going?”. He says, “not…. fine….”. “Bad day?”, I say. He looks at me, says nothing.