The other day I cam across an article that I wrote almost three year ago. The essay depicts my infatuation with Madaba, my hometown and the birth place of my parents. Thought I’d share.

A tribute to Madaba

No one really understands the reason behind my infatuation with Madaba. Many interpret my emotional attachment to this small city as a blunt announcement of my all-Jordanian origin, something that might hit on a sensitive issue in the society I’m living in.

I’m not sure if I blame those skeptical ones, since I do really happen to mention the word Madaba in almost every single conversation I indulge in. However, my obsession with this city is but a sign of gratitude to the place where I spent the happiest childhood any youngster can think of. Ironically enough, I never actually lived there. My memories of this special place go back to the time when I used to spend summer vacations with my family in my grandparents’ house, located in the heart of this small city. We were living in Kuwait at that time and the three-month summer vacation was what I used to look forward to all during the school year.

What made our stay there even more special was the fact that my cousins, as a sign of welcome, would choose our grandparents’ house as the destination for their summer vacation as well. Yes, the place was like a beehive, but that was precisely what made the time spent there so memorable. We used to wake up early in the morning to the smell of the egg omelet prepared by my grandmother. I vividly remember how my cousin Zaidoun, my best companion at that time, and myself were the early birds of the house. We used to jump out of the bed (actually off the mattress) and run to the common room where we would usually find our grandparents reading verses from the bible — a morning dose that kept them going.

Zaidoun and I used to admiringly watch my grandparents perform their morning ritual, something that has definitely left a mark on me. After we were done with the morning activities we would spend some time at my grand father’s modest store adjacent to the house. The highlight of our day would be watching grandpa scorning anyone who would ask for cigarettes “It is bad for you, don’t you know?” he used to say. We eagerly awaited the reaction of unsatisfied customers: some laughed, others frowned and others just left.

Our days back then were anything but mundane. We embarked on every activity any child could imagine. From harassing the guys next door, to taming a stray cat we jokingly named “Meow”, our daily endeavors were truly versatile. True, we were deprived the privilege of watching TV due to my grandparents’ strong religious beliefs, but that was exactly what gave a special flavor to our summer adventures. We were free from anything meant to paralyze us or slow down the rapid pace of our lives.

Our night rituals had a special flavor as well. They were marked by bedtime stories told by grandpa. He used to recite the same story almost every time he put us to bed. It was the story of a young man attacked by a female ghoul while riding a horse on his way back from Syria. The man had gone to Syria to purchase jihaz for his future wife. Jihaz is loosely translated as a new wardrobe or set of clothes (a marriage tradition in Jordan). Ask any of my cousins about the story of the “Shorrot, Murrot” (as my granddad titled it) and they can all narrate it in a heartbeat.

One unique escapade that we still joke about till this day was when I convinced Zaidoun of the importance of making money. Zaidoun was seven at that time and I was nine and the idea of taking an allowance didn’t seem appealing to me then. My idea of making a fortune back then was to sell Sahbeh, some sort of a balloon lottery which disappeared a long time ago. After taking some time in selling the idea to Zaidoun, we walked into ‘downtown’ Madaba, bought the Sahbeh and embarked on our first business deal ever. It actually went really well and we made some money, all of which was done without the knowledge of either of our parents.

Sundays were always our favorite days. We would wake up earlier than the usual to get ready for church. Our grandparents insisted we put on our best attire on that special day. We obliged. We used to walk to the Evangelical Church down the street, accompanied by the inviting sound of the church bells, which were music to my ears and a hallmark of that special day. What I remember mostly about church was the look on my grandma’s face when she used to hear grandpa’s snoring in the middle of the sermon.

Now almost two decades have passed since my memorable summer vacations in Madaba and nothing has stayed the same. My grandparents passed away around 10 years ago and their house is now rented by Asma, the neighbor we used to drive crazy by spying on her through a hole in the wall. Zaidoun is now 23, and in the process of receiving his bachelors degree in architecture, while all my other cousins are happily married leading a totally different life from the crazy one in Madaba. Regarding the city itself? Well, it’s no longer the same. Its streets are no longer the inviting ones where we used to play and most of the familiar faces are nowhere to be found. As for me, I’m no longer the wild one who used to harass the guys next door. Sadly enough, I turned out to be the messed-up type who dreads the future and passionately yearns for the past.

To Madaba, my childhood city, all I can say is blessed are your people for with them I tasted the zest of life itself.