All you need for life in Amman, by long time expats Edwina Issa and Joan Ward.
Most international flights to Jordan land at Queen Alia International Airport, named after His Late Majesty King Hussein’s third wife who was killed in a helicopter accident when their two children were very young. It is some 35 kms south of Amman on the Desert Highway, the main road link between Amman and Aqaba on the Red Sea.
The drive from the airport into town encapsulates many aspects of life in Jordan. First, the road is generally good with two lanes in each direction becoming three as you approach the centre. The route is punctuated by large, American-style advertisements dominating the verges; mobile phones, banks, development agencies, consumer goods are all there.
The road is also lined with trees, a legacy from the days when Taher Al Masri was the country’s Prime Minister. The shade afforded by the trees is so valued by city families that the sides of this busy highway are one of the favourite picnic destinations on the Sabbath and Bank Holidays. The standard of driving on this road is also generally good -- the lack of lane discipline by the proud drivers of old, second-hand cars being less irritating than the occasional examples of aggressive driving by the wealthy in their four-by-fours and Humvees.
Most ex-pats in Jordan are provided with accommodation arranged by their companies. Such homes are spacious, whether villas or apartments. Most have two or three aspects so that, even in the heat, cool air can be directed through the living space. It is therefore possible to live quite comfortably without air-conditioning.
Most homes employ a maid, often Filipino, Sri Lankan or Indonesian. These can be recruited from agencies spread throughout the capital, most of them with neon signs displaying a housekeeper in full ’Victorian style’ kit! An agent will supply you with a catalogue termed bio data on prospective staff, who may take several weeks to arrive in the country and occasionally look nothing like their photograph, however in the meantime he will no doubt be ready to supply you with a worldly wise ‘daily' .
Other good sources for finding housekeeping staff and baby sitters remain the community notice boards. Located in such places as the British Embassy Club or the American Community liaison Office, another reliable source is the International Community School Virtual Newsletter.
Traffic and Drivers
Some people may also have drivers. There is no doubt that this is a city in which it is more relaxing to be driven, preferably in a car that you don’t care too much about, than to drive. A quarter of all cars in Amman are taxis. They are not only plentiful but cheap with most drivers having at least a little English. The frenetic nature of city-centre driving is less a result of aggression than of an extraordinary unawareness of rules, or other people on the road. Given that, there are surprisingly few accidents. I imagine that most accidents occur during Ramadan when smoker-drivers are on their way home for the iftar meal which breaks their fast, and allows them to light their first cigarette since sunrise. The frayed nerves are reflected in the standard of driving.
Clubs and Sports
If you have nerves of steel there are numerous running clubs for those who like to take to the roads on foot: theand the Running Centre Jordan are two of the most popular. Jordan boasts a Davis Cup Centre in Sport City, where tennis classes and matches can be arranged very cheaply. Sport City offers most sports from Rugby to Basket ball and is also a good open space to take the children with their bicycles or skate boards.
Dance classes can be found for males and females in several centres (Haya Cultural Centre and the Sheraton Hotel) mainly administered by the Jordan Branch of the British Ballet Organization. Quieter occupations such as morning ladies' bridge can be found at the Grenadier, a local pub with a British landlord. This venue also tracks all the latest sport fixtures on the big screen and runs a very cost effective home catering party service!
Where are you?
Most ex-pats will live in West Amman. There, all the roads signs are bi-lingual, though the English spelling may vary from junction to junction. The most important radius road in terms of orientation is Zahran Street. This runs from the city western bypass (an extension of the Desert Highway) to Jebel Amman, the high point which overlooks the old city centre. There are eight “Circles” on Zahran Street. Six of these are roundabouts; one is a T-junction and the other, a flyover.
The rate of new building in Amman is phenomenal. You will need to re-orientate yourself after a break abroad of as little as two weeks! The standard of street cleanliness is not good. The Government launches campaigns from time to time in order to try to improve the situation. Its cause is a kind of thoughtlessness, and an assumption that someone else will clear up after you: at home, it’s the maid; on the streets it is one of the 500,000 immigrant workers – chiefly Egyptian.
Odd jobs such as tidying your garden will willingly be taken on by these gentlemen on their day off; they will even offer a daily wash of your car for a token payment .Just be sure they have access to more than one bucket of water per street!
Should your home water works or electrics go adrift, there are streets full of repair men in Swefieh and most districts that will come and do a home repair job. Another good source is to approach Bashiti Home and Garden supplies store that has a list of tradesmen who deposit their business cards with them on the off chance that someone will go there seeking help. Failing that, you can turn to the Yellow Pages or one of the city free guide books such as.
