Jabal al-Hussein walk and talk. Episode 2.
For 600 mornings I stood here. Dressed in beige, exactly like the other 1000 teenage boys, standing in a formation of straight columns on the concrete tarmac.
Welcome to Al Hussein College. The famous government school I attended from 1986 to 1988.
A few times I got unlucky and arrived five minutes late to the morning column. Which meant that the cane of Fihmi Rbeihat, the infamous English language teacher, would be raised, then cut through the air with a swoosh and land on my outstretched hand to deliver maximum pain.
Patriotic music from the 1940s would blare through the megaphones in extremely bad sound quality: “We heed your call, oh flag of the Arabs. We are all protectors of your realm. We heed your call, so make from our skulls a ladder for your glory”. This, after all, was the school named after Al Hussein bin Ali, leader of the Great Arab Revolt.
The school traces its history back to 1920 as one of the first schools of the Emirate of Transjordan.
So how did I end up going to this school, whose alumni reads like a who’s who of Jordanian statesmen and notables?
It’s an unlikely story of strange teenage rebellion, strange parental acceptance and wasta (Jordan slang for favoritism).
My primary education was in various private schools. But at the end of 9th grade I decided I had enough of the headmistress of the Model School of the University of Jordan and her comments about my un-neat appearance. My best buddy at the time, Khaldoon Tabaza, the academically gifted type, somehow convinced me that both of us should move to Al Hussein College because it was a “great school”. His grandfather was a retired Ministry of Education official and he was our “wasta”, which was needed because neither Khaldoon not I were residents of Jabal Al Hussein or the adjacent Citadel Mount, Al Hussein Palestinian refuge camp or downtown Amman. We were suburb kids who needed a wasta to move from our cozy private school to a strict, old government school! To this day I don’t understand how my parents agreed to this idea. I never asked my late father about this. In hindsight it was probably a great decision. A dose of Jordanian reality early in my life.
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