A few years ago, I moved back to an apartment in Amman that I had lived in some years previously. When I had rented this apartment the first time, I asked a friend to help install a fireplace.
My friend, who was an officer in the Jordanian Armed Forces Royal Corp of Engineers, did a great job. Workers came in and out drilling through a concrete ceiling, putting up a tall chimney, and stone-casing the mantel.
A couple of weeks later, and after profuse apologies to the neighbors who bore the construction noise in silence, I had a fully functioning wood fireplace and those Amman winter evenings were never better.
My friend passed away some time after that from cancer. He was a member of a small minority in Jordan called Circassians (or Cherkess). The Circassians are an ethnic group that has inhabited the Caucasus Mountains for millennia. A valiant and proud people, they were forced to leave their lands in the 1880s during the Ottoman-Russian wars. Some migrated into inland Russia and some into Ottoman territories. Today, Circassians can be found throughout the Middle East – in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine.
The Circassians settled Amman, which was a mere old ruin with no permanent inhabitants, in 1878 and built it up from scratch. Both of my grandmothers are Circassians.
Russia has recently, and quietly, allowed Circassians to return to their old territories in the Caucasus, granting citizenship to those who wish to resettle in their ancestral homelands.
Surprisingly, or not, large number of Circassians are applying for and receiving such privileges, and are gradually moving back, leaving the Middle East.
This is driven by more than one factor. The headwinds facing the Middle East in the coming years and decades are expected to be rough and it is prudent to hedge one’s bets. We see this not only where Circassians are concerned but also in the numbers of Arabs applying for residency and citizenship in Western countries that would take them – the US, Canada, and some European countries. Australia and New Zealand are also destinations.
When I moved back into that Amman apartment, I was pleasantly surprised that the fireplace was still functioning well. Which brings me to one particular winter evening. The temperature was close to zero Celsius and I had piled a few large logs on top of each other to make a fire. I tried to light the fire but it kept going out. After about an hour or so of trying, I had one last twig to use as kindle and I inserted it amongst the pile of large logs thinking that its small flame would die out along with the rest of the pile. Lo and behold, that small twig, for no apparent explanation, lit up the whole pile and I had a roaring fire brining back memory of friends, past and present.
The roaring fire of that evening also started me thinking about small twigs and how unexpected they can be – a small, scrawny, dried up twig can make a big fire out of a pile of old, lazy, dried up bunch of logs, piled on top of one another.