Charlie’s Ark

And then there was a cat.

Just over two weeks ago, the Jordanian government announced all flights in and out of the country would be suspended within the following couple of days. My friend Clarisse was among the vast exodus of foreigners who chose to make their escape at that point. Instead of a final month in the Middle East, she suddenly had less than twenty-four hours, in which time she had to pack up two years’ worth of belongings and organise the cat’s travel documentation.

The extremely handsome and very grumpy cat Jafar

When I arrived at her apartment the wine was already open and Francesco had gone out to hunt down a second suitcase for her.

“Are you any good at packing?” she asked me, looking a little panicked. And in that moment, I knew it was my time to shine. ‘Am I good at packing?’ I scoffed to myself. All these years living out of bags and coping with the daily game of Tetris on the narrowboats in London – this was a moment I was made for.

Amid my skilful clothes-folding, we began to focus on the cat. Taking animals out of the country is fairly straight forward but there are a number of boxes to tick. One of the final steps is permission from the government. Usually a simple procedure – not so much when you only have a few hours left before your flight. After phone calls between the vet and attempts to get through to the airline to see if he could even travel on her flight, as well as a champion’s attempt at suitcase packing and a few obligatory glasses of wine (it was thirsty work), it was decided Francesco would take the beautiful but total bastard of a cat Jafar (aptly named after the villain in Disney film Aladdin) until he could be brought to France.

I should point out that Jafar and my dog hate one another. Nebo likes cats because he was around a bunch when he was a puppy, but they generally despise him. Jafar is no exception. In fact, it’s quite incredible the extent to which Jafar expresses his hatred for the dog each time we visit. In his defence though, he’s a house cat with no experience of other animals – and Nebo can be extremely annoying.

Pigeon flyers observe a man breaking curfew rules as he walks along the street below them

The three of us dropped Clarisse off at the airport the following day and drove back to loot her food cupboards and collect Jafar.

The initial few days seemed to go great – Francesco was sending us selfies of the pair of them together and he appeared to forgive the occasional stink coming from the cat’s litterbox in exchange for the new companionship. He was even optimistic about his cat allergy.  

But the happy ending wasn’t meant to be. Five days later, Francesco’s allergy had become unbearable and antihistamines were doing diddly squat, so Jafar has joined my dog and the three-legged foster puppy in my apartment. I feel like I’m running a small zoo.

The two dogs spend a vast quantity of their time play fighting – this is after Nebo could barely even brave looking at the puppy when she first arrived. When they’re not scrapping, the cat is taking great joy in chasing Nebo around the apartment or the puppy is barking at this strange feline form tormenting her silently from the hallway. It is chaos but it’s hugely entertaining. I am incredibly grateful for the garden, however.

The other night the cat refused to let Nebo in to the bedroom – Nebo sleeps on the rug at the end of my bed but Jafar has also claimed it as his domain. In the end, the only way I could pacify the situation was by having both animals actually on the bed with me, one on either side, forced to sleep very much squished between the two of them. Luckily, it was a chilly night so the extra body heat was welcome.

The animals are creeping closer to one another, day by day. In fact, I’ve just spotted Jafar stretch out his front paw in an attempt to touch Nebo’s tail as I write this. It could be a love story by the end of the lockdown, who knows?

Jordanians implement social distancing measures (sort of) to purchase bread from the local bakery

This lockdown malarkey is going alright, in fact, it feels as though it’s going fairly quickly. I’ve been lucky to have work and the animals to keep me occupied. Four days after the total lockdown was implemented, the government eased the restrictions. We’re now allowed out on foot to buy essential supplies from 10am until 6pm, at which point the awful wailing sound of the siren tears through the city to signal the small freedom is now over. It looks set to last like this until the middle of April at the moment, possibly longer.

Lockdown

On Saturday morning my usual alarm clock shrill was replaced by the wailing sound of city-wide sirens around 7am, signalling the start of a mandatory confinement order. Anyone who chose to leave their home from that point would face jail. No more popping around to friends’, no more walks for the dogs, even putting your rubbish in the street bin would be a violation of the order if not done at certain times. No other country outside of China has implemented such stringent measures as yet.

Pretty intense, right? Coupled with the grey skies and an uncharacteristic quietness in the neighbourhood, it was a heavy morning to emerge from. It felt as though we’d woken up in some sort of dystopian world, all normality flung far out of the window. It was both unnerving and exciting.

