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Moonrise over Amman

September 22, 2010

Wedding fireworks

I arrived in Amman, Jordan from Ada, Oklahoma during the last three days of Ramadan, a major event in the Arab world celebrated yearly during the ninth month of Islamic calendar. Observed by more than one billion Muslims worldwide, Ramadan is for spiritual purification achieved through fasting, self-sacrifice, and prayers.  The fast takes place from sunrise to sunset, and is one of the five Pillars of Islam.  On my fourth day in Amman, Ramadan concluded with a 3-day festival known as “Eid” or “Eid ul-Fitr,” which literally means “the feast of the breaking/to break the fast.” The holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and is a culmination of the month-long struggle towards a higher spiritual state. I was badly jet-lagged from the long flight, so unfortunately hard as I tried, I could not stay awake for all the final hours of Ramadan.

But many Christians here in Amman do fast during Ramadan to show respect for their fellow citizens.  I’m told this increases solidarity between religious communities here, and I note that Christmas is also listed on many calendars in Jordan.  When Ramadan ended, I was still staying in a hotel and had not yet moved into my apartment.  August is ruggedly hot in the Middle East and for two million people in Amman to refrain from their most basic human urges: to drink water, or eat anything at all, [or smoke cigarettes] is remarkable. Imagine in the United States if each and every person refrained from eating and drinking from sun up to sundown — for a month?  (Imagine if our US elected officials were to give up campaigning for a month.)  So as I witnessed “Eid ul-Fitr,” from my hotel room window, I can report that I had an overwhelming sense of joy — it was in the air and on the faces of everyone I came into contact with.

Since the breaking of the fast, the kingdom of Jordan has been in a celebratory mood with dozens of wedding parties to attend.  I, too, am in a festive mood because at last I’ve moved into my new apartment. As I write, I’m seated outside on the balcony watching the moonrise over Amman.  See pix below left.

Moonrise over the city of Amman

This evening one wedding party after another drives around the neighborhood honking and caravanning happy couples to their honeymoon destinations.  All this excitement reminds me of the first wedding I attended decades ago, around the age of eight.  Maybe nine.  I was spending the weekend at my friend’s house in Bethany Oklahoma. Her sister had gotten married that same day. I must have attended the wedding, but those details have faded from memory.  I do however recall a young blond woman, tall, wearing a white dress, ankle length, with yards of gathers in the skirt, a pink belt around her waist.  Seems like her shoulders are exposed. She has the whitest skin I’ve ever seen, yet I can’t even remember her name.  As for my clothes, I have no idea what I was wearing.  That’s the way memory works, we can’t always see ourselves as we were.

I was probably invited to the wedding to keep Charlotte, my third grade friend, company. Her sister was much older than she was.  Probably 18 at the time, but I’m guessing.

The stories of our life, or anyone’s life are breathed into existence when we remember them.  Tell them.  Repeat them.  Share them.  Memory is the spiritual realm of our being, the things we know about ourselves are centered there, and we make sense of these random images, scenes, abbreviated sentences when we relate them to what’s happening in present tense.  As far as I know I’ve never spoken of this event to anyone, but now, a tiny piece of my spirit realm is being brought to life by the honking of the Jordanian cars below.  As I’ve said before, one thing leads to another.

From this distance of many years, I can still see the bride, but not the groom.  Yet I know they both leave through the backdoor of Charlotte’s house, jump into a turquoise, white-topped 1957 Chevy and drive away.  Tin cans drag behind the car.  These few images are mine, filed away decades ago.  Once retold they will resurface again in the future.  I think I also see fireworks going off in the backyard, but I admit those images could be invented.  But here’s the part I know is true.  None of the guests at Charlotte’s house knew where the couple was going on their honeymoon.

“Practically no one,” says Rick, from Casablanca.  (Did I mention that often my memories are inculcated with film dialogue?)

Charlotte and I do know.  We’d overheard her mother telling her maternal grandmother the destination.  Soon a teenage boy with hair greased back like Elvis Presley comes running into the house.  Charlotte and I are in the kitchen eating the last bite of white icing off the top of the wedding cake.  At first, he looks aghast, (our fingers) then asks if we know where her sister has gone.

Charlotte says, “yes, we know.”

“Tell me.”

Silence.  We continue licking our fingers.

“C’mon, ple-e-e-ese,” he says.  “We just wanna show them we care.  Have some fun.”

More silence. The boy with the Elvis Presley hair leaves and returns to a group of his friends outside.

Another wedding caravan gathers in the street below my apartment building.

The shebab, a group of young men, begin playing the tbila, a set of drums that resemble bongos. They pound out rhythms and sing in unison, Salaam-Alaikum, Alaikum Salaam, Peace be upon you.  I can’t see the wedding couple, but there’s a large crowd in the street.  Fireworks shoot off right above my head and I go inside to fetch my camera. They’re still singing and drumming when several of the guests start their cars. When I look down into the street, I think the men must all be Gulf Arabs.  At least everyone is dressed like the Gulf Arabs on television.  Their stunningly regal and beautiful, but I can’t be sure of who, what, when and where.  I’m a foreigner here, and I know that I don’t know much of anything for certain.  Soon, the caravan drives off honking, and I return to my seat on the balcony.  And to my memories.

