Here, in Jordan, I’ve discovered a new hobby in the balcony. There is this indescribable feeling, found only when sitting on the grimy plastic of a weak-legged chair and surrounded by your housemates’ damp underwear left to dry under the Jordanian desert-sun. I like staring at the same bit of road below for hours on end. I like to laze my way to oblivion, stretched out across the tiles. Perhaps it has something to do with the endless grey English skies I’ve left at home. I’m a man of simple pleasures, and balconies complete me.
So goes my life in Jordan and so goes, as far as I can tell, the life of many people in Jordan. Every residential building has a tantalising array of balconies. Every apartment boasts of its own slab of concrete sticking out into the petrol-thick air of Amman. So it is that, as I sit and roast on my balcony for hours upon end, I am joined by a cohort of fellow enthusiasts, sitting reflectively on their own corresponding balconies. Occasionally we will make eye contact and, as we do so, as my eyes meet with the fat man in the fishnet vest (complete with cigarette drooping limply from his mouth) there will be some unspoken understanding that I believe goes very much like this: ‘You don’t need to hide anymore, we know this balcony is what you need.’
When I first found my apartment, the balcony was not the glistening, gleaming beacon that I enjoy today. Amman is a city in the middle of the desert, and with desert comes dust. Upon moving in, I came across a truly heart-breaking sight- a balcony neglected. Old rags, a step ladder and some inexplicably placed Tupperware littered the floor. Covering it all was a thick layer of dust. Rarely have I set about something with such dedicated purpose as cleaning that balcony.
With scarf round my face – admittedly a little hypochondriacal – and a broom and bucket of water in hand, I set about cleaning. Every step saw a small cloud of dust rise and dissipate into the air. My throat grew dry, I grew light headed. After two hours the job was done and I was able to sit and stare alongside all the other people, sitting, staring, on all the other balconies. I did not move for five hours. I ate there, I slept a little there, I drank there… I wore it in as you would a new pair of shoes. That day many things became clear to me. I had found my happy place.
The idyll did not last long. When the sandstorm came, it covered Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine in one breathless, dusty sweep. It was the worst storm many Amman residents could remember when I spoke to them. It forced a temporary halt to pro-Government bombardments in Syria, whilst also allowing ISIS to make tactical advances under the cover of reduced visibility. From respiratory problems alone, almost 100 were admitted to hospital following shortness of breath and a handful were killed. This was a pretty big storm.
ACCEPT THAT YOUR LITTLE DEN IN THE SUN MIGHT OCCASIONALLY BE BLANKETED IN DESERT SANDS
At the risk of trivialising such a thing, it also severely affected my unhealthy occupation of the balcony. On the morning of the storm, I awoke beneath a thin coating of dust. Hazily, I remember wandering toward my balcony, only to find the same dust coating the tiles. All over the street I could see the glum resignation of other balcony aficionados inspecting the damage. My zealous cleaning now seemed futile. Alas, I learnt that you’ve just got to relax here. Go with it. Accept people might rip you off in a taxi, accept your water might run out a few days before the government releases the next batch, and accept that your little den in the sun might occasionally be blanketed in desert sands.
Really, I probably ought to find solace in the fact that the sandstorm did not affect the very existence of my life – that I am not forced to be thankful for having been spared a few days of bombing, that my town wasn’t invaded by ISIS followers. Really, I ought to. I’ve cleaned it once, I can clean it again. After all, it’s only a bloody balcony.