After a four-hour drive, through the mainly desolate Arabian Desert, save a random police vehicle parked under a lone tree with a prayer blanket at its side, we arrived back in Amman in the bright daylight. We dropped our rental car back at the Queen Alia International Airport and saw the construction we had dealt with in the dark of night when we left the airport to make our way to the Dead Sea four days ago.
Signs of growth and prosperity in the region are shown in the almost finished new main terminal, looking very modern in a very ancient setting. After dropping our car off, we hailed a cab for our first taste of life in Amman – a much faster pace than we experienced in the Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum. In Amman, speed limits are a suggestion, road lines go unnoticed and steering with one’s hands are optional. Our driver had one hand hanging out the window with a cigarette dangling from it while the other hand-held a phone to his ear, using his knee to steer the car while racing down the highway at uncomfortable speeds.
But that is life on the roads in Jordan – kind of a cross between NYC and Rome taxi drivers. Once off the streets in Amman, the pace of the culture leans to the other extreme of subdued and reserved. Timelines are not strictly adhered to and things will get done when they get done. There is always time for tea, prayer or an occasional puff of watermelon flavored shisha from a hookah pipe.
At our hotel, we were greeted with barricades on the parking lanes and security check points at the hotel entrance. These were installed in 2005, when 60 people were killed after the nearby Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel and the Days Inn, were all bombed.
For me, it wasn’t until we arrived in Amman that I experienced what it was like to exist in a male dominated culture. In the U.S. men open doors for women. In Amman, men walk through the doors first and their women follow, a certain amount of paces behind. But other than the need to cover our shoulders and wear long skirts or slacks, my daughter and I did not feel oppressed in this male dominated culture and were always greeted with respect and equality.
Since my daughter had already spent several weeks in Amman she was able steer us in the direction of the local highlights, while she spent her days at work, at a local English language Arabic magazine, Living Well. There have only been street signs in Amman for a short period of time but locals don’t use them. The city is set up on a series of eight circles and directions send you left or right off each circle, towards landmarks or down a certain number of blocks.
Amman is an ancient city, founded in 7000 BC. From the ancient Roman ruins of the Citadel to the modern Abdoun Bridge, life in this city of almost 3,000,000 inhabitants is constantly in motion. Walking the streets of Amman we were greeted with the smells of falafel (fried balls of chickpea and spices); the sights of limestone architecture (all buildings have to be built of limestone or the be the color of limestone): heard the calls to prayer (five times a day); and felt the warmth of the arid hot summer sun.
My husband and I set up a private tour that took us to the Citadel that sits up high on the opposite side of town; then down into the bustling market place lined with street vendors; then past one of the oldest mosques in town; and finished at the ruins of the Roman amphitheater.
Our driver, a well spoken man who had served as a steward on several major airlines, had us take note all the different license plates from surrounding countries, people taking refuge in Jordan – denoted as the ‘neutral’ country of the Middle East. He said that generally the streets in Jordan are empty during the summers – too hot for the locals – but with all the civil unrest in bordering countries, the city is in full swing year round and it puts a strain on their own natural resources for their own people.
One of the highlights of our whole middle eastern trip was getting to know a family that had befriended our daughter. The patriarch was a business associate of one of my husband’s brothers who not only graciously agreed to be a ‘go to’ person for our daughter in case of emergencies, but they became her family away from home. They picked her up at the airport, provided her with a local phone, drove her around the city and invited her to their home to share in family dinners.
When our daughter first wanted to go to Jordan, we were very hesitant because of the ongoing unrest in the region surrounding Jordan. But after meeting this special family and experiencing their hospitality, my husband and I left lighthearted knowing our daughter was in good hands for the duration of her stay.
I want to dedicate this post to Abu Jawad and his family and to Mrs. Taghreed. Your friendships will be treasured for a lifetime.
Check the Global Gallery – Jordan: Amman for more pictures of this great ancient city.