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Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Jordan Bookseller’s 24-Hour ‘Emergency Room for the Mind’ | Stories - Atlas Obscura

At his bookstore in Amman, Hamzeh AlMaaytah administers life-affirming literature by Shira Telushkin.

Hamzeh perusing volumes under the bookstore tent in Amman.
Photo: Hussein Alazaat
Hamzeh AlMaaytah rarely sleeps, but when he does, it’s usually on the mattress hidden behind a screen in the back of his bookshop. Hamzeh, 36, is one of Amman’s most dedicated bookshop owners, and certainly its most eccentric. He tends to leap instead of walk, is prone to poetic pronouncements, and speaks most often in Fusha, the literary form of Arabic, rather than the Jordanian dialect typically used for daily speech. He reveres the written word. In response to text messages or Facebook posts he will send back a picture of his handwritten answer. “There is so much intimacy and knowledge in the handwriting of a friend,” he says, bemoaning that his practice has yet to catch on.

A fourth-generation book owner, Hamzeh describes his work as a calling. “I run an emergency room for the mind,” he explains, while sipping coffee near the entrance of the shop late one morning. He wants to ensure there is always a place in Jordan where one can access the healing power of books, no matter the hour or the price. Hence the mattress in the back. Hamzeh keeps his store open 24/7, a practice he inherited from his father, who moved the family bookstore from Jerusalem to Amman before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. He’ll occasionally get late-night relief from two former employees, a pair of Syrian brothers who fled their native Homs. All of his prices are negotiable, and he has both a generous loan policy and a robust book exchange program, where patrons can swap any book they bring in for one in the store.

The shop, al-Maa Bookstore or Mahall al-Maa in Arabic, is nestled right against the ancient Roman Nymphaeum public water fountain, down the way from the Grand Husseini Mosque and the local Sugar Market, on a street that was once the Amman River...

As the afternoon winds down, an older man walks in, blind in his right eye. He is looking for books for his three children. Hamzeh springs into action, grabbing books from shelves and expertly teasing out volumes from piles around the store. The man considers the stacks and finally chooses a few novels. He hesitatingly proffers some bills. Hamzeh accepts at once, encouraging him to return when he needs more. “Here on the shelves, the books are dead. The most important thing is that the children read them,” he says.

Source: Atlas Obscura