The Only Way is Amman
I forwent my usual friday morning lie-in for a trip to al-Wehdat district of Amman. Breakfast involved a road-side picnic of hummus, bread and exhaust fumes before hopping on the first bus heading down town (cost: 30p). Not actually being from Amman but from a small village somewhere in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, the Jordanian lads were as much tourists as my classmate Yacine and I.
After a second bus (also 30p) we arrived in one of the poorest and most underdeveloped areas of Jordan’s capital.
Originally a Palestinian refugee camp known as Amman New Camp, it was one of the first four of such places set up in 1948 as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Now home to the second largest population of Palestinians in Jordan (the first being in Zarqa city, adjacent to Amman), it has evolved into an overcrowded district with houses, kiosks, market stalls and stray cats all vying for space.
It is also the location of the almighty al-Wehdat football club who, along with their fierce rivals al-Faisaly, make up all there is to know about Jordanian football. Though when asked about their preference, most Jordanians I’ve met will tut deprecatingly and say Chelsea or Barcelona.
The UN presence is subtle but visible with the familiar blue symbol emblazoned above the entrance to a large girls school slap bang in the middle of the market.
Typical smells of a fruit and veg market were infused with the pungent odours of cat pee and jurassic-age clothes. Now and again came the fragrant mix of freshly butchered meat alongside the wafting tones of coffee and mint tea.
I have been meaning to buy a cheap coat for a while. Just to cope with the lack of insulation and heating in our flat, and a general chill in the wintery Amman air. So we made our way through the second hand (or third or fourth) clothes heaped on tables. The usual odd sights like an old American army tunic, a Blockbusters polo-shirt and a Co-Op jumper.
After dropping Ali and the others off at the mosque for Friday prayers, Yacine and I went for an exploratory wonder down the side streets. Colourful walls addorned with pro-Palestinian graffiti mostly of a Gaza-related nature.
At one point Yacine approached an old man seemingly stranded in his wheel chair on a central reservation, but his charitable efforts were unceremoniously waved away.
So we returned to the market centre and sat in the shade of a tailors shop drinking sweat mint tea (consisting of 3 sad looking leaves) opposite a man and his boy stuffing cushions, covered head to toe in wool.
I eventually found a jacket with suitably deep pockets for some serious hand thrusting (essential for that purposeful yet pensive look whilst walking).
We parted ways in down-town. Yacine and I headed for a late lunch at a pokey little place adjacent to the self-proclaimed ‘Oldest Bar in Jordan est. 1945’. a big dish of meats, roasted onions and tomatoes served with charcoaled bread and hummus.
On the late-afternoon walk home we passed through Abdali. A massive open space which, until recently was the location of a popular clothes market. But has been forcibly moved to an area half the size in order to make way for a car-park. Unfortunate for those of us who loved perusing its extensive stalls for hours on end, but even worse for the stall-owners (most of whom are from al-Wehdat). There have been demonstrations, molotov cocktails even, but as yet to no avail.
We came across a large gathering complete with tents, chairs and police. On further inquiry we had become the unwitting attendees of the ceremony marking the anniversary of the late King Hussein’s birthday, sponsored by Coca Cola.
The pipers were piping and the horses were parading as we passed through on our way back to the beloved dullness of West Amman.