Amman


I love this city and I love all it has to offer. I don’t believe I need to spend excessive amounts of money to enjoy myself here. And since I am always asked what should one do in the city – well here are 10 ideas that cost less than 10 JD to enjoy. Some of them even cost less!

1- Take any one of tens of stairs leading downtown from the surrounding Jabals- the ones in Jabal Amman are especially charming.
Cost: Zero

2- Enjoy a meal at any one of these restaurants- they have all been around for ages and are considered institutions amongst Ammannis:
• Hashem, downtown- 24 hour service in the heart of the city
• Al Quds restaurant, downtown- great traditional foods- must try the molokhia, & the crème caramel
• The Orient Bar aka Abu Ahmad, downtown- amazing grilled meats – must try the 3arayes
• Habiba, Downtown- Knafeh, knafeh, knafeh
• Tamriet Omar, Second Circle- Tamrieh and other traditional sweets
• Falafel Al Quds, Rainbow Street- Falafel sandwiches
• Shawerma Reem, Second Circle- Meat Shawerma (I’m not a fan but it’s a must to have had at least one if you live in Amman or are visiting)
Cost: Anywhere between 0.300 JD – 8 JD

3- A walk through Jabal Alweibdeh and its galleries. These include: The National Gallery for Arts, Makan, Darat Al Funun, Dar Al Anda, Darat Al Tasweer, and Mo7taref Al Rimal.
Cost: JD 3 entrance to the National Gallery

4- Making a kite in Jabal Al Qala’a- Befriend one of the kids and have them teach you.
Cost: 2- 3 JD

5- Walk through the Jabal Amman neighborhoods around the first and second circles in the cool summer night and smell the amazing jasmine bushes.
Cost: Zero

6- Sit out on a street café on Rainbow street. I highly recommend Duninde Café for the quiet cozy atmosphere and the hustle and bustle is a lot less on that end of the road.
Cost: A cup of coffee is about 3 JD

7- Sit on the hillside of Jabal Alweibdeh (the side facing Jabal Amman and the road leading downtown) and listen to the call to prayer vibrate and resonate through the valleys. Its so beautiful.
Cost: Zero

8- Find a good look out spot to East Amman in Jabal Amman and watch the day end and sunset reflected on the opposite hills. The colors are magnificent.
Cost: 0 – 5 JD depending on your choice of spot and beverage selection.

9- For an explosion of colors, sounds, smells and tastes walk through the vegetable markets of downtown. There are two a covered one and an outdoor one. Both are fun, noisy loud places.
Cost: Zero if you can resist buying the fresh produce!

10- Joining the Fast Walk on a Sunday or Wednesday evening for a power walk with over 100 people! The walks explore the city with 8 different routes leading you through the back streets of Amman on foot.
Cost: Zero

Feel free to share or start your own lists. I’d love to hear how you enjoy this city. Especially if you can do it for under 10 JD 😉

So after the lull of work in Ramadan and the Eid holiday, October has come and with a vengeance. There is so much going on that I am afraid to loose track! Here are some of the things happening in October and I will try to be on top of things and write more often about these happenings and more.

October is…

• All month long: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

• Oct 2: Hamzet Wasel kite making activity and the Walk for Right to Play

• Oct 9: Municipality of Amman’s Centennial Parade

• Oct 8-21: Follow the Women bike ride for peace

• Oct 15: Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change

• Oct 17: The Amman International Marathon

• Oct 24: 350.org Action day (Hamzet Wasel will be conducting an action too)

I am sure I’ve missed many important things in October so feel free to add to the list.

Yesterday I was walking downtown running various errands with a friend of mine. Throughout our walk we passed by the site of the fire, that burned in the souq, a few weeks back. I took out a camera and started to take pictures. I was impressed with the speed with which the souq had been fixed up and the work that was done.

It was obvious that there was a meeting with the shop owners going on so we quietly tip toed around them. We tried to find evidence of the fire and what had happened, but everything was white washed and new. Even the tiles on the floor were replaced. As we were taking pictures I heard a man asking “what newspaper are they with?” We ignored him as we were not addressed directly and as I was taking the last picture a gentleman in a suit asked “What newspaper are you with and did you ask for permission to take pictures?”

I was appalled by the question and enraged by the attitude and the tone. This was a public space, a souq I had frequented often. It was not a closed construction zone. And so I responded I am a concerned citizen taking pictures. He insisted I had to have permission to do so. Why? Why do I need permission to pictures of something so public and open? Was it a military zone I had stumbled upon? A matter of national security? Or better yet a foreign embassy? And who was he to ask permission from?

Too long have we been submissive when there is no need. I was not breaking any law, I was not doing anything unethical or strange. I merely brought out a camera and clicked away. But this mentality, that we have to ask permission, submit to someone of a higher authority at every turn and at every step is ridiculous. The idea that you have to represent a newspaper or an official body to take a picture of some public works was preposterous.

