Earlier this month I travelled to Jordan with my good friend A to see her clever and beautiful daughter N who is spending a year studying in the Jordanian capital: Amman.
I knew before I went that Jordan is a safe place to visit: an oasis of peace in a sea of middle eastern conflict. Still though when we arrived, late in the evening, and went on foot in search of a restaurant I felt a frisson of anxiety. The reality was my anxiety was unwarranted. Not only is Jordan a low-risk place to go (in as much as anywhere in our turbulent world can be), but it also has a moderate crime rate, and visitors are warmly welcomed.
Jordan is generally seen as the most liberal and westernised of the middle eastern countries. And Amman, leastways the area of Amman where we stayed, has a cosmopolitan feel. I saw very few women wearing burkas, many were wearing headscarves, but as many weren’t. Western style clothes are the norm. Women drive. The sale and consumption of alcohol is legal even if it is not as widely available as it is at home, not necessarily a bad thing.
We stayed in a hotel in the Jabal Amman area just a few paces from the famous Rainbow Street which is the centre of cool in Amman. It and the streets and alleyways radiating from it are home to a festival of restaurants, cafes, and small shops. All of them are open late and the area is merry-go-round busy. Except for Fridays, the Sabbath for over ninety percent of the population, when the street and its surrounds have a Mary Celeste feel.
Amman is a hilly city so walking around it is great exercice. Some of the hills are steep and hard on underused muscles but shortcuts, via flights of steps, abound. They are a great way to cut metres off a journey. The prettiest set I saw was lined with colourful plant-filled flowerpots and led to downtown Amman.
Downtown appears to be where many of the locals shop and it is a veritable hubbub. Cars crawl by ceaselessly, there is an unending raucous symphony as drivers toot their horns and music blares through open car windows. People mill around as they enter and exit a melange of shops selling everything from everyday household goods to exotic spices. It’s not a downtown from central casting. No, rather, it’s gritty and real and speaks to hardscrabble lives in a city where average monthly wages are low and prices are not. (There are, by the way, shopping malls in other parts of the city.)
Although I passed some lovely old villas much of the recent architecture in Amman is not of great merit. Still though, and despite the lack of green open space, the city looks lovely from many vantage points as the buildings which march up and down its undulating hills are covered with a sand coloured coating which giving them an aesthetically pleasing uniformity. And from certain spots the ancient Citadel which sits aloof on one of the hills, overlook the new city, is visible.
The only word of Arabic I learnt while I was in Jordan is ‘shokran’ which means thank you. However communicating wasn’t a problem as English is widely and well spoken. And best of all everyone we spoke to was friendly, helpful, and welcoming.
It’s a cliche to say travel broadens the mind but cliches often become cliches because they express a universal truth. I returned from my holiday in Jordan knowing a little more about a different country and different culture and that’s surely a good thing.