Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Ghosts and gold-rose sunsets

on May 10, 2015

Also living in the same three-story residence was the cook and one of the expatriate students, a certain Chen. The cook, Li, was tall and heavy, with a northerner’s big nose and large eyes, and a slight stoop to the shoulders. He had asked Chen to come stay with him because he was scared of the empty house after the ambassador’s death.

scared of ghost

Well, you might think that a big and tall man would be the last person to be scared of ghosts, yet I’ve seen it more than once. Fear of the unknown has nothing to do with one’s real-life size. Saadia and I got all the ghost stories first-hand, from Vincent Kao, the Assistant Military Attache’s son. He appeared in the yard with a friend, strolling around as if in a public park. We watched him from the second floor window, wondering who he was. Soon enough, we made acquaintance and started chatting.

He was between Saadia’s and my age (I think), and was a thin, gangly, not very tall but very talkative boy. I could understand his curiosity about us, since I also always tried to find out who else in the embassy had kids my age. But I certainly did not condone his lack of formality or respect for authority. So he told us to beware of the ghosts. Ghosts? We asked. Ah, yes. They were haunting this house for sure. The cook had heard doors open and slam closed all by themselves for no good reason. Well, we reasoned, the wind, of course. Ah, but how do you then account for lights turning themselves on and off, heh? We had discovered the night before that the light switches were dials that we had to turn(dimmers)  and that could flip back. Misfunction, then. The spring in the switches. Ah, but then, how do you explain that a line of candles would burn in such a way as to form an inverted V? What? You know, the end candles burned lowest, and the middle candle tallest, forming an inverted V… Well, maybe the air flow… Aha! You see, you see, it was ghosts! I was getting tired of the game. But he kept on. And that’s not all. If you pour hot water into a thermos, how long does it take for it to cool down? Hey? Tell me? A few hours? But the cook would find water totally COLD a few minutes after he just poured it in!


Well, methinks the cook was so flustered he must have poured cold water into the thermos to start with.  I told Vincent a few stories myself to top him off. I told him about the woman tortured and killed by the Gestapo in our Consulate second floor bathroom in Paris. But, I went on majestically, we are Muslims, and therefore ghosts don’t even bother us!

And that was another thing about which I felt peacefully happy. Being Muslim. All of a sudden, what had been a weird peculiarity in non-Muslim countries became an asset in a Muslim country. The call to prayer, the adhan, was beautiful and floated down from the nearest mosque five times a day. In fact, we could hear not just one mosque but several. Amman is a very ancient city, built on seven hills. We were on top of the hill named Jabal Amman, then the poshest district in town. All the diplomatic families lived there. And from the top floor windows, we could admire an amazing view of hillsides covered with rosy limestone houses.

amman, gold pink hour


I call those stone blocks rosy. But they were more tan than rose pink. The tan had a rose tinge to it, it is true and at sunset they reflected this gold pink hue which reverberated into the air, which then filled up with dozens of adhans gracefully lilting and interweaving their notes as the purple night descended.

I could not believe such a beautiful place existed: Amman.


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