Starting September 1st 2001, I spent a year studying in Amman at the University of Jordan. The tumultuous world events surrounding my stay there have been a source of inspiration/catharsis for many of the Red Dons songs. It has been interesting to let people hear and read the lyrics without context, then name the song based on their interpretation. Most of all its pleasing to arrive at a tittle that both reflects the audiences understanding of the lyrics and the writers attempt at expressing a moment crystallized in time.
A picture has been stuck in my head since its creation. I was stuck in a library where I had taken cover from the tear gas (or whatever caustic substance they fired at us). It was starting to clear and the noise had died down. Finally i got up and peered out the window. I expected to see hundreds of students facing off with Police. Instead there was nothing, just shoes, handbags, and personal effects attached to no one. No people, only things. Things that would never be abandoned. Where did they all go? At one end, at the other side of the main gates were Police vans as far as the eye could see, and in the other direction on the campus there was one ambulance from the University’s Hospital.
I had gotten out of class and it was the end of the day for me. There had been unrest on campus all month. It was October or November and since the 9/11 inspired bombing of Afghanistan the students had been demonstrating on a regular basis. There had been some confrontations and the Police had threatened to enter the gates of the University. For the most part everything had been ok and i had been able to pass through the demonstrations to walk out of the university home. Each protest was an event in and of itself and i would always go to watch them. Most of the other foreigners were too afraid (the embassy had pulled students of staff out already) or let their western xenophobia get the best of them. I was dead curious to see and understand life here.
I could see the line of students marching and chanting Allah Akbar (God is Great). As I rounded the corner to the main square I pulled up short at the clock tower. Straight ahead at the main gate a massive Police presence was lined up opposing a very large group of students. At this point things had gotten so tense that Al Jazeera had shown up, or at least that was the rumour going around. The police were wearing balaclavas and had guns for firing tear gas canisters tilted up at a 45 degree angle. The mass of students kept building and chanting ever louder Allah Akbar Allah Akbar. I drew closer. This was nothing unusual. The students could demonstrate with some confidence as the Police were not allowed to enter the University. If they did the school could lose its credentials and some were saying it could only happen 3 times ( i don’t recall the exact number). It had happened once before quite some time ago, maybe the 70’s and did not seem likely to happen again. On this account we were all wrong. Police began to fire tear gas over the main gate.
Earlier in the week there had been a massive demonstration against the US and the Jordanian governments outside of a mosque, spurred on by the Friday sermon. It had spilled onto the streets and blocked a major road. Police had been present for every sermon at this particular mosque recently but this time something changed. As events in the region and the outside world intensified the energy was projected into Jordan and onto the streets. The Police fired tear gas at the crowed and sparked a massive running riot, but that is another story: Hajji Takes a Ride.
As the gas reached me i retched and headed for the library on the left side of the square. My eyes watered and i ran up the stairs. I could hear shouting and yelling and the continued throb of Allah Akbar. By this time i was in the main section upstairs running among the stacks to get to a window. Being a hot country though, all the windows were open and the the air was quickly choked with gas. By the time i got to my destination I couldn’t take it. I got down low and waited for it to clear. I lay sometime in the foreign literature section and in the very same stacks much later i borrowed a book of Rudyard Kipling’s poetry in order to write a paper on Imperialism.
Scattered everywhere. All that remained were their shoes, not pairs just a shoe here and there punctuated with purses, backpacks, books, and clothing. It was the silence, the utter stillness of the image that has been forever burned in my mind looking down from amongst the books. Hundreds of students gone. Where? Were they hurt? Locked up? Did they run away? The juxtaposition of a bustling university, a massive demonstration and total stillness, the detritus of life. In my curiosity i followed the demonstration, strained to hear what they said, why they cared so much. In the confusion and wrapping of smoke they disappeared, Words Unheard.