First Circle


Firas’ movie is based on a real story.
One night, he was at a party, drinking the night away with friends, when someone produced a quantity of small pink pills.
“Everyone take one,” he says, magnaimously.
They all do.
Firas is unaffected. Later in the evening, he finds the bottle lying on a table, unsupervised. So he takes a few more, just for good measure. Still nothing.
Oh well, he thinks.
He leaves the party, goes home, falls asleep.
The next day he wakes up a little hung over, but feeling ok, considering. However, sitting in his room is a transparent person (a la Predator). This is odd, he thinks. Very odd. He rubs his eyes and goes about his morning preparations. At various intervals, he sees these transparent people hanging around his house: he encounters one in the bathroom, doing his business, one in the garden reading, one watching TV and eating popcorn, etc.
At this point, he starts to freak out a little and asks his younger brother if he can see these transparent people. The brother tells him he’s crazy.
Firas becomes more and more worried. He shuts himself in his bedroom and smokes cigarette after cigarette, trying to figure it all out. Suddenly it dawns on him: the pink pills!
Precisely at this moment of realization, there is a knock on the door.
His dad calls to him to open up. This is not a positive turn of events. Firas frantically stubs out his cigarette, then tells his dad to come in.
The father strides into the room and stands before Firas, looking concerned. “Your brother tells me you’ve been seeing transparent people.”
Firas’ dad is pretty strict, and Firas is deathly afraid of revealing his revelation about the pills. He doesn’t even really know that Firas smokes.
Pause. They stare at each other.
“You must be seeing the dead.”
Firas waits. This is not what he expected.
“Can you talk to them,” Firas’ father asks.
Firas decides to ride it out, hoping his dad will let it go and leave.
“Oh yes.”
“Are there any in the room now?”
“Yes,” Firas lies.
“How many?”
Dad nods. He looks around, then back at Firas. He leans in.
“What is their religion?”
Firas pretends to talk to the transparent people, then receives an imaginary answer.
“One Muslim and two Christians.”
Firas’ dad straightens up immediately. He looks at Firas sternly.
“Well tell them they have to leave. We can’t have Christians in this house.”

I asked Fady if he’ll go back to Iraq when the workshop is over. He thinks he will, but his mom is worried. Families in their neighborhood are receiving death threats tacked to their doors. So far, Fady’s family has been unaffected, but it’s not safe. People are using the unrest to satisfy personal and religious grudges. This is why Fady’s mom told him not to come home.

I finally got some RFC swag. Books, a DVD and a hat.

People keep contacting me to see if things are ok here. I imagine it’s hard to wade through all the news reports in the US. I always thought of the middle east as a big interconnected jumble of countries.
Everyone I’ve seen here is going about his life. I think Jordanians are used to being in the middle of it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. A young Jordanian man I met at a party told me that the influx of Lebanese and Palestinians will take a toll on Amman’s August water resources. And if something happens in Syria, the anticipated flood of Syrians will put Jordan on the edge. In addition, they’re in a delicate economic and political situation here. Jordan’s relatively friendly relationship with Israel and the West will be tested if the Lebanese/Israeli conflict isn’t resolved. The King already has his hand full.

I ask a cab driver about my name.
“Keffin,” I say. “Keffin.”
I’m sitting next to him in the passenger seat. He looks over at me ominously, says something tersely in Arabic, then turns back.
“Do you know what it means?”
He ignores me.
The rest of the ride to the RFC is silent and fast. It’s like he can’t wait to get me out of his cab.
My quest continues.

This afternoon, during a break, I walk down the hill to the city center. The workshop is in a quiet, fairly affluent neighborhood, but from the terrace you can hear the chaotic bustle of the city center.
I descend a long series of steps to the first circle, the downtown traffic hub. Amman’s main traffic landmarks are circles one through seven.
Amman’s city center is unlike anything I’ve seen.
Cars weaving, honking, pedestrians dancing across the street. There are no crosswalks, and very few traffic lights. All the buildings are the pale sandstone color, but worn and crumbling. The exhaust in the air is suffocating. Women in robes and headscarves clutter the dingy sidewalk, along men in grimy clothing. Café workers nimbly dodge traffic, holding trays of coffee and food. It’s lunchtime.
It’s sweltering. I zig-zag through the streets, following shade. I duck into a covered alleyway lined with fruit stands. It’s hard to move and my ears are assaulted with the jumbled shouting of the vendors. But the smell of exhaust is suddenly and delightfully replaced by the sweet aroma of peaches and grapes and cherries. I move through this area slowly.
Eventually I come upon a 2nd century Roman amphitheater, right smack in the middle of Amman. It’s a bizarre change of scenery. The ruins are fairly well preserved, and nearby there is a park-like area full of people enjoying the shade. I sit for a few moments, and look at the people. There is a group of young people chatting away. They don’t seem to notice me, and I wonder if they just think I’m another Jordanian, enjoying the day.
After a while, I get up and start the return journey. On the way, I pass one of the many mosques. I get a glimpse of the first area through the columns. It looks like the Alhambra, except grimier. There are all kinds of people selling trinkets outside.
The walk back to the villa is hard, going up.
By the time I arrive, my shirt is clinging to my back. It’s hot down in the first circle.

One of our students quit the program. He was older, unctuous and overbearing. He complained that the RFC didn’t give him actors, but didn’t seem to make any calls himself. Eventually, he was given an ultimatum: cast your movie and crew up, or you can’t make one. He made some effort, but then an unfortunate incident occurred.
The faculty had discussed his personality issues: yelling at other students, refusing to respect the female teacher, blaming the RFC for casting, etc. It was agreed upon that someone should bring these things up to him in a delicate manner.
However, one of the RFC guys pulled him aside, in a room full of USC people, and started chewing him out in Arabic, referring to the offended teachers and students by name. We all slowly trickled out of the room.
All of us, that is, except Luke, who was stuck working on his computer. I returned a bit later to find Luke, eyes glued to the screen with unnatural intensity while our soon-to-be ex-student sat nearby, mumbling to himself.
The only word I caught was the occasional “disrespect” mixed in with some disgruntled Arabic.
We haven’t seen him since.

Some plumbers came to the villa to fix the lack of water problem. Apparently there’s no city water the flows into the house. The house has a huge tank that’s supposed to get refilled periodically. In the process of opening doors and poking into corners in search of various valves and pipes, they discovered a room. A secret room.
As it turns out, this room is a war shelter, a rarity in Amman.
Now there’s a place to hide if things go south. We’ll have to pick only the cream of the crop, though, since the room is small. But hey, at least there’s a toilet.


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