AMMAN, Jordan—As soon as the sun rises on the weekend, the outpouring begins.
One Iraqi man after another leaves his temporary one-room home carrying a pen, a sheet of paper and nearly all the money he has. When he gets near a narrow street called Ibn Tareef, he begins writing a letter to his family. He stuffs the letter and his money into an envelope and drops it off at a small office. By mid-morning, hundreds of men pack the street.
The office belongs to a delivery service that drives as many as 8,000 letters a week from the Jordanian capital to Iraq. It's a place where Iraqi men can gather, learn what's happening back home and talk about how much money they can make in Amman. The service is cheaper than the post office, which means the men can send more money to their families.
Jordan is one of the few places that permits Iraqis to come and work. The mostly educated men on Ibn Tareef Street say they can make more in a week as mechanics in Amman than an Iraqi businessman makes in a month. Most of the approximately 300,000 Iraqis living in Jordan fled Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, but the men at Ibn Tareef intend to return home some day.
The letters are their only contact with their wives and children. Drivers take the letters on the nine-hour drive to Baghdad, where they meet the men's wives and pick up letters that they bring back to Ibn Tareef Street. The men say the letters are both comforting and informative, reporting that their countrymen aren't worried about a possible war.
"They don't want to talk about the war. They want to know how much the Jordanian dinar is worth," said Muchid al Abdarudah, 34, who left his job as an Iraqi taxi driver to come to Amman. "My family is not afraid. They feel safe in Iraq."
In Iraq, he made the equivalent of $27 a month; now he earns about $32 dollars a week doing odd jobs in Amman.
Driver Ahmed Sabawi agrees. "The people of Iraq are not as concerned as the Jordanians" who have relatives in Baghdad.
Al Abdarudah, who's been away from his family for seven months, received new pictures of his daughters, 1-year-old Hanah and 2-year-old Marwa.
The delivery service is more than 50 years old, but business has picked up in recent months as the number of Iraqis in Jordan has increased—and the desire for news from home has grown.
Youssef Gabar al Thalamere uses the service because while he makes a respectable living in Amman, the half a dinar, or about 40 cents, that it costs to send a letter by regular mail is enough to buy food for two days for his family of nine back in Iraq.
The courier service's fees vary according to weight and the client's ability to pay; some people, such as al Thalamere, are charged nothing, while businesses may pay as much as two dinars.
In his letter, al Thalamere tells his wife how much money he made, that he's eating well and requests that she send dates with the next driver. Dates are cheaper in Iraq than in Jordan and, according to al Thalamere, Iraqi dates taste better.
Al Thalamere was trained as an English teacher, and he earned the equivalent of $2.85 a month in Iraq. In Jordan, he works in a plastic factory, earning about $142 a month.
"Because of the situation in Iraq, I need someplace that is quiet to work" where there is no hint of war, al Thalamere said. "But of course I miss my family. Sometimes I cry at night when I am alone."
Hatam abd-Hussein, 32, an Iraqi solider, says he came to Amman because he couldn't live on his soldier's pay of $33 a month. He finds odd jobs in Amman and stays in contact with other soldiers through his letters. While the troops are poor, he says, they are ready to fight.
"We don't need guns to beat the Americans," abd-Hussein said. "We know how to fight without them."
The men say they support Saddam Hussein and blame the United States, not him, for the hard economic times in their country. But it's hard to know how genuine their statements are because the men also believe the streets are littered with secret police who could make them pay for unguarded words.
Sa'ad al Jaziy, whose business hires about 250 drivers to run letters between the two cities, says money, not war, is on the minds of both the Iraqi men in Jordan and their families.
"The people live for today," he says.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Jordan+iraqmail