Travel

Discovering a Different Amman

This week marks two months that I’ve been in Jordan.  In some ways, it’s hard to believe that two months have already flown by.  However, after not having a place to call “home” (or more accurately, having many “homes”) for 14 months, it has been nice to settle down for a little bit. 

To have an apartment of my own to return to in the evenings.  To have a closet where my clothes are hanging longer than a few days.  To have a kitchen to prepare food in (although, I’ve remembered how overrated cooking is…) and a sofa to lounge on.  To have wifi to easily check email and catch up on The Mindy Project.  In some ways, life in Amman is very normal.

I have a small, two-bedroom apartment that’s close enough to work that I can walk.  I’ve found a church to attend every Friday night (weekends are Fridays and Saturdays here).  I’ve made friends with a few Americans and Canadians and even gone to a couple of dinner parties and girls’ nights.  Compared to a year of non-stop travel, life in Amman is surprisingly “normal.”

When we decided to move to Amman, I started envisioning what our life would look like.  While I spent about 2 weeks in Amman earlier in the year (and 2 weeks in other parts of the country), I primarily explored downtown and in East Amman.  I spent almost all of my time in an urban area where we picked up food from the local souq (or market).  There weren’t large grocery stores around or U.S. fast food chains (although we did frequent a fantastic 24/7 hummus and falafel place called Hashem!).  This was what I knew of Amman.  So, when I pictured what life would be like once I moved to Jordan, this is the setting I imagined.

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I pictured us living in a small apartment above a store that sold thousands of pirated DVDs and CDs.  I imagined that we would go to the souq to pick up most of our food and swing by the butcher for our meats.  I envisioned walking everywhere (or taking the local bus) surrounded by many men wearing the traditional keffiyeh and women wearing hijabs.  

But, then I arrived in Amman, and my life here is a bit different than that I imagined.  

My organization’s office is located in West Amman.  East Amman is the older part of the city, and people living there tend to be more traditional and conservative.  Nearly 30% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in Amman, and many of them reside in East Amman.  In comparison, West Amman is newer and has lots of ongoing development.  The area has many cafes, American fast food chains, bars, and modern malls.

I live in a western style apartment in a residential area of West Amman just two doors down from a Catholic church and down the street from the neighborhood mosque.  I can walk to three malls within 30 minutes of my apartment — one of which has many U.S. stores, such as Gap Kids, Steve Madden, and others, plus a food court with a KFC and McDonalds.  I typically grocery shop at Carrefour, a French multinational retailer that is similar to Walmart, which I first discovered while living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in college.  Twice since I’ve moved into my apartment, I’ve even had Papa Johns Pizza delivered.  Four doors down the street is a little mini-market that I frequently run in to grab odds and ends. 

So, in many ways, my life isn’t that much different that the one I was living in Baltimore.  

However, there are ways in which life is very different.  An ambassador lives next door to my apartment building, and there is guard out front 24/7 with a machine gun.  My own building has several “guards” who keep in eye on things, take out trash (we just stick full bags of trash out in the hall and within a couple of hours they’re gone!), and deal with maintenance concerns.  If we want hot water for a shower, we have to turn on the hot water heater and wait 30 minutes or so for the water to warm up.  (So, no last minute showers unless you want a cold one!)  We don’t drink water from the tap, which means we are regularly stopping at the store to pick up more drinking water.  While there are many women who wear hijabs in West Amman, there are also a number of Western women plus women from southern and southeastern Asia (particularly Sri Lanka and the Philippine who have jobs as domestic workers) around who dress modestly but not with hijabs.  

Some things that would be pretty straightforward at home are much more complicated here.  One particular incident involves getting an electrical and water problem fixed in our second bathroom (that we weren’t even aware of when we moved in!).  The day we moved our luggage over to the apartment, there was a knock at the door at 8:00 pm and for the next 2 to 2.5 hours, one of the building’s guards plus several other men did whose knows what to the bathroom electrical wiring.  After they left, we were told not to use the bathroom until they came back.  Almost two weeks passed, no one showed up again.  (And, our guard only speaks Arabic so communication has been difficult!)  I asked someone in my office to help us get in touch with the guard about it again and were told it was fixed. (Although no one had come to do anything!)  Now, there’s water coming up through the drain in the floor every time we use the sink, and we’re still waiting for someone to take care of it!  Hopefully, this will be resolved soon.  (While there have been a few hiccups, we do love our apartment!)

Overall, I love living in Amman.  Living overseas brings new challenges every day.  Whether it’s learning a new word, getting to know a local, or just doing a mundane task like picking up groceries, there is always something new.  And, while life here is different than what I expected, it’s always an adventure.  In some ways, living in Amman is a great reminder that, no matter where you live, life isn’t that different at all.

Just an evening trip to the grocery store.  We live about a 15-minute walk from a Carrefour Market.  Since we like to walk everywhere, we take a roll-up duffle bag and backpacks to the grocery store with us to carry all of our groceries home.  Here, Craig pauses by the neighborhood mosque.

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