At night the cafes dotted along Amman’s Rainbow Street bloom with fruited tobacco from burning sheeshas. I hail a cab to take me across the city. I’m in search of the perfect humus. At the hotel’s recommendation, last night they sent me to an upscale Lebanese restaurant where my waiter boasted, “We have the best humus in Jordan.” Admittedly, had I been back at the Kempinski, I would have spread that dip all over my naked body and danced around the moonlit room to the mysterious and undulating prayer calls echoing through the walls.
In pursuit of my “humus challenge,” I have acquired another name of a restaurant. It is scribbled in Arabic on the back of Starbuck’s receipt where I had fresh-squeezed orange juice at Mecca Mall earlier in the day. This, too, was a whimsical indulgence after successfully replacing the pair of swimming goggles I left-behind at a Crowne Plaza in Changsha, China.
My taxi driver speeds and smokes while pointing to innocuous store fronts, roads and buildings out both windows, meticulously naming each one as if doing so makes them somehow significant: the Al Shabib Apartment Complex, the Fifth Circle Road, Hardees, Grill Nassar, Chili’s, Arab Jordan Bank, H2O Disco, “the California University,” Popeyes, Cafe Naijar, the Sixth Circle Road, Fuddruckers, the Sheraton. He goes on like this for 20 minutes until he plops me off at a night cafeteria.
A departure from the sedated, gardened terrace from the night before, tonight’s establishment is teaming with chatter and the din from glasses of mint tea clattering against saucers. The florescent tubes above burn an unnecessary brightness into an otherwise under-lit city. Gaggles of elegantly turbaned men huddle up and down the rows of lunchroom tables and talk intently. I press between other patrons and against the deli’s glass partition vying for a view of the items on display, beyond which are layers deep with platters of mezza. I shout my order over the counter, and a characteristically stout chef draped in butcher whites scribbles on a square of paper and chucks it back.
I cue up at a booth and present the scrap and pay. The attendant stamps the paper and hands it back semi-signaling to take a seat. I sit down and two waiters quickly descend, one pouring scalding water into a double shot glass filled with mint leaves and a sugar cube. The other takes the stamped order.
Life is a sequence of constant interruptions, allowing rarely more than the briefest encounters in the moment. I think of my wife and son and how far away they are.
Enter the humus. Another waiter bearing a basket of hot pitas drops three pieces onto a plate and hurries off. The tea waiter refills my glass. I tear the bread and dip in: chicpea heaven. This is as good as it gets, for at least for this moment.