Monday, April 23, 2012

I think I'm in love with the man who sells me vegetables

He's in his 60s or 70s, at least, and owns the fruit and vegetable stand two blocks from my house. I buy tomatoes and onions from him several times a week. It's a chance to say hi. (Plus, I happen to eat a lot of tomatoes and onions.)

His English is eloquent and accent-free, but I generally speak with him in Arabic. It's a tricky balance: often English-speaking Jordanains are affronted by my attempts at Arabic. "Isn't my English good enough for you?" their tone implies. Or, minimally, "your Arabic is cute, but, come on now, let's be efficient." My vegetable guy doesn't mind.

I've been busy over the past several weeks. Seemingly overnight, I went from not knowing what to do with myself (and feeling terrified about my future) to having a million opportunities before me (and feeling terrified about my future). Perhaps it's because I know I'm leaving soon, but I'm suddenly overwhelmed with fascination for everything around me. I'm realizing how many things I don't know and how many people's stories I haven't heard. Like the man who sells me vegetables.

I came into his shop today, this time in pursuit of eggplant and onions. It's a small shop, one-room, and usually quite empty. I found my friend nodding off in a chair. "Assalamu Aleikum, Marhaba," I offer. He wakes up, startled, greets me back, and insists that he was only sleeping for a moment.

After exchanging greetings and news, he offers me some strawberries. I compliment him on his English, and he chats about teaching in Libya in the 60s and 70s. Oh, I know Gaddafi. Really? Personally? Sure, I've met him maybe 10 times. He invited me over to his house. This was before he became a bad man.

We chatted about his impressions of King Idris (the ruler before Gaddafi), and how oil corrupts. He apologized for delaying me, but I insisted that I enjoyed the conversation. I wrote a paper on this, I told him. He thought that was a bit strange.

I've run into so many small but fascinating moments here. Even the most mundane things--like Jordanian electrical outlets--totally entrance me. Why are there so many forms of outlets? Why aren't they standardized? Which came first? Are outlets installed in response to imported electronics? Are English outlets reminiscent of a colonial past? I mean, sometimes I really don't care. I just want to find a working outlet, damn it. But lately I've been fairly consumed by wonder.