Browsing Date

February 2009

Destinations, Middle East

East meets West

February 26, 2009 • By

Alas, I arrived in Amman elated to see a bustling city.  It occurred to me early in this trip that I am a city girl through and through but spending a week in rural Jordan solidified my need for noise, people and action.

I started my day in Amman by heading to the Citadel and Roman Theater.  My feetsies were hurting from three days of climbing so I decided to take the on the bus off the bus tour.  After waiting for 25 minutes, I asked a local taxi driver when the heck this bus would be arriving.  He told me he would take me to all the same places for 10JD.  I said no I don’t want a taxi.  I want a bus with the nice audio tour etc.  He sauntered away likely laughing since I stood there for another 45 minutes.  Finally, I hop on the bus only to find a real guide who explained the bus doesn’t really stop except in three spots.  Oh well!  I figure I’ll learn something and get my bearings.  On board, there were 4 Lebanese women visiting who used to live in Amman.  Typical women, they pointed out every sweet shop and clothing center I needed to visit.

East Amman is compact yet over crowded with tons of housing and bazaars.  Buildings are constructed on top of each other.  In some ways, it reminds me of San Francisco because of the rolling hills and houses carved into the mountains.  There aren’t any parks or green spaces but there is a nice business district with coffee shops and more upscale shopping.  Housing units occupy most of East Amman and it’s where the middle class and poor people live.  Amman can probably be described as rich vs. poor or historic vs. modern and even liberal vs. conservative.

On the other side of the city in West Amman, it’s a brand new world.  Beautiful $1 million homes, trees, space and upscale designer shopping malls and cafes galore make up this side of the city.  The contrast is quite apparent.  Even the Prince lives in West Amman.  The developments are all new so if you are looking for a bit of history and the true treasures of Amman don’t look here.

The city itself is about an hour from the Dead Sea by car, an hour from the Israeli border and completely surrounded by desert and mountains.  A bulk of Jordan’s population reside in Amman and by the looks of it they mostly live in East Amman.  Truth be told I was pretty impressed with the architecture in the western part of the city but it had a Starbucks so I’m immediately partial.

After my city tour, I settled at one of the cafes and sampled the local sweets.  I eavesdropped on some of the 20-30 somethings having coffee and realized men and women can be seen together in Amman.  It wasn’t like there were hundreds of couples but it was definitely more prevalent.  I floated through some of the shops and found a jewelry and crafts store.  There I spoke to a local university student.  She started as a tourism major and figured out that wasn’t for her and changed to business.  She was working in this store to gain experience designing jewelry–something she enjoys.  Although she was covered, she did have a boyfriend.  She said they date and spend time together.  I got the impression it’s not something people celebrate in Amman but it is allowed.  We talked a bit about New York and her dreams.  I liked her very much.  It was great to hear a woman’s side of the story.  She was afraid to ask me questions at first and would giggle.  Once we decided we had the same taste in jewelry and I gave her my two cents on the industry, she spoke freely about life in Amman.  I bid her farewell after an hour and a half of chatting and yes I did buy a necklace.  It was the only proper thing to do.

Destinations, Middle East

Enough is enough

February 26, 2009 • By

I missed the bus to Amman and stayed another night in Petra.  In typical style, I couldn’t relax and enjoy a day off. I switched hotels, watched a glorious sunset and bathed Turkish style.  Looking back, I likely put myself into a horrible a situation but it worked out fine.

Another “friend” at my hotel felt bad that I missed the bus and offered to take me to Little Petra and show me the sunset.  A few people had spoken highly of Little Petra’s amazing views so I decided on another adventure.  I will spare you the details of our entire conversation but rest assure I’m learning a great deal.  I’ve now confirmed my story from the other day.  The 21-year-old university student was indeed killed by her brothers in the name of honor(it was in the paper).  My further conversations with locals reveal that outside of Amman, life is quite different.  Men(boys) cannot even be seen talking to any woman who is not an immediate relative.  They fear for their lives but many tempt fate and “date” in secret.  I fully admit I am obsessed with their way of life.

