I finished a morning meeting and was on my way to have lunch with a friend when I had to run one quick errand. Dan's watch battery died and he asked if I had time to replace it. Conveniently, I found a jeweler right in the metro, so I asked him if he'd be able to do it. No problem, he said. Give me five minutes. An hour later, I was just getting an inkling of this fascinating man's history.
Hani Moula is an unassuming, gentle man who owns M&J Jewelers in the Rosslyn Metro station. We struck up a conversation because I asked where he was originally from. With a thick middle-eastern accent, and a store filled with the types of jewels and ornaments that might be more comfortable in a souk, I guessed Turkey. Wrong, he said. Egypt? Nope. Jordan, he finally told me. Ah, Jordan! I've been there! We chitchatted for a few minutes about the country and how good the food is. He said he was going in May, when it will be very hot. I don't mind the heat, I told him. I'm from Texas. Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he shook my hand. I am also from Texas, he said.
Hani left Jordan in 1972 to pursue additional education in America. He was 19 and well educated, but did not speak English. His cousin, the Prime Minister of Jordan*, encouraged him to get a western education at the University of Texas in Austin. Because of his good looks, foreign intrigue and political connections, Hani did well in Austin. He learned English, met some good friends and lots of beautiful women. Thanks to his strict father and his Muslim upbringing though, he "didn't know what to do" with these women.
After a few years, Hani moved to Dallas to continue his studies at Southern Methodist University. He became fast friends with Greg Miller, grandson of legendary real estate mogul Henry S. Miller. The Millers all but adopted Hani--driving around in their Cadillac, eating at five-star restaurants, and introducing him to American football from their luxury suite at Texas Stadium. Hani was having the time of his life.
Soon he met a beautiful woman. Her father was half-Indian and half Palestinian. Her mother was Palestinian from Jerusalem. Hani said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Hani wanted to show her all the good things in life. He wined and diner her, using borrowed money. Unlike his friend Greg, Hani had very few funds of his own.
As the relationship progressed, she told Hani of an offer to work for the United Nations from an office in Washington, DC. The pair decided to move together to the east coast. Still maintaining his traditional values, Hani found a two-bedroom apartment for them to rent. Without a job or his wealthy friends in this new town, Hani could no longer maintain the lifestyle to which his girl had become accustomed--he could barely afford rent. Angrily, she demanded that he call the government of Jordan to secure additional funds. He did and was able to float by for a few more moths. When she realized that her gravy train had dried up, she left him. This betrayal hurt Hani to his core; he was a changed man.
On his next visit home to Jordan, his aunt cornered him to express her concern that he was in his 30s and not yet married. Still nursing his broken heart, Hani agreed to an arranged marriage. Twenty-two years later, I asked Hani if he and his wife would have found each other on their own. No, he says. But he loves her and always has loved her. "She's the mother of my children," he says.
Hani is a man caught between two worlds. He misses his home country and would love to move back, but he knows that his grown children would not move there with him. His choice, he says, is to live in Jordan and miss his children, or live in America and miss Jordan. He chooses the latter.
* Hani did not tell me the name of his cousin who was prime minister of Jordan, but he did mention that he had a second cousin who was also served as prime minister. I believe his cousins are Mudar Badran (1976-1979; 1980-1984), and Adnan Badran (2005).