March 9, 2007


Matthias Leitner - Amman, Jordan

March 9 Walk through Amman

March 9 falls on a Friday, which equals Sunday in Amman. Weekend revelers tend to sleep in, and quiet envelops the city, Jordan's largest. It is built on seven hills like Rome and therefore friendly to automotive means of getting around except when you're stuck in a traffic jam. Until early afternoon, only foreigners and tourists are milling around: Westerners and many Asian guest workers on their day off. I am one of those taking a stroll, while traffic is slight and the air relatively fresh. It gets hot easily during the day, even in the winter months. Amman does not have much green but occasional palm trees and bushes grow near the many steps that lead up and down the hills.

My route leads me down from my house on Jebel Amman Hill past one of the circles that serve as landmarks in Amman. This is where you catch taxi cabs and where you get dropped off, when you can't pronounce the name of your street or direct the driver close to your home in basic Arabic. Curbstones are extra high - they must have known in advance about SUVs so drivers are obliged to respect the sidewalks. Big cars are fashionable here, Jordanians working abroad love to show off their success. Garages and paint shops line the main streets leading down to the city center. You always discover new things in the relentless urban sprawl, which is variegated and built up from many concrete layers, sometimes carved deep into rocky slopes. It's also color coordinated, since an official decree requires white limestone facades, which is something of a national hallmark.

Closer to downtown around the old mosque, many small shops and market stalls are crowding along the street. They are in business even on a holiday, all selling pretty much the same things, and are great places for finding bargains or the latest pirated DVD. Amman is expensive, even topping the list of Arab capitals according to some findings. There are no sidewalk cafes but fresh juice bars and a few traditional tea houses hidden on the first floors of commercial buildings. There are a jungle of signs that the municipality promised to take down but never did. Many recommend local hotels, in adventurous English, with the flavor of the great wide world: Baghdad Tourist Grand Hotel, Cliff Hotel, Sydney Hotel. I wonder who actually stays there, maybe travelers stranded before reaching tidier quarters. Amman has hosted tens of thousands of refugees from Iraq but as they get poorer, they tend to live on the east side rather than in the more affluent western or central districts.   March 9 is almost half over; I'm celebrating it with a strong cup of tea with fresh mint and brace myself for climbing back up the hill. The city rouses itself for what's left of the weekend. Welcome to Amman, as they are saying to you at every other turn (even after living here for months).                   

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