November Ninth And The Unfortunate Art Of Remembering

Memory is a strange thing. The things the mind chooses to remember and things it chooses to forget. And all of memory is a series of fragments; just pieces we put together or pull apart. Some times we retain them like an archived video, and we can play a moment like a scene, recalling every fine detail, every word spoken, every scent. And then there are other times when moments fade from memory, and we spend a lifetime trying to find the pieces once again; never knowing if we’ll ever get them back again. There are things I did last week that, for the life of me, I can’t remember. And then there are moments from years past that are burned in to my mind.

November ninth is one of those moments.

I don’t think anyone who has never lived outside Jordan can truly understand the sheer power of nostalgia. Nostalgia to a country; to a place to something so intangible. There are moments when it wraps around you so tight it can be suffocating. The experience may not be the same for everyone, but I know for a fact that many have felt it. I’ve had whole discussions about nostalgia with fellow students from what feels like a lifetime ago. Some discussions are so vivid you can retrace every street of Amman with a fellow Jordanian you just happen to run in to somewhere out there. A stranger. But not really.

And that kind of nostalgia finds a potent way of climaxing when something like November ninth takes place. It can be so bad that you’ll want to do nothing but get on a plane and come home.

So, if you’re like me, the worst place you could possibly be on a day like November ninth is oceans away from Amman; in an airport.

The worst thing you could possibly see are familiar buildings on fire, from a television screen in an airport cafe.

What I remember is confusion. Scatters and crumbs of news painted CNN screens. And you will never be as beholden to a piece of technology as you are right now; literally glued to that screen, straining to hear news reports, reading every word that scrolls across the ticker at the bottom. And nothing in the world is important right now. Absolutely nothing.

My parents, who were coming to visit me in Toronto had their plane diverted. A three hour delay. And that was probably the longest three hours of my life.

I remember scarlet uniforms of the airport luggage handlers – fellow Arabs who gathered around me by a television screen. I remember rare pictures by Sabri Hakim flashing on the screen and probably the only time the words “Jordanian blogger” have ever graced a CNN screen.

I remember thinking that one day I will remember this all as one of the saddest moments in my life. I remember wondering if anyone I knew was amongst the victims. I remember not having any money to phone home. I remember thinking the lines would be busy anyway. I remember calculating time zones in my head. I remember thinking of ways to break the news to my parents who were still circling Toronto. I remember a thunderstorm outside.

And I remember thinking that the nostalgia, that longing for home, could not be worse. There was no way that an emotion this powerful could be this physically inhibiting. Not worse than this. It wasn’t possible. And I remember being proven wrong, because if there is one moment – one day worth being in Amman for, it was the very next day when the streets flooded with people. There was this sense of unity that I have never experienced in this country, and it was so powerful that I, and perhaps many others, felt it from oceans away.

And I remember thinking, this will be forgotten some day. This feeling right now, this sense of unity will be forgotten. It will fade like a memory one day and we will spend the rest of our lives trying to recall it; trying to find those pieces once again.

Wondering if we’ll ever get them back again.

And I remember thinking that it didn’t matter right then and there. I remember thinking that the forgetting wasn’t as important as the remembering, at least in that particular moment. And so, from oceans away, I tried to soak up every little detail.

And burned it in to my mind.

Dedicated to the fallen but not forgotten citizens


  • Naseem: while reading this, especially the first part, i felt like i was reading a passage out of one of the most powerful novels about memory, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” I won’t deny that it is one of my favorite novels of all time because of this intertwining of memory (and disremembering), history, nostalgia, and trauma that makes it one of the powerful narratives about a permanent, very real, yet intangible scar in African American history.

    But what you are recalling, as articulated in this article, is a moment; a moment that registered vividly in your mind because you were able to witness such a horrific moment happening while being oceans away; not actually being physically part of the collective (actual witness), and share the sense of unity the very next day hurts more…

    and nostalgia is a mother F*****, really… especially, at times when you feel like you just have to be there but you are totally impotent and impaired…it really is paralyzing sometimes. (it’s just creeping closer these days)

    I feel that remembering specifically such a painful historical moment is involuntary and it just happens; every single detail does come back vividly to remind us that this scar is one we don’t want to happen, ever again….

  • Beautifully written.

    I was not there when it happened but every time i visit Amman i remember it in every metal detector i walk through and every time a guard apologetically searches my hand bag in the mall, the cinema or Ahleyyeh Supermarket. All the places i walked into freely before November nine. It changed how i feel and relate to Amman.

    Fear is powerful.

  • My husband and I were walking into a hotel in Paris to meet some frinds for dinner when some came up to us and said “there have been suicide bombings in Amman”. The world dropped from under our feet. We rushed to the televison screens and watched the whole horror unfolding. No use to try and ‘ phone our children. No use to find out who and when and how. Just sit and watch. Slowly news came through, our loved ones were Alhamdulliah fine, but they all, and we, knew people who had gone. We had to come home, there was no way that we could go on with our trip, and found a plane first thing in the morning that brought us back. And actually, although I still travel a lot, ever since then, basically, I just want to back home.

