East meets WestFebruary 26, 2009 • By Kelly Glynn
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.