From Amman to Birmingham – Part I

Goodbye to family

Goodbye to family

What an astonishing journey this has been! Over the past few weeks, since I last posted, we have packed, sold, or given away pretty much everything we owned. Walking through the flat, footsteps echoing in the cavernous rooms made my heart ache. More than once, the tears threatened but I bravely beat them back. That is, until Zeek’s family and our friends began to arrive to say “goodbye”. I was a blubbering mess then, I can tell you.

During our preparations, Zeek was attempting to get the required documents from the Ministry of Justice saying he was not wanted by any law enforcement entity.  What did they tell him? He couldn’t get that document because he was wanted for not paying several thousand dinars in taxes for a property owned in a very expensive part of Amman. He ended up visiting six Ministries, departments, agencies, and such before he could clear his name. A man with exactly the same name owns a villa there and has failed to pay his taxes for several years.

Ain’t government bureaucracy the joy of all our lives?

Z-M-JSaying goodbye is never easy, is it? We needed three cars to take all of us to the airport. Nearly all of Zeek’s immediate family were there, as well as our very good friend, Ibrahim. I have become so close to them, they are like my very own family. The family are so close-knit, it was clear to the most casual observer that their hearts were breaking. Everyone tried to smile bravely as the tears welled and finally spilled down cheeks. The family are wishing the best of luck for happiness and success for Zeek, but there is now a hole in their lives that can’t be filled by anyone else.

Z-A-IEven though Zeek is happy to be on the cusp of a new and different life he, too, is suffering the separation. This is all new; he has never been more than three or four hours away from his Mother and siblings. He has never gone longer than four or five days without seeing them. I can see the longing and sadness in his eyes. I hear it in his voice, especially when he says “I miss Ayoub”. I know he is saying Ayoub, but he is missing his Mother, the little nieces and nephews, other siblings. I know what it’s like to be far away from family. I know the ache in his heart. I also know that nothing I, or anyone, can say will make it better. I can only stand by his side as we look forward to a new life.

The first leg of our flight took us from Amman to London. Since we had a short layover there we decided on eating lunch in the airport. Of course it was fish and chips with a large glass of thick, dark, bitter beer. We were frankly astonished at the size of the portions. I very nearly wasn’t able to eat it all. But after sprinkling malt vinegar on the fish, there’s just no way I could’ve left a morsel behind. Very good.


“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Before you could say “Jack Robinson” it was time to board Air Canada for the Toronto leg. That was a long, boring flight as the machinery for the in-flight entertainment system wasn’t working correctly. Roughly half of us had no access to TV or movies. Fortunately, I had taken Stephen King along with me so I didn’t suffer too much.

Once we touched down in Toronto, Zeek re-entered the lumbering machinery of the American immigration system. All the documents were inspected, yet again, and questions were asked; questions that had been asked and answered a dozen times already. Following the inspection and a rather tepid welcome, we scooted over to our gate to make a run for New York City. Nearly all the two-hour layover had been consumed.

Stair to the crown of Statue of Liberty

Stair to the crown of Statue of Liberty

We had just reached our gate, not yet taken our chairs when we heard an announcement that Zeek was to report to some office to answer questions about the luggage. I waited. And waited. With only five minutes left to board the aircraft Zeek returned. Once again, someone with the same name was wanted.

I believe it may be time for Zeek to apply for a name change.

You might think it was cold in New York City. After all, it is February. Oh Lordy, it was polar! Subzero temperatures coupled with fairly brisk winds and several inches of snow made all 360 joints in my body shriek in terror as they begged for a warmer climate. I showed them no mercy, though. I wanted Zeek to experience as much as possible of New York during our short stay there.

The view from the top

The view from the top

The Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Times Square, Madison Square Garden, and Central Park topped the list. Food was on that list, too, don’t you know? My Friend wanted “real” New York pizza, “real” bagels. So, we had bagels and pizza, and more bagels and more pizza. Oh, and more bagels!

During our stay, we were hosted by a very wonderful couple, Rachel Alt and Alex Esteban, who were guided by Zeek when they visited Jordan a couple years back. Their hospitality and generosity were humbling to say the least. They freely offered shelter, help, and advice as well as “New York Wisdom”. We will never forget their unselfishness.

One night, we were received by another of Zeek’s former clients, Ahmad Awadalla and his lovely wife Abeer Ghusson who had us over for dinner at their restaurant, Sahara.

Picture stolen from Sahara Restaurant

Picture stolen from Sahara Restaurant

They treated us to hummus, baba ghanoush, grape leaves, kibbeh, falafel, and many other Arabian delights. I tell you here and now that if you are within fifty miles of Princeton, New Jersey that you should stop in and eat at Sahara. The quality and taste of their menu is nothing short of astonishing!

Next post, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. See you then!

Here are a few more random photos from New York.


Statue of Liberty


Times Square


Times Square


Central Park


“The Donald’s House”


Empire State Building


Wall Street


Two Bullheads!


9/11 Memorial


The Immigrants


Madison Square Garden


Having a rest in the crown of The Statue of Liberty

IMG_4382 IMG_4345 IMG_4328


About Ol' Big Jim

Ol' Big Jim, has been a storekeeper, an embalmer, a hospital orderly, a medical biller, and through it all, a teller of tall tales. Many of his stories, like his first book, New Yesterdays, are set in his hometown of Piedmont, Alabama. For seven years, he lived in the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Amman, Jordan where he spends his time trying to visit each one of the thousands of Ammani coffee shops and scribbling in his ever-present notebook. These days, you can find him back stateside, still filling notebooks.
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7 Responses to From Amman to Birmingham – Part I

  1. Wonderful journal of your travels. Can’t wait for more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahmed says:

    I am so happy for you guys, you deserve the best. I did not want to say goodbye because it’s really hard so forgive me and hopefully we’ll meet again in the near future. Looking forward to your next post, Jim. 🙂


  3. David says:

    Am so happy you two are on US soil and can really start your new adventure. Wish you both the best. Welcome, David


  4. Great pictures and a wonderful adventure. Now for an even more wonderful, which is about to begin for you both…


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