I stood my ground and in fact told the man, that I was exercising my constitutional right to express myself peacefully. He still insisted that I ask permission, he wanted to know who I represented. I told him I was taking a picture of the column, does he own the column? He said he did, “as do I, as a citizen of this country, as a resident of this city, it is my column too!” He wanted to know who I represented.“I represent myself. I represent my blog. I represent the citizens of this city. I am a Ammani.”

The exchange left a very bitter taste in my mouth after I was exalted about the efforts and the work done to restore this piece of downtown history. I got my pictures and I stood my ground. But why does everything have to be a power struggle? Why does such a simple thing have to become so contentious? This blog post was supposed to be about the history of the souq, and the efforts to bring it back to life after it was burned down. Instead it is now about a man from the municipality who thinks he owns this city!

Here are a couple of the contentious pictures from the restored souq downtown follow:

Downtown Banner at souq

A renewed store

A renewed store

I love taxi rides and taxi drivers. Every time I get into a taxi it is an opportunity to learn more, interact more and get a pulse for what people are thinking, or even how they are thinking (some may argue it’s the other way round). But the thing I notice the most when in cabs, and this is symptomatic of a the majority of our society, is how we are always willing to shift responsibility and of course blame on the anonymous and magnanimous OTHER. The other can be the system, the government, women, men, youth and children, drivers, families, society…etc. The other depends on the topic of the conversation, and who we can blame for it. I will give you examples:

  • Littering: its bad, its dirty, “They should clean up the streets!”, as a tissue paper, cigarette butt, can, bag of junk food is being thrown out of the window of a car, even as we walk down the street.
  • Traffic: A sign that says do not turn, one way street, a place in which turning would be dangerous, etc… “Well they do it all the time!”
  • Price hikes: “They should do something about it”
  • Rainbow Street: “They ruined the street, they should complain and get it changed.”
  • Taxi driver status, benefits, needs: “They should give us health insurance/ social secutiry/ protect us…etc.”

The list goes on and on, what is common in all of them though is that there is never a language of “us”.

My response to most of these gripes is to ask “who are they?” or “where are you in the equation? Where is your voice?” or “ Why don’t you do anything about it?”. When I look back at my mother’s generation or the one after it there seems to have been a more vocal youth and a more vibrant society, but something (well many things) happened along the way which killed that voice, quelled that energy and just muted us. I don’t want to go into all those things right now because in a way it is irrelevant. We have inherited a muzzle. It’s up to us now how we choose to use that muzzle. How we give ourselves the excuses and convince ourselves of our impotence or NOT.

Each one of us is responsible for our lives, our community, our society and there is power in one as much as there is power in many. If we continue to toss the task on the infamous other, and expect things to be bright, and perfect then we deserve what we get. If I throw garbage out of my window, I shouldn’t expect a clean street or complain about it.  Extrapolate that to a larger bigger scale and even think government. If I don’t participate in elections, and then don’t hold my elected official accountable, why should I then expect this system to work for me?

I think it’s time we owned up to responsibilities as citizens since clearly leaving it to the other hasn’t worked for us. If we are unhappy at how we collectively behave towards something, about an attitude, about our street’s cleanliness then do something about it. There are many many many initiatives, programs, organization and even individuals out there doing this work. If you cant find them then start something yourself. I truly  believe that we have the power and the keys to  instigate positive change that starts at a small and local and scale. And slowly, it takes hold, it becomes the norm, and a few years later you turn around and something has changed. I am not saying its easy, I am saying is doable! If you are wondering what I am talking about then take a look a these initiatives and programs: Zikra, Ruwwad, Hamzet Wasel, Action Committee, Palestinian Action Network (PAN), Jabal Amman Residents’ Association (JARA), Gender Equality Movement, Urdun Mubdi3… and the list goes on. They all started as ideas and they have all become catalysts for change and voices for the communities and peoples they represent.  They are all very diverse in their ideas, approaches and goals, but they all share something, someone took responsibility and carried that frustration to the next level!

We continuously complain about issues, policies from government, and I want to flip that back at us, the people. There is a system, it may be defunct, but that is because we have made it so. When we elected our parliamentarians, there was a frenzy of slogans, rallies, and mustaches on the street what’s happened after that? We see the occasionally media frenzy, the storm in the tea cup, yet what do we do about it? Well, since we elected these MPs and we gave them the power to be our representatives, we also have the power to hold them accountable. Some of you are probably snickering at me right now, which I understand. However, let me ask you to do two things at this point: 1- Read this report that was issued by Al Quds Research Center, to understand how our current parliament works and what makes them tick. 2-Use their monitoring website Jordan Parliament Monitor (www.jpm.jo) that not only tells you who the MPs are and what committees they are on, but their voting track record even. From there you can get your representative to take on the issues you find important and need attention. If they don’t listen- well they don’t get your vote next time round, its that simple and that complicated at the same time.  When we use these tools, we become active participants in the debate, not just some frustrated ranting taxi drivers, and therein lies the difference.

I was at an Earth day festival in Washington DC this April, and there was a group, Zendik That were selling T-shirts with a slogan that I immediately fell in love with and adopted “Stop bitching start a revolution”. Pick up your trash, lobby your taxi driver friends or our parliamentarians, follow safety rules and start your revolutions, what are you waiting for?

