"I followed him, the slam of the door and chink of keys echoing with our footsteps along the corridor. We burst into the bright neon light of the reception area and a woman in her late twenties rose to her feet, her kohl-accented eyes flickering uncertainly."Olives - Page 9
And so we meet the character Aisha Dajani in Olives for the first time, a young Jordanian woman working for the Ministry of Natural Resources in Amman. From a wealthy family living in the West Amman district, Aisha is from an unusually liberal family that has, however, some murky connections.
The unusually liberal aspect of her character and background has occasioned some comment, with some readers wondering why I chose to make the Dajanis non-practicing Muslims. This was a conscious decision on my part to minimise the unfamiliarity of the environment and create more empathy with readers - bear in mind the original audience of Olives was intended to be British.
However, it's not an unrealistic portrayal - particularly within wealthier circles. Like everywhere else, Jordanian society encompasses a wide range of attitudes and behaviours, in belief as in everything else. In general, Jordanians are conservative - a conservatism to be found in Christian as well as Muslim communities - and yet at the same time generally tolerant of others. As in much of the Middle East, this tolerance is an attitude that goes hand in hand with respect, so people will generally pass things by if they feel at least some attempt is being made not to force it in their faces.
It has long been said that Jordan has no middle class. You're either very well off or desperately poor, the latter being by far the majority. That is less true today than when I first heard it in 1988. But the streets of East Amman are still a very different place indeed to the wealthy pale-stone mansions that bedeck Abdoun, where many families have links to fortunes made in the Gulf.
The funny thing about this deeply conservative Muslim society is they never censored the Internet. And society didn't collapse. Something I like to point out to UAE based telcos when I get the chance.