CNU City Spotlight: A brief encounter with Amman, Jordan

wajdighoussoub's picture

 

This post is part of a new series on the CNU Salons, CITY SPOTLIGHT. City Spotlight shines a light on the latest news, developments and initiatives occurring in cities and towns where CNU members live and work.

The below post comes from CNU member Wajdi Ghoussoub, and focuses on Amman, Jordan. Read Ghoussoub's previous post on Beirut by clicking here. 

 

Though there is still much left to be seen, the short trip to Amman was a success, a rich experience of tradition and an eye opener to lots of what is uniquely Jordanian.

 

I did not see much of Amman. Though not ideally suited to offer much judgment about the city situated on a set of hills, my short trip is still worthy of a few descriptive lines I think. The Jordanian capital has a certain charm and feels distinctively authentic, two traits not much uncommon with other Levantine cities. What makes Amman - and every urban center for that matter - really unique are its people (not so cheerful I heard many say, though I am yet to be convinced by so) who appeared to be very friendly; most men leave a proud moustache and most women clearly have what one could call Arab features. This is in addition to the sloped and not so gentle on the stomach roads, the low and not quite attractive rises, the unstructured planning that easily loses someone’s sense of direction, and other small things that often make the difference and a city’s heart beat.

The trip from the airport to the hotel felt eternal and as dangerous as any trip one makes in that part of the world. I later came to know that Jordanians often compare any trip that is long and a cause of weariness to their airport road. Forty five minutes or so later I was in my hotel and ready for an imbibing session with my Jordanian friend (with the company of Johnnie Walker many local men would want to emphasize). We were to spend the next day taking a brief tour of Amman before making the 45 minute trip down to the Dead Sea. Yes - ‘down’ but more on that later on. The last day would be spent back in the city, lunching on the famous and sensationally delectable national dish, Mansaf, followed by another brief cruise before flying back to Dubai. Sounded like one heck of a weekend, though not a too insensible one.

Very late on Thursday night and after much concentrating effort by the buzzing mind, I came to learn that Amman, unlike say Jerusalem, Damascus and Baghdad, hasn’t been the metropolitan city it is today until quite recently. Nevertheless, its history is quite long and rich and not to be underestimated, very much like that of the rest of the land now forming Jordan. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the capital sits on more than 8 hills, a usual characteristic of villages and not cities.

Before we began our journey – again down - to the Dead Sea, we took a ride through the capital, driving on the major axis and around a series of numbered roundabouts, stopping at a place for an Oreo milkshake - not a Jordanian tradition, but still a very tasty treat - and passing by a weekend market where my friend once saw Ilham Al Madfai, my favorite singer of Iraqi origin who currently resides in Jordan.

The trip to the Dead Sea was a cause of some childish and not too serious stress. If Amman’s lowest point is at around 600 meters above sea level, the Dead Sea is approximately 400 meters below sea level (marking the lowest elevation on land). Overstretched imagination made it hard for me to comprehend how possible it is or noticeable it would be to be at the lowest point on earth. Will it be a tight curved road? Will it be severely and frighteningly sloped? What if a big bang of sorts takes place and the not too far Mediterranean Sea comes rushing down towards us like a tsunami? I was mocked at and then jokingly assured that all will be fine. Indeed, the road was wide and comfortable and the Dead Sea, except for the lack of boats and the high salt content (8 times or so that of the ocean) that makes you float with no effort, felt like any other sea really. The apparently common knowledge that it is receding and will dry up in less than 50 years has led to some far-fetched solutions by some. Across the calm waters, one can see the Palestinian territories and the west bank of the Jordanian river that diminishingly feeds the sea. At night, and to my great surprise, what apparently were the lights of Jerusalem from a distance were pointed out to me.

Mansaf is a Bedouin dish of rice, lamb and jameed (a yogurt-like substance). Tradition dictates that the large plate is to be devoured only by hand. The OCD reader might be happy to know (though not so convincingly) that Mansaf is hygienic because there are some basic rules to follow, 3 of which are perhaps the most critical: hands, of course and in any case, are to be washed, each person has an area of the dish to cover (a Mansaf realm?) and the handful small ball of jameed watered rice and lamb is to be thrown into the mouth by the way of a thumb throw, thus not allowing the fingers to touch the lips. It was a very tasty, tiring and filling experience. As my friend followed this food “massacre” with a power nap, I found myself looking in more detail at the map of Jordan. We were so close yet felt so detached from Palestine, Jerusalem and the whole Palestinian and Israeli issue and also from the nearby Syrian tragedy. The map itself looked random and clearly drawn by the powers of the early 20th century. I saw where Petra, the ancient city carved in stone, and Aqaba, Jordan’s port town, were located.

Before hitting the long road to the airport again, we stopped to have coffee delivered to our car in the poorer East Amman (one ‘Turkish sabb’ my friend excitingly exclaimed), we drove on what is supposedly the longest S shaped suspension bridge in the world (is there any other we jokingly thought?) and came to notice that the Jordanians have invested a lot in their capital’s postal code system (unlike in other cities in the Middle East) but not so much in its public and not to be relied upon transportation system.

Had I planned to stay longer, I would have embarked on the usual routine I follow when I visit any new place: buy a map, understand it up to the most granular level and walk extensively on foot abiding by it. To be fair, the motivations this time around were different. The point was only to drink, eat, laugh and catch up with my friend and, why not I thought, see just the very basics. The score of meeting such goals was a 10 on 10. Still, I will undoubtedly return to Amman and Jordan and next time I will give them the focus they rightly deserve.

Picture source: http://www.jordanholidays.net

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