26.7.06

Corpse Shroud

23.VII.06



Robert and I got to Motaz’s shoot. His first location is a conference hall in the Grand Hyatt hotel. Apparently, in Jordan, it’s really easy to get sweet locations for free.
Samer picks us up to take us there. On the way, we talk about the 2005 Amman bombings, one of which occurred that this very hotel. Security is tight now. Samer tells us how that he knew some of the victims from work. There was a wedding in the hotel, and the bomber insinuated himself into the group. During the wedding, he exploded a bomb that was strapped to his body. Samer knew the bride. She survived, but her parents didn’t. I don’t know what kind of person kills guests at a wedding.

For lunch, Motaz’s crew decides to go to the food court at a nearby mall. This is probably the least appealing suggestion I’ve heard all day, but I don’t really have a choice. The mall looks like your typical American one. Most of the signs are in English. I ate a “Chicago style” hot dog. It was pretty gross.



The next stop on Motaz’s shoot is the citadel. It’s the ruins of a Roman fortress set high atop one of the hills in Amman. Again, I’m amazed at how easy it to get a permit to shoot at a monument that is thousands of years old. But that letter with the royal crest on it and some fancy signature allows us to drive up and park next to a row of old Corinthian columns.
The view is stunning, and as the sun sets, the location gets more and more beautiful. We are interrupted by a group of children that insists on watching. They are pretty cute. One of them looks like an adult in kid’s clothes. Maybe he was a midget. Either way, it’s charming the way he randomly shouts “Action” while we’re setting up. The problem arises when they don’t understand that we’re recording sound as well. After a few botched takes, Motaz screams at the kids. But these guys are no strangers to aggressive adults. They shout back, and then slowly move away, turning occasionally to fire another insult in our direction. Finally, the tender love scene between Motaz (acting in his own movie) and the attractive actress playing opposite him can come to fruition. But our little friends have one more trick up their sleeve. As soon as they hear Motaz say “Action,” they begin to whistle and shout and scream. Motaz is pissed, but Samer is the one who goes after them. I’m a little apprehensive, since Samer is about 5’2”, 120. The kids are in a big group and I tell Motaz I’m worried that they will kick Samer’s ass.
“Don’t worry,” says Motaz. “He’s crazy. Little guys are always crazy.”
Sure enough, whatever Samer says gives us the breathing room to get the shot.
Later, as we return to our cars, we see the kids playing soccer in a clearing between columns.



At night, we check in equipment from the groups who have shot during the day, and check it back out to groups shooting the next day. Everyone is supposed to crew on each others’ shoots, but we find out that Firas’ crew has abandoned him in favor of the cute girl.
Not only is she cute, Luke points out, but her mom will probably make everyone lemonade and chocolate cake and serve it on a silver platter. It reminds me of when I was younger and always wanted to go to the rich kid’s house because he had lots of cool toys and delicious junk food.
We solve Firas’ crew problem with the help of Motaz and Samer, who make a flurry of phonecalls.
Then, we shut down Fady’s shoot because it’s been going for almost 16 hours. An angry Sharif, one of Fady’s crew, drives us home. Calm Sharif is a crazy driver. Angry Sharif seems to take offense at the street being empty. We feel lucky to get home.



Reham’s shoot is in the middle of nowhere. This makes sense, since she’s trying to recreate the Garden of Eden. But we drive and drive and drive, and eventually stop on the side of a dusty road next to a broad field dotted with trees. On the opposite side, there’s a Bedouin tent and some donkeys. We all get out and stretch our legs.
“That’s it,” she says, pointing at one of the trees.
We passed a million of these along the way. Why couldn’t we have stopped there?
Nidal, the cinematographer, is worried because we are shooting near the Bedouin camp.
“Why?” asks Reham.
“These people are conservative. If they see a half-naked woman, there’s no telling what they’ll do.”
Yell at us? Throw rocks? Shoot us?
“It’s just more respectful that way.”
We accept this logic and move to a tree that’s a bit more hidden.
Eventually, though, Bedouin herders drive their flocks by us, and one of them stops to watch. We’re a little worried and tell the actors to put their clothes back on. They’re not naked, but quite scandalously clad.
The goatherd seems content to sit peacefully in the shade, so we continue. It dawns on me that this could be the most exciting thing this guy has ever seen.



Luke and I walk up to R&B to get a chicken sandwich. We arrive and get in line behind a cop. As I stare at the menu, I notice peripherally that he has turned in my direction. Then I hear a click. He seems to have moved his hand towards his gun. He’s also playing with the butt of his gun. This is quite odd. I keep staring at the menu as this guy gives me the slow once-over. We remain in this standoff pose, him staring and me pretending everything’s normal, until the employee behind the counter calls to him. The cop turns, picks up his bag of food and walks out into the waiting police car.
I turn to Luke.
“Did you see that guy? He was staring at me and fingering his gun.”
“Yeah, man. You look dangerous.”

We are talking about names. Reem’s name means “deer.” Her last name means “moonlight.” Reham’s name means “summer rain.” Samer’s name means “he who doesn’t sleep at night.” Firas’ name means he’s the son of a lion.
This all makes me think of the conundrum of my experience with the Jordan University guard.
I corner some students and interrogate them about my name.
“So what the hell does ‘Keffin’ mean?”
They cast about. They can’t really come up with anything.
I leave the room. I refuse to settle for this. I come back.
“You’re sure?” I ask, poking my head through the door.
They think some more.
“Keffin,” I say, “come on! Or Keffan, or something! Come on!”
“Keffan!” One of them perks up. I don’t remember whom because I was so excited.
“Yes!”
He says something in Arabic to the others. They discuss it for a few moments.
“What the hell does it mean!?”
“Well,” he says, “you know how Muslims don’t use coffins?”
“No, but ok…”
“Well, ‘Keffan’ is the shroud they wrap dead bodies in.”
“What?”
“Your name means ‘corpse shroud.’”
Fucking great.

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