The view from my rooftop across the city two nights ago

Myself and a couple of friends had been self-isolating for a few days already, so we met for a final ‘end of the world’ hang out the evening before. We ate Francesco’s delicious food, drank copious amounts of booze, giggled a lot and then did a few farewell shots of tequila before departing at midnight.

We’re now into day four of the curfew. Two nights ago, the government retracted its plan to temporarily lift the order in some way today to allow people to re-stock food and essential supplies. Instead, it announced the confinement order would remain in place for a minimum of three weeks – cue a mad scramble by the authorities to establish some sort of home delivery system instead. Friends howled with disdain at the extended home-imprisonment period over WhatsApp group conversations and I think we all felt a moment of panic about food and phone data supplies. I allowed myself a reassuring peruse of the fridge, taking great comfort in my gin stash.

Today, water and medicine will be delivered somehow. As will bread via public buses, interestingly. On Thursday, residents will be able to receive cigarette deliveries – unexpected prioritising I hear you say. Well, Jordan has one of the highest rates of smokers in the world and if there’s a lack of both food and smokes here I can imagine it leading to total bedlam and probably increased rates of domestic violence – I kid you not. The government is currently trying to pull delivery companies together to get fruit, vegetables and meat out later in the week. It’s an unprecedented situation and it’s fascinating to watch it unfold.

This is what bread delivery by public bus looks like

I discovered a small home gym set up on my communal rooftop last night so, with work out of the way for the moment and some much-welcomed sunshine, I’m going to spend my afternoon working on that ‘summer bod’, ready to emerge a new and improved version of myself at the end of this lockdown – I’m already contemplating sunbathing instead.

As the sun set at the end of that first day of confinement, residents right across Amman took to their windows, doorways and rooftops and, in a show of solidarity, began flashing lights, blasting airhorns, banging drums, and even setting off fireworks. It lasted for a couple of hours and was an impressive sight. It’s continued for the last two evenings – it will be interesting to see how long that community spirit endures.

Coronavirus 1.0

My fridge freezer has never been so full. Really, it’s incredible. It’s made me feel like an organised, fully-functioning adult.

My full fridge finally being used to its full potential

That’s the silver lining of being one of the few remaining expats left in Jordan who chose not to make a run for it before all flights were suspended – being able to score a whole bunch of free stuff. Predominantly food. And free food always tastes so much better because it’s freeeee!

I’ve also inherited skincare products, makeup, a coat, some shoes and a vacuum cleaner. Although, considering we’re all supposed to be self-isolating from today, I’m not sure the coat and shoes are going to get much use for a while. Still, hours of fun using the vacuum cleaner lie ahead of me.

In the lead up to what is now not quite compulsory confinement, the Jordanian government has gradually been implementing more measures to try and combat the spread of this blinkin’ coronavirus. One approach was to stop people attending prayers at mosques, which is a huge deal. A particularly amusing observation from the other day though was one mosque’s revised ‘call to prayer’ which emanates from the loudspeakers mounted onto the minarets of hundreds of mosques across the city. Rather than the adhan (the guy who’s voice is delivering the directive) changing his script from the usual “come to mosque” to instead “pray at home” – due to what I can only assume is some sort of unrelenting protocol – the adhan repeated several times in quick succession “do not come to mosque, stay at home” ahead of the traditional dialogue still instructing everyone to come to the mosque. Somewhat confusing, no?

Yesterday I had to take the doggo to the vets. I get on well with the vet and we often have a good chinwag. Yesterday’s topic was obviously coronavirus in which he expressed his opinion that Covid-19 is just influenza and this is a big lie by governments the world over. Unsure how to respond, I asked how he’d come to that conclusion, to which he replied (quite enthusiastically): “Well you’re a journalist…” with a look suggesting we had some sort of shared understanding. At which point I felt it was time to leave.

And finally; the official number of people in Jordan infected with coronavirus has shot up to 40 thanks in large part to a Jordanian father and daughter with coronavirus who flew back to the country from Spain for the daughter’s wedding a few days ago. Obviously they felt self-isolation wasn’t plausible (and likely were unaware they had it) and have transmitted the virus not only to guests but also to the bride’s new husband!