It is 1:50 a.m. at the Queen Alia International Airport in the arrivals hall.
Ahmed, a dark-skinned, middle-aged, stalky man of average height is wearing jeans and a collared shirt. He speaks only a few words of English and is waiting for me with a smile on his face and a large, white sign that reads, ‘Clea Machold’ in black, block capitals.
As we walked to the parking lot, Ahmed started pressing his car remote key anxiously. He forgot where he parked. He laughed as he kept pressing the remote to find the car, which lit up when he pressed the buttons. “Don’t worry, I will find,” he said.
There were cars everywhere, but Ahmed wove his way to the exit and onto the highway in no time. With the windows down, a pleasant breeze swept through his four-door, white sedan. Despite not signaling and driving between lanes, there were no accidents, not even any close calls in fact.
When we arrived at the apartment, Hala and Valentina greeted me excitedly despite being jetlagged and exhausted, having only arrived a few days earlier. Our hugs were viciously interrupted by the screams of two cats in heat that appeared at our front door.
We spent Wednesday exploring the hilly, narrow streets of Amman. Colourful, intricately embroidered, long dresses were on sale in many shops. Honking horns, the imam’s call to prayer and voices speaking Arabic filled the air.
Then, we found our way to a local bookstore. The owner recognized Hala from their last meeting 10 years ago when she lived here. His contagious laughter shook the bookshelves and our spirits. He served us Iraqi tea to celebrate the reunion.
Using Suhad’s (Hala’s mom) hand-drawn map, our next stop was the Al-Husseiny Mosque.
Then, we took a taxi to Bünn Izhaiman, a 122-year-old local coffee shop. On the way, the driver pulled over and ordered a coffee to go. Turns out that coffee’s flavour can be enhanced with coal as Hala translated his words in real-time.
As evening approached, the three of us girls crammed into the back seat of the third taxi that day with five full shopping bags. The ride home was chilly as the sun set over the city. A flashing, red light emanated from the spot where the car beside us was missing its gas cap.