  • I agree with Reema.
    I feel so alienated from the safer and innocent Amman I used to know before. Security guards planted everywhere make you feel like you live in a war zone not a peaceful city.
    Strange how such small and cowardly acts of the past can still spoil and disturb huge happy lives, and steal so much beauty from our present. Shame!

  • Musa: thanks man. the rare and genuine compliment from you is always eagerly-awaited for and much, much appreciated by me. in fact, I absolutely live for moments like these. you rock man!

    yazan: thanks for reading.

    secratea: i’ve never been a fan of “beloved” but i know for fact that you understand very well where i’m coming from as a graduate student who i’ve seen constantly expressing her nostalgia in the digital form.

    Rima: strange how metal detectors have become the new physical scar of a national tragedy. and you’re right: fear is powerful. although i have to admit, that fear has declined rather quickly in the past three years.

    Grace: that is a common feeling that i share with you.

    Lass: I think the landscape has in fact changed, but I think by now, the changes are less drastic than they used to be. They’re now more targeted towards hotels, as opposed to nearly every place i can remember after 2005. and while i kind of agree with what you’re saying, comparing it to a war zone may be a stretch these days.

  • I just don’t get it. Must we always remember unfortunate events by their gravity (and mostly the ones that contain the element of surprise), while forgetting those that are systematic by nature, in fact, so systematic that they have become a daily ritual?

    Seriously, Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis are dying everyday, and we turn a blind eye to these days. Yet our bombings have become reason to wear “the red Kuffiyyeh”? It seems that Jordanians grow a heart only on this date and it’s sad, because it shows how disconnected we are to the rest of the Arab World, and the world itself.

    The bombings were terrible and horrible, they should never be forgotten. But other things (that are just as important) should not be forgotten either. A life is a life, no matter where it comes from. I’m not underestimating the bombings in Amman, but I just wanted to provide another perspective.

  • Dear Naseem,

    i discovered your blog courtesy of the NYTimes, and bookmarked it because I discovered, on your blog, that you are a poet – as am I – and I feel it’s important for me to “know” poets from “across the gulf”. I’ve started to read your poetry posts, but that’s not why I’m writing. I read your Sep 9 post

    Your Nov. 9, our Sep. 11, all the Black Septembers, all the other dates that don’t get a commemoration, and all the nostalgia (a mild form of depression) for innocence that was never truly there.

    Today I was thinking about the religious training I had as a child. We were taught to answer the question, “Why did God make us?” in this way: God made us to know him, to love him, and to serve him. That was the rote answer. Today I thought: No, God made us in order to break our hearts…

  • I loved what you wrote ..but it hurts.

    Nostalgia …akh minha…i spent a good part of my day yesterday in a car driving around different parts of the city for work errands, west and east amman, airport road and even the industrial outskirts of marka and Sahab. Avoiding the subject trying to toughen up and not choke while listening to Amenn FM …we have so many Jordanian Flags all over he city. ..i love the sight of them.

  • PH, people will always remember the tragedies in their own backyard with much more immediacy than when it comes to tragedies that happen in their neighbours’ backyard. It’s human nature. Flawed, perhaps, but perfectly understandable.

    I mean, how about I show up on this blog and rail about how none of the Ammanites remembered Chernobyl – a catastrophe that still refuses to go away? Does Chernobyl count any less than the pan-Arab or pan-Muslim tragedies of the last decades? I mean, COME ON GUYS, grow a heart! Why do you only care about your own?!… Except it doesn’t work like that, does it?

    Now, personally, I was in a hotel restaurant a few months ago, and an entire shelf at the bar just gave way. It crashed with a horrible bang, and for a split second I thought “did I pick the wrong night to eat sushi?”

    And it’s moments like that, as much as the anniversary itself, that remind you of how the blasts have woven itself into daily life here in Jordan.

    Some errant noise leaves you wondering…

  • lol, i’m with ph on that … kuffiyeh wearing paraders get on my nerve. natalia just a note, for the majority of us here its not our neighbors backyard its my sister’s uncles and brothers backyard so its my backyard that you are talking about and hence personal.
    Either way, I find it down right insulting that people would remember an event with such nostalgia and such a tragic and romantic notion and not even blink think about why it happened ? what has been done in the past few years to circumvent a repeat ? and no I don’t mean it by increasing GID activity or putting those faux metal detectors or the rise of the unprofessional professional security.
    I mean tackling the real issues that were behind it, but then again its easier to sweep under the rug and tell others to look and see the flying elephant that’s outside the window 😛

  • “natalia just a note, for the majority of us here its not our neighbors backyard its my sister’s uncles and brothers backyard so its my backyard that you are talking about and hence personal.”

    So you do agree that as long as an issue is personal – it is important, right?

    The minute it becomes impersonal, on the other hand…

  • Oh, sorry! I totally swore in my last comment, didn’t I? Anyway, here it is, sans swear-word:

    “Oh, and just to clarify something:

    Perhaps this is just the kinds of people I tend to know, but it seems to me that many, many people who vow never to forget the Amman bombings are also of Palestinian descent. And it’s not as if this has become the issue of “$%#@ Palestine,” but it has rather become the issue of “we already have to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict affecting people we care about, and now THIS???”

    It’s not a zero-sum game, is it?

    Everyone gets tired of violence. Well, normal people, anyway.”

Your Two Piasters: