Day 5 and 6: A little bit of freedom…
In the evening of Day 4 of the Jordan lockdown, we learned that we would be given a test reprieve the next day. The original plan was to allow only government deliveries of essentials: bread, water and gas cylinders – and no other movement. Then, by Thursday, delivery of an expanded set of foodstuffs.
The government, however, probably found delivery logistics too difficult. So, it decided that small bakeries and the local mini-markets, which sell basic goods and only have room inside for one or two people, would open from 10-6. No larger stores (except for the open air markets) or supermarkets would open.
People could not gather outside or attend mosques for prayers, just go to shops, and no cars were allowed. We were all warned that police and health officials would monitor the situation. Failure to adhere to proper distancing protocols would result in Day 0 lockdown once again.
So Wednesday, relieved to get in a long walk outdoors, we headed out together with our good friend Hosam, the one who taught us how to make the local dessert knafeh. We could choose between climbing the winding streets uphill with some short staircases, or take 100 meter staircases down. We chose up, as it is easier to carry things down.
We discovered few people were out, hustling to make their purchases and go back home. Those who were out seemed to separate naturally at the tiny stores, and there was certainly no panic. Shopkeepers seemed to be a bit more haphazard in protection – sometimes gloves, few masks.
And it was clear that the change in policy had caught them unable to restock so quickly. Eggs and flatbreads were flying out of the shops as we walked. At one point, two street sweepers came by, spraying disinfectant at the street …and at us if we hadn’t dodged away from it. By the time we tried to buy some eggs, the shops had none, though each expected a delivery soon. At the last store we tried, our request was met by a gesture out the door as the delivery man brought a heap of egg trays from his small truck.
We finished our neighborhood shopping and then headed down the long staircase to the large open air markets, or souq, below us. Oddly these were allowed to open, but the small local fruit and vegetable shops had to stay closed. We found no obvious reason for that. The souq is a crowded place, with scores of stalls selling fresh items and spices and olives and dairy and other household goods.
By the time we arrived – masked and gloved – many stalls had already closed up, others were much less stocked with produce than usual. Onions? Where are the onions? But people did crowd around the open stalls, not very socially distanced. Masked police wandered about, closing down the most egregious violators of the spirit of the loosened restrictions.
All of us wondered whether the loosening would continue. And would the produce stalls be able to resupply themselves? No one knew.
We all must have been well behaved enough, because the government kept the small shops and souq open from 10 to 6 today, Day 6, though with the same rules as yesterday. We returned to the souq to see what was happening. The crowd had thinned as the majority of stalls were closed but some had restocked with such goodies as gorgeous romaine lettuce (2 for $1), plentiful onions (1 kilo for $1) and heaps of Jordan Valley tomatoes (a zillion for $1). The streets had become even quieter.