I grew up on small island off of the coast of Maine. With a population of 700 people, it is a far cry from Amman, a Middle Eastern cultural hub of 2.8 million. I have traveled to urban centers in the United States, but nothing compares to Amman. Needless to say, I was not sure what to expect when I arrived at Queen Alia International Airport. The first week has been a learning experience that started the second I got off of the plane. Did you know Jordanians do not believe in forming lines? I spent close to 15 minutes with Jordanians passing me left and right at the baggage claim before I realized they weren’t being rude. This first week consisted of many similar lessons, a crash course of sorts. Not only an assault on the senses, but rather an attempt at assimilation into this wonderfully foreign culture. Compiled in this post are a few of the lessons that I quickly learned from my short time in Amman.
- If you have never been in traffic in the Middle East, prepare yourself. I thought cab rides in the continental US were scary enough. Amman takes it to a whole new level. While I would have loved to take in the sites of my ride to the apartment, watching our driver weave through traffic was entertaining (and thrilling) enough.
- Meat lovers, you only need to learn one word: shawarma. It’s meat. Roasting on a spit. All. Day. Usually served in pita bread, with onion and a mustard sauce, it is a cheap treat that can easily substitute for a meal.
- Veggies more your style? Prepare to eat a lot of falafels. Mashed chick peas, vegetables and hummus all wrapped up in pita. The local falafel place next to our apartment adds french fries and chili sauce for a decidedly more American taste.
- In the downtown markets, never pay full price. Shopkeepers want to make a profit, but their first price is far from what you can talk them down from. Also, eager shopkeepers are the perfect people to practice your Arabic with.
- Never take a taxi that is lacking a meter. Without a meter, drivers are allowed to negotiate the fee. Unfortunately my roommate and I learned this the hard way and were forced to overpay for our ride downtown by 5 JOD (about $7USD).
- Pigeon-keeping is a common past time. I am not entirely sure I understand, since I have always viewed the birds as flying rats. In Jordan, this classification hardly fits. Groups of birds soar across the sky, in perfect synchronization. Watching the owners hail their respective flocks from the rooftops is a sight to behold. During a walking tour of downtown our small group stopped at one such flock. The owner of the fine, winged beasts exclaimed, “You have not truly lived until a pigeon has stood on your head!” Indeed.