I’m coming up on three weeks in Jordan now and what a three weeks it has been! My good friend Melissa and I decided to move to Amman for a few months in order to volunteer with the Syrian refugee population here and to continue to work on our Arabic. Both of us studied religion, with a particular focus on Islam, social justice, and human rights. I’ll update more about our volunteer work in a couple of days, but for now, a bit about my experiences living in Amman so far!
We left from JFK on September 17th and boarded a 7 hour flight to London, during which I watched several silly movies and tried to sleep in order to stave off the temptation to ask myself for the millionth time if I was REALLY sure about moving to the Middle East. Too late. The second flight was shorter – 5 hours – and featured a traditional English breakfast as well as some spectacular views out the window.
It did not look like this flying into Jordan. In fact it looked just about the opposite: the same shade of brown as far as the eye could see – with some hills and variation to the landscape – but mostly like dry, cracked desert. That pesky “are you sure….?” question started to rear its head again.
We landed, picked up our visas, got through customs and went outside to get a taxi to our hotel. Ten minutes into the taxi ride my initial perception of Jordan as a vast, empty desert was replaced by the beauty of the scenery around us — every shade of beige and white, scattered with trees and multiple varieties of bright, colorful flowers. We passed by camels and the Bedouin families that tend to them in tents on the hillside as we drove into the city, constantly surrounded by a sparse rocky and hilly landscape that in itself was very pleasing, and increasingly so with the darker trees and white buildings that stood out so well against it.
As I’ve started to settle into the city, I’ve continued to notice and appreciate pockets of color and design – shops and cafes boast painted tiles, potted flowers, and decorated terraces and balconies that overlook the city.
Amman, originally built on 7 hills and now encompassing many more, offers a variety of spectacular views of its neighborhoods, mosques, and monuments.
Exploring via walking is one of my favorite pastimes and I have seemingly endless opportunities for this here. Long walks reveal well-disguised staircases squeezed among layers and clusters of buildings that connect different parts of the city (and can make for some sore legs).
Delicious and cheap food is absurdly easy to come by and spotting the places where locals queue up for meals and snacks never fails to result in a tasty, fresh treat. Some favorites so far include “saaj” — lightly fried pressed dough, rolled with cheese and thyme; “shawarma” — grilled mean shaved off of a spit and often put into a sandwich or wrap with sauce and spices; and of course pita, hummus, and felafel. All of this is available for less than 2 Jordanian Dinars (JD), or about $3.00 US — which makes it dangerously hard to resist. A new staple I can’t seem to slurp down enough of (especially in this dry, hot weater) is a lightly sweetened lemonade blended with mint and ice. So refreshing!
Amman is a beautiful city with a striking raw quality to it. Gorgeous homes, buildings, and gardens; fig, pomegranate and olive trees dotted along streets and sidewalks. All of this is interspersed with crumbling sidewalks, bare patches of sand and rubble, and often a good amount of garbage strewn about. It leaves you with the impression of being somewhere alive, developing, and honest — there is an obvious beauty everywhere you look, but it’s a beauty that just as readily shows you its blemishes. I’m coming to appreciate that more and more.
I’m looking forward to continuing to explore the city and the surrounding area! More to come soon.