Time Zones: Three Hours on a Roadside in Jordan

A Commitment to Keep Travelers Caffeinated

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NAOUR, Jordan With motions made routine by practice, Aziz Suwair poured a heaping spoon of powdery coffee into a long-handled pot of scalding water. He stirred, then danced it on a flame like a marionette. By a conservative estimate, he has gone through these motions 600,000 times.

As he worked, the clouds finally parted, ending a winter rain that has turned the arid bluffs over the Jordan Valley into rolling green hills. By 11 a.m., the sun began to arch overhead, on a Friday, the traditional day of rest. But Suwair, in his roadside shack, serving coffee to the drivers of farm trucks, passenger buses, police cars and taxis, was just a little into a day that stretches from dawn to midnight.

"For six years," he said, with a hint of a smile, "I haven't moved from this place."

As a 20-year-old, Suwair hauled two battered cabinets, painted red and blue, to the shoulder of the well-traveled highway that ties the Jordanian capital, Amman, to the Dead Sea. He propped them on cinder blocks, now fastened to the dirt by time. He slung a burlap sack overhead, where it shares space with cardboard and tattered upholstery in a floral pattern of green and yellow. Almost every day since then, he has tended a teakettle and a charred coffeepot on a stove, fed by a butane tank, with spare fuel under the rusting cabinet. Scattered near the cinder blocks are his jerrycans of water, drawn from the Adasiyya Spring a short walk away.

"Aziz's Shopping Mall," he declared, with a mix of grandiosity and self-deprecation.

But he takes his business seriously. "My coffee is peerless," he insisted. He nodded assuredly, his eyebrow half-cocked. "Like a cappuccino."

Suwair's rickety shop is along a bend in the road, about 10 miles west of Amman. On one side are verdant bluffs, punctuated by trees of olives and pine. On the other are the rock-studded valleys known as wadis, a gentle, ancient landscape that evokes the Semitic genius for religion. A little above, patches of snow linger from a storm the night before.

Promises of a better future line the highway. "The New Lifestyle," proclaims an ad for a new resort, Tala Bay. "Isn't It Time for a Great Vacation?" Alongside it, sheep nibble at the sprouting grass, headed for the market where they earn $160 a head.

"God give you strength," Suwair shouted out at noon as a customer, Ahmed Ali, pulled up in a yellow taxi.

"That's my cousin," he said, a name Suwair gives to anyone from his family's village of Ajram.

Suwair estimates that he makes 300 cups of coffee a day, along with 50 cups of tea. Coffee sells for 30 cents, tea half that. With each, he brings a flair that suggests art. A flick of the wrist puts the water into the kettle, another pours in the coffee, ground to his specification. It boils, with a slight froth, and he pours a little into a plastic cup. He lets it boil again, then pours again. The sugar depends on the customer -- plain, medium or sweet. He goes through nearly seven pounds of coffee a day and twice as much sugar.

By early afternoon, a few vehicles were waiting for him on the shoulder -- trucks carrying sand to build the villas and offices in Amman, pickups laden with tomatoes from the fertile Jordan Valley, taxis carrying tourists to resorts on the Dead Sea.

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