Our friends Cody and Vanessa moved to Amman in August this year to study Arabic. Back when we were all still in Iowa City, we had talked about maybe going through Jordan to see them on our year of wandering, but it didn’t seem like the timing was going to work out. And then those cheap Royal Jordanian flights started popping up and suddenly our path to Asia took a new direction.
Amman is a city of 1.5 million people. About one quarter of its residents are Iraqi, Palestinian, Sudanese, Somalian, and (more recently) Syrian refugees. The terrain is hilly, the climate is desert, and the official religion is Islam. After chilly Berlin, the blue skies, dry air and temperatures in the upper 70′s were so welcome.
Rapid population growth means that the city is a constant swirl of dust and traffic with examples of prosperity and poverty elbow-to-elbow. You can buy fresh produce from a roadside stand or a souk or you can buy a value meal from McDonalds or KFC. You might see goats being grazed in an empty lot in the middle of the city accompanied by a shepherd wearing a polo shirt, or you might see a guy with a python around his neck at a street fair.
Everything is tan and square for as far as the eye can see, but that makes the flowers and palms and mosques and rare youthful artistic flourishes seem even more stunning.
Since the city expanded so rapidly, it’s an urban planning nightmare. There are broken sidewalks, curbs two feet high at pedestrian crossings, few traffic signals, and each roundabout approach is prefaced with an official U-turn lane because the most roads are purposefully constructed to allow only right turns. Horns and exhaust fumes are constant. Many travelers spend only a day or two in Amman before heading off to more exotic locations, and you can mostly understand why.
The major highlights of Amman can be “done” in less than a day, starting at the top of Jabal al-Qal’a (the Hill of the Citadel) to see the ruined Temple of Hercules and Umayyad Palace, then down to the Roman theater below, on to the souks and shopping streets downtown, then a stop at one of the dozens of Western-style cafes on Rainbow Street.
After nearly two weeks in Amman, we were feeling comfortable with the city. Dust, fumes, late night celebratory gunshots, crazy cab rides and all. The sounds seeped into us in a familiar rhythm. The constant jingle of what might be an ice cream truck constantly patrolling the neighborhoods. (It’s actually a truck filled with propane tanks for residential stoves.) The repetitive loudspeaker shouts of another truck slowly rolling through the neighborhoods. Let your imagination run wild and it might be mistaken for an angry tirade of someone inciting revolution. (They’re actually letting you know that they’re selling cabbages and onions and stuff.)
And of course, the most “other” sound of all: the five times daily call to prayer. In Turkey it would vary from city to city and from mosque to mosque. In Amman it had its own aura that, with our limited experience, we can only describe as “not Turkish” yet as beautiful as our favorite call from of The New Mosque in Istanbul. Its a sound that we will miss as we continue our journey eastward.
We really loved our time in the Middle East. All the wonderful food, the sights, the sounds… most of the smells. We hope we can experience it all again someday.