This young man who I watched the sunset with is 30-years-old, a law school graduate and still lives with his family.  In order to marry, he needs to own a home and present 10,000JD to the bride’s family, which is approximately $14,000USD.  Let me paint you a picture of the courting process here in Jordan (less prevalent in Amman).  A boy/man may work with a woman, she may be a friend of a sister or he may simply see her (covered) on the street.  He will then go to his father and say I would like to marry this woman.  The father contacts this woman’s father and asks for a meeting.  Both families will assemble all the men including the father, grandfather, uncles and brothers and spend an afternoon drinking coffee and smoking at the woman’s house.  At which point, the father of the man/boy will ask the father of the woman if she will agree to marry.  No women are involved.  Years ago, the father consented for the daughter.  Today, the daughter can tell her father, “no I do not wish to marry the man” or the families might not take to each other.  If the daughter says yes, then the women from both families meet.  This is more or less a “check out” session.  Is she pretty?  Is she suitable etc?  The courts in Jordan conduct the marriage ceremony and a party ensues.  In other words, there is no dating.  It’s a step above arranged marriages but not by much.

After my friend and I watched the sunset, I started to get a bit “ut-o.”  He told me stories of Saudi women calling him up to their room while the husband was off playing.  Remember women cannot socialize with men so they are forced to remain in the hotel room.  These women invented problems with the Internet or bathroom etc. and then forced themselves on him.   He described a situation where a woman demanded to be touched and another where a woman wanted to be told she was attractive.  I asked whether or not he reported any of these cases and he said no way.  It’s ok because the women would not tell their husbands and women do not lie to men here.  Unbelievable!  This is coming from a man who took himself to the doctor after a French tourist touched him in his private area fully clothed.  He thought he contracted AIDS.

I find Jordanian men desperate to spend time with foreign women since it’s forbidden here.  I’m shocked this pertains to local women and not foreigners but I guess we know more about sex than they do anyway.  He did tell me he doesn’t even try to secretly date because he fears for his life.  Astounded, I started to ask questions and he began whispering which scared me so I changed the subject.

Finally, we arrived at a Turkish bath with 15 other tourists.  It was a total blast however, my “friend” started making me feel very uncomfortable asking me about my boyfriend (I lied) and if we ever touched each other.  I knew I was safe with a place full of tourists but I gather the men here are so curious they corner foreigners whenever possible.  In full disclosure, there were several people in the steam room wearing bikinis(the men in speedos except my local guy in long shorts).  The minute he tried massaging my lower back(I had pulled it carrying my backpack), I jumped up and delcared I was leaving.  He said the look in my eyes scared him.  Damn straight!  Even the French women sitting next to me, thought something happened I moved so fast.  It was completely innocent but I was not about to be this man’s segue into the exploration of the female body.  What’s to stop his brothers from killing me?  He repeated over and over, “nothing happened just touch back,  just touch back.  It ok if we touch.”  I can only imagine how taboo virginity must be here.

As we needed to arrange meeting earlier, the young man had my cell number.  A huge mistake on my part.  In the course of 24 hours, he texted me no less than 15 times telling me he loved me and his heart (spelled herdt) was breaking.  I finally texted back that he was costing me $2.00 a minute and that my boyfriend would be very angry if he did not leave me alone.  I’m a cold-hearted bitch.  Bottom line…do not talk to Muslim boys if you are a foreigner.  They do not understand the ways of our world.

To give you a bit more perspective on the plight of men and women here,  I sorted out a few things with my English speaking driver.  He is 42 and has three daughters and one son.  Currently, two daughters attend Jordanian University in Amman.  One daughter studies mathematics and the other psychology.  The daughterslive in an all girls housing unit where they cannot leave before 7 am and must be back by 7 pm.  The only men they can see or speak to on the phone is immediate family(brothers, father etc).  When these girls graduate, they must return to their father even though Petra may not be ideal for either of their careers.  This man’s big hope is that his daughers will both be teachers.  I prodded him on his feelings of women working.  He said it’s ok for them to work until they marry, then they must stay home with the children.  After my drop dead silence, he said,”our country different than yours.”  You can say that again.