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Last stop before Iraq: Cafe is cultural crossroad

From Nic Robertson

Abu Saif's is the only 24-hour restaurant in Ruwaished.
Abu Saif's is the only 24-hour restaurant in Ruwaished.

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A Jordanian town on the border with Iraq has become a busy corridor for Baghdad travellers and its only 24-hour restaurant, a popular gathering point. CNN's Nic Robertson spoke to some of the customers.
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RUWAISHED, Jordan (CNN) -- For some, it is the first stop on the way out of Iraq. For others, it is the last stop on the way in.

Abu Saif's, the only 24-hour restaurant in the Jordanian border town of Ruwaished, has become a cross-cultural crossroads; a first safe haven for those leaving the war and a final respite for others on the verge of entering it.

These days, the popular cafe sees a daily and nightly ebb and flow of customers traveling in both directions.

Some of the patrons have become internationally famous. Four journalists held for a week in an Iraqi jail paused briefly here to recount their experiences for waiting members of the media. Newsday reporter Matthew McAllester and photographer Moises Saman, along with American photographer Molly Bingham and Danish photographer Johan Rydeng Spanner, stopped -- then quickly continued their journey to Amman.

Others pass through Abu Saif's in relative obscurity. A man named Tamer from southern Iraq is having his last supper before heading to Baghdad. When asked why he would want to go there now, he says simply, "It is my homeland. I want to defend it from the American aggression."

He is not alone.

Two buses filled with passengers stop at the cafe, taking advantage of the final rest stop before they reach the Iraqi border.

Among the passengers is a taxi driver named Ahmad. He is taking his Jordanian wife, 3-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son back to his extended family in Baghdad.

"I want to be with my family," says Ahmad. "We either live together or die together."

Traveling in the opposite direction are peace activists leaving Baghdad, re-entering the relative safety of Jordan. After weeks protesting against the war, Abu Saif's offers them a first meal in peace and a chance to reflect on what they left behind.

"The situation is very, very, very grim and very, very, very sad," says Jerry Levin. "Baghdad is a city waiting for something terrible to happen."

Passengers board a bus heading to Baghdad, after stopping on the way at Abu Saif's for supper.
Passengers board a bus heading to Baghdad, after stopping on the way at Abu Saif's for supper.

"People are angry and sad that the war is happening," adds Lisa Martins. "I hear a lot of fear for people's children."

Taking stock following their own trip out of Iraq, Algerian doctors recount their experience for the media.

"We saw this war with our own eyes," says Jamal Weld Abbas, the president of the Algerian Medical Union. "It is not a clean war. On the contrary, (we saw) kids 6- and 7-years-old, all wounded, limbs amputated."

As the activists and doctors continue to describe what they have just left behind in Iraq's capital, Ahmad and his fellow travelers reboard their two buses. The time for rest is over. It is time to continue their journey.

Next stop -- Baghdad.

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