A wall is being built that separates, divides, and excludes. It takes a play area, a view point, a rendezvous site from it community, from all of us in Amman. This wall is going up on around the lands near the citadel. The site is being expanded to include refreshment stands, bathrooms and a public plaza for events and concerts. But all this is being walled in by a massive concrete wall that will be beautified by laying stone on top of it.

The wall stands about 3.5 meters high allowing for the complete sanitization of the experience for who ever is inside while excluding everyone outside. The wall discriminates indiscriminately; you are either inside – after paying a fee of course, or outside.

This wall takes away the Jabal Al Qalaa play area where little girls and boys head to for some space away from the tiered and clustered homes they live in. It is where they fly their kites or kick around their balls. It is where they sit and look out a beautiful city they call home.

GAM has responded to a community concern on the website Creative Jordan with a response that does nothing to answer the issue but merely tries to justify the situation and actually reproaches us for our agitated state of distress because we care for our city not to be gentrified and sanitized for visitors of privilege whether they be tourists or locals.

I urge you each one of you to read the discussion thread and make your voice heard. We all have voices and this affects each and every one of us in Amman, not just the Jabal Al Qalaa residents.  The discussion can be found  here.

Jabal Al Qalaa- the citadel is a place where each one of us has a memory, a story, an experience… don’t let them take that away from you by modernizing a piece of history. History should remain untouched for us to interpret and understand through our senses not to be sanitized and modernized and made something it is not.

qalaa3

qalaa2

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I know I have written about this topic before but it never ceases to catch me by surprise or inspire me. If you are wondering what I am talking about I am talking about this city, and walking its streets. Today, I left the office (a new office since I recently changed jobs) and decided to walk around the neighborhood as I headed home.

As I was walking in this quiet neighborhood, I turned a corner only to be confronted by the most exquisite fragrance. It was light, and full and sweet. I tried to find out where the smell was coming from but I didn’t succeed as I was surrounded by it. I was in such sensory heaven that I did really care where it came from, I just slowed my pace to take it all in.

After work I made it down to Ras Al Ein for a couple of events where again I was walking, this time through municipal grounds. We were in the middle of the valley surrounded by the tumbling hills of Amman terraced with homes in differing shades. But the surprise was this little yard filled with flowering trees, in full bloom with explosions of beautiful white flowers. And later still it was the Jasmine of Jabal Amman.

Throughout my walks the sounds of the city came to me whether it was the honking of the cars, the boys playing football, or the minarets calling out the athan at sunset, vibrating throughout the valley. But my favorite sound is that of the birds singing all over the city.

I really enjoy Amman and especially at this time of year. So go out, take a walk down some side streets and enjoy the smells, the colors, and the sounds of this city like I do.


Kite Flying at Jabal Al Qalaa (Citadel)

Kite Flying at Jabal Al Qalaa (Citadel)

A couple of weekends ago I was lucky enough to be part of the start of a new initiative. The aim of the initiative is to bring the diverse people of the city together and find fun and meaningful ways to connect and learn from each other outside of the traditional. What that translated to was that a group of friends and myself headed to the citadel to learn how to make and fly kites.

Arriving in the morning and seeing all the old friends arrive with their kids, walking over and meeting the other kids in the neighborhood youth center built up the anticipation to what was to become an explosion of colors, string, wood, and a lot of smiles.

I never expected kite making to be such an intricate science, and the way these kids made them made seem so easy, but kite making is exact, delicate and time consuming. What amazed me is the kids didn’t once use a ruler or measuring tool, they instead measured with the string they were using against the sticks. They used staples to put things together if they couldn’t tie them securely. And then when they were done with the body of the kite with string they made a tail. I learned that without a tail a kite won’t fly.

The kids were so giving and so full of information. Some were amazing teacher others were fantastic kite makers. But whatever role the children took on they gave willingly and freely. My friends and their kids all had a great time watching and learning, but what really made the difference to me was the connections they made with the people from the neighborhood over a labor of love and joy.

When we went to fly the kites everyone’s face was turned upwards watching their kites fly. Collectively they took pride in their efforts but everyone was overjoyed that they flew – the winds were not favorable that day. But despite the poor wind the kites fly high like the aspirations of everyone on that hill. I remember two women coming up to me and what they said “This is better than playstation” to her I say YES AKEED. The other woman said “my daughter has nevr been so happy”. Thank you to everyone for making it a great day.

But here is where I want to do a plug in about the neighborhood and the hill where we played. This is a small flat area, free of artifacts and ruins, it is not the best but it is the only place the kids of the neighborhood can play. Currently it is used a parking lot for the citadel and for RVs. If you want to help make the space free for all to play in and maybe even made into a community park then please contact Raghda Butros (raghda@gmail.com) an Urban Activist.

We each can make a difference go visit the space, understand the dynamics of the location, meet the people, and contact Raghda. Our children need to be outdoors need to play, need to grow. They have a right to all of that, help preserve those precious spaces today.

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