small problem


“Hey, you’re late, Nidal,” Luke shouts. “Where have you been?”
Editing class has begun, and Nidal is just getting back from an early shoot.
Nidal snarls, “I came to take the only piss I take all day, “ then stalks into the bathroom.

I went this morning to visit the shoot Nidal was on. It’s Sharif’s movie, set partially at the University of Jordan. I take a cab and arrive at the main gate. It’s a bustling place, full of vendors and buses and cabs and young people in brightly colored outfits.
There’s one gate, guarded by some shifty looking men in uniform. I notice that students have to show their IDs to get in. Doesn’t look like I can slip by.
I go up to one of the guards.
“I work for the Royal Film Commission, and there’s a movie shoot here that I’m supposed to visit.”
The guy looks at me blankly. I notice he has a weird gash near his eyebrow. It’s really deep, as if he had tried to remove his entire eyebrow ridge with a kitchen knife. It’s shocking. And of course, I can’t my eyes off of this bizarre wound.
He indicates another guard standing next to him. Relieved to be able to look away, I turn to his companion. This man has a mischievous look on his face. I explain my situation to him.
“Do you have ID?”
“Um, does this work?” I open my wallet and show him my California driver’s license.
He looks at it closely.
I nod.
He grasps my arm firmly. Looks me in the eye.
“You know who Keffin is?”
I shake my head. He chuckles.
“Ok, then, Keffin. You go straight, two hundred two meters, turn left several times and go. Welcome.”
He dismisses me by pushing me through the gate, without giving me a chance to ask him who or what “Keffin” is.

I’m lost on the campus of the University of Jordan. I can’t find the Faculty of Engineering, where Sharif is supposedly shooting. I wander around, but most of the buildings have big signs in Arabic only.

I’m starting to wonder if I stick out like a sore thumb. My beard seems to help me blend in Amman in general, but these people look more like young Europeans. The men do, at least: slick hair, smooth faces, tight pants. I notice in the bustle of the campus that most of the little groups of people are organized by gender. It feels like a Western university, but it’s hard not to notice this characteristic. Either it’s that religious/cultural gender separation, or it’s the 5th grade dance phenomenon.

I also notice that most of the women are wearing headscarves. But these aren’t your standard black or white ones; some are pink or green; others look tie-dyed or psychedelic. I start paying more attention and consider that there must be some irony in a woman wearing a headscarf while showing her midriff.

I wander aimlessly now. I look at a map. I sit down for a few moments and watch the traffic go by. Once in a while an uncovered woman appears. It’s a shock to see the swirl of hair in a sea of smooth heads. Eventually I give up and head back out. I hope to interact with the guard again, and discover who this “Keffin.” But he’s busy, and I’m ready to leave. I’ll have to ask the students about my namesake.

Ahmad shoots his movie at night. With the extensive help of Robert, Reem, the DP, lights the terrace. As with the lighting demo, the image is beautiful. According to Robert, however, the scene feels like a South American soap opera. I tend to agree. He means it as a criticism, but I think there’s a place for melodrama in the world of cinema. Perhaps I’m justifying my own inclinations, though. A comedy is next. I’ve promised myself. I swear it.

I can’t stand the smell of the hotel dining room when I walk in for breakfast. Some unique amalgam of odors makes me want to turn around and run. Little sausages plus cold eggs plus pickled veggies plus hearty yogurt plus Aunt Jemima syrup plus hummus. But it’s free. My breakfasts are becoming more and more continental.

Later, back at the Villa, Everett pops into the room where Luke and I are working on our computers.
“Get ready to look busy,” he says.
“Who is it?”
Turns out they’re giving a tour to a man who is the King’s “right-hand man.” At least that’s the way I heard him described.
He enters the room. He is medium height, compact, shaved head, piercing eyes. I introduce myself. We shake hands. His grip is vise-like. He holds my gaze directly. Then he breaks contact and continues his tour of the facility.
Later I learn this anecdote about him:
He’s at dinner with some important people from USC and the RFC. He gets a call on his phone. He excuses himself.
It turns out an American tourist was taking pictures of the Iraqi embassy. They picked him up, took him inside and began beating him.
Our guy comes back to the dinner table after a few minutes, slides his napkin back onto his lap.
“Small problem. Taken care of.”


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