Coffee, Turkish and Otherwise

Oh, sweet merciful heavens, Starbucks.  I don’t even drink Starbucks in the US– I like plain, black coffee, so their concoctions aren’t my style– but at this point I’m desperate: It’s three in the afternoon, yesterday was a full 24 hours without my fix, and now Starbucks is an oasis in this coffee desert.

You thought Arab culture involved a lot of coffee?  Yeah, me too.  But my host family drinks tea in the morning (talking to other study abroad students in Jordan, this seems to be common), and while most cafes offer a Turkish coffee (think espresso but with a sludge of grounds in the bottom), it just isn’t the same.  If you desire “American coffee”, as the sweet black nectar of the heavens is called here, expect to pay 4-5 dollars for maybe, if you’re lucky, 12 oz.  What I wouldn’t give for an enormous Styrofoam cup of terrible gas station brew right now!

Although, to be fair, I’m glad I’m only wrestling with coffee demons; students who’ve given up smoking in the past are finding their own predicament harder to deal with.  It turns out that smoking is ubiquitous in Jordan: at home, in restaurants, on the sidewalk (in a box with a fox).  I might as well be a smoker, from the sheer amount of second-hand I’m picking up.  (On the plus side, I’ve been informed by a smiling tour guide that cancer treatment in Jordan is free if you can’t afford it.)

Even here, at the Starbucks in City Mall, someone is smoking.  And, yes, the mall; not a souq, or a bazaar, or some other collection of booths displaying scarves and “magic” lamps.  A mall with a Forever 21 and a glorious Starbucks, and even a small amusement park.  That’s where my friends are now, strapped into a machine that will spin them around, but I can barely think straight much less deal with screaming children without my — “Qahwa sawda’, lo smaht,” I order.  Black coffee, please.

And oh, is it good.

Now that I’m caffeinated, and therefore thinking, I decide I’ll pick up a bottle of instant coffee while I’m here (of course the mall has a full-size grocery store) thereby ending this daily frantic search for my next cup of joe.  Because, let’s face it, as much as I want to be open-minded during this experience and adjust to life in Jordan, I’m not about to give up my American coffee.

I’m sure I’ll feel the same longing for things unique to Jordan when I return home, such as the hospitality to strangers.  I ordered my textbook in a copy shop the other day, and the storeowner told me it would be half an hour.  I said I’d return then, and turned to leave.  “No, sit!” he stopped me.  “Please, make yourself at home.”  He served me Turkish coffee and offered to help me with my homework when I pulled out a list of Arabic drills.  Another assistant chatted with me about my studies and my home in the US.  Two young boys ran back and forth, stopping occasionally to peer from behind one of the adults.  I can’t imagine this happening back home, where I’d be told to leave or sit in a glossy waiting area, instead of among the employees, playful children, and clickety-clacking printers.

I’ll almost certainly miss this generosity of spirit in much the same way I’m now missing coffee; unfortunately, unlike Nescafe, it isn’t exactly something I can pick up at the mall.  I’ll just have to bring it back with me and hope it catches on, inviting people in for a chat and making them a coffee– maybe even a Turkish coffee, because, if I’m being honest, it’s actually pretty good.

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