Charlotte always had mixed feelings about her older sister.  That much I knew before the wedding.  All day long she’d been whispering snide comments like: “She’s going to have a baby.  Can’t you tell?” she says.  I shake my head no.  Charlotte is one of those girls who always seems to be in the know.  After all, she’s a whole month older than me.  I’m just the opposite, never in the know, but fearless.  It’s a pattern I will repeat the rest of my life.

Within minutes, the teenage boy comes back into the kitchen to bribe us with one of his 45s.  Runaway by Del Shannon.  A very hot item in the autumn of 1961.  (For those of you who don’t know what a 45 is, or was, Google it.)

“C’mon you two, give. Tell me where they went and I’ll give you Del Shannon,” he says.

Charlotte looks at me as if to say, I can’t tell him.  So I blurt it out for her. “They’re going to the boathouse, Lake Overholser!”

Pretty soon, everyone jumps in their cars and drives away honking their horns.  I’m a hero to them, but an ingrate to the mother of the bride.  Charlotte and I are sent off to bed without Del Shannon.  Now decades later, sitting on the balcony of my apartment in Amman, Jordan, the wedding in Bethany Oklahoma seems an odd memory to recall.  But perhaps not.

Another wedding entourage drives passes. Seventh one tonight. Salaam-Alaikum, Alaikum Salaam.

[Just FYI.  My comments here are my own.  I am not an official of the Department of State, and this is not an official Department of State website.  The views and information presented here are my own, and do not in any way, represent the USA’s William J. Fulbright Program, or the Department of State.]

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jacki Rand permalink
    September 22, 2010 3:16 pm

    Geez, LeAnne, you were a cheap informant! Del Shannon. I do remember that song. I probably danced to it in my mother’s kitchen. My older brother (by ten years) “borrowed” my little record player and had it rigged over the washer in the kitchen so he could play his 45’s while he did the dishes. Then I would sneak in and dance around. Which annoyed him to no end. I was just telling a friend of mine about how you and Jim always have that party near the end of the summer and we all come to the party, then about halfway through you thank us all for being with you on your wedding anniversary. Each time I am surprised. I think, “Oh, this is so sweet.” This past summer was number 20 for you guys. Jesus that’s a long time. Good thing you all are beautiful and charming. Next year I will try to remember that, Oh, this is the wedding anniversary party. Trying to clean up my office. A never ending chore.

  2. LeAnne Howe permalink
    September 22, 2010 3:20 pm

    Tks Jacki. I’m so excited. I figured no one would remember Del Shannon, [I think that was his one and only hit, too.]

    See you soon, and sending hugs. ox

  3. September 22, 2010 3:40 pm

    no politicians for a month. that’s a holiday I can believe in. miss you. happy for you!

  4. September 22, 2010 4:17 pm

    Your reminiscences and Jordon reports are fascinating. I enjoy reading your work so much.

  5. Patrice permalink
    September 22, 2010 4:46 pm

    I was in the sixth grade in 1961 and danced to Del Shannon’s “Runaway” with my girlfriend, Tanya Booth, after school in her living room. I liked the song, and now I’m listening to it on I also love the photo you included in this blog–so beautiful! Hope you are in good health and writing.

  6. sandra soli permalink
    September 22, 2010 10:07 pm

    Wonderful blog report, LeAnne. We all miss you and look forward to hearing about your adventures. Are we supposed to ‘fess up if we remember ’45s? Foo, I even remember 78s! Hope your class is a delight. Am sure it will be. And remember to tell us about your food delights as well. Achukma!

  7. Gwen Westerman permalink
    September 22, 2010 11:21 pm

    I haven’t thought about Lake Overholser in years, but drove around it a few times. Do you remember that teepee at the turn-off to Edmond?
    What a beautiful description of the festivities of Eid. I think I am the only person in Good Thunder, Minnesota, who buys the Eid postage stamps, and I like them because the are beautiful calligraphy. Enjoy the peace–we’ll do our parts to help spread it from there to here. Hugs.

  8. LeAnne Howe permalink
    September 23, 2010 3:30 am

    Dear Gwen, Patrice, Sandy, and Ken:
    thanks for your wonderful comments. I’ll try and keep a running commentary going this year. [try to anyway]. Yesterday, the desert came to Amman. High winds up to 40 miles an hour blowing in mountains of red dust from the Arabian desert. It was beautiful to behold as it came in, but I’ve been cleaning red dust even out of my ears. Skies are clearing though. And Gwen, I can’t wait to see your Eid stamps. I have not seen them, but love calligraphy! Inshallah, I’ll see you all soon. oxoxox

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