Mobile phones, Internet, Banking
Amman bristles with mobile phones. You will be more aware of your neighbour’s ring-tone in Amman than any other place I know. Once connected, you will also be aware of your neighbour’s business. Fastlink and Jordan Mobilecom are the two chief providers. This is a very internet-conscious society too. There were many Internet cafes. These are fewer now as the spending power of the population increases and more homes have dial-up or broadband connections. The main companies here are Cyberia and Batelco. Internet banking is possible, certainly with the HSBC. The national airline is not far behind. Frequent Flyers can check accounts online, but the purchase of tickets online is not expected before January. Shortly fast track data ID reading will be available at the Airport for an annual fee of 50$.
Groceries and Shopping
Amman is a good place to shop. There is almost nothing that cannot be bought these days. Food shopping can be done branches of Safeways, C Town, Plaza Superstores, Carrefour and Cosmo. Not all supermarkets sell alcohol. If they do, it is very expensive. “Packet stores” in local parades are where most alcohol is sold. Fruit is plentiful and delicious. There is a greater sense of the seasons in Jordan, with the fruits’ seasons following the rhythm of the year; dates, apricots, grapes, figs, melons. The city boasts a British Home Store, which shares a building with the Cozmo supermarket and a small branch of Mothercare. The districts of Swefieh and Shmaisani are particularly good for small shops and cafes.
All the large hotels have excellent café and restaurant facilities. My personal favourite is the sizzling lamb chops, jacket potato and char-grilled vegetables, served in the Café Vienna at the Crowne Plaza. The major hotels also have good deals for their leisure/health facilities. Outdoor swimming pools are comfortable here from May to October/November. There are many excellent coffee shops/cafes, both those modelled on European or American chains, and the cheaper but equally delicious Jordanian outlets. You will find most nationalities enjoying the bakery cum wine bar of Crumz, one of the few coffee shops to stay open during Ramadan.
The religion of most Jordanians is Islam. Each small district has its mosque and the day for all within hearing distance is punctuated by the calls to prayer. A sense of God and religion is more obvious here than in Europe. The holy month of Ramadan sees 95% of the population fast from sunrise to sunset. Lorry drivers out on the desert highway will park their vehicles, kneel on their prayer mats, face Mecca and make their devotions at the appointed times. Hotel bell-boys will find a quiet corner of the hotel garden and do the same. Everyday speech is laden with “Thanks be to God” and “ If God wills.”
It is, however, a country of great religious tolerance. 5% of the population are Christian and their churches are as prominent and beautifully built as the mosques. The information page of the Jordan Times has approximately 20 listings of service times for the various denominations. These vary from the Islamic services and Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic services to Baptist and Anglican churches.
Most ex-pats have health insurance provided by their employers. This, of course, is a passport to the best healthcare that Jordan can offer. Many doctors have been trained in Europe, America or Russia and the profession is one that many young Jordanian aspire to. There are fees for most health care but these are proportional to the average income and low. Appointments and treatment are much more quickly available in Jordan, thereby somewhat reducing the need for private cover.
The capital abounds with new hospitals as medical tourism is a booming and lucrative market especially for visiting Gulf workers, escaping summer in their work bases. Around each of these facilities, one finds a multitude of medical labs and doctor’s offices each displaying huge signs indicating their many and varied expertise.
Amman is a wonderful spring board for visiting the country’s historical treasures. The Roman Decapolis city of Jerash is 30 minutes drive north and an hour further on is another Um Qais (ancient Gadara, famous for the Casting into Swine Bible story) with its spectacular views of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. This promontory is a popular destination for Palestinian Jordanians who nostalgically, and sadly, gaze over the land on the West Bank that was once theirs.
The Dead Sea is less than an hour’s drive west. Three hours south is the extraordinary hidden city of ‘rose red’ Petra. A little further is Wadi Rum (of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fame) and, at the country’s southern tip, the resort and port of Aqaba on the Red Sea. Petrol is reasonable and the hotel prices wide-ranging. A weekend away from the city is therefore easy and inexpensive.
Culture, Clothing, Traditions
A number of Jordanian women now wear the hejab to cover their hair. This seems to be a cultural rather than a religious requirement. Although less obvious in Amman, the traditional sense of the public places being the domain of the men and the home being the domain of the women is very noticeable. The Jordanian man works hard for his family. He has his job (often more than one); he does – or helps with - the family shopping; he organises family picnics to the countryside on the Sabbath and so on.
The price, by Western standards, that the women pay for the hard work of the men, is a life largely lived within the home; providing the meals, entertaining and caring for the children. The value of this in the nurture of the children cannot be measured, but there is a sense that the country has untold, untapped resources in its women whose varied skills and talents are never made available through the medium of paid work.
Jordan is a country that will quickly win your heart, but will also nearly break it. Your heart will be won by the extraordinary kindness and friendliness of its people. “Welcome” is the first English word that most Jordanians regularly use. They are proud and grateful that you have come to their country. They want you to know about their lives and to meet their families. Restaurant waiters, taxi drivers, bell- boys, shop keepers will be quick to invite you to their homes for a meal. If you inadvertently break a social code, there is tolerance and understanding.
So, why would this country also nearly break your heart? It is full of people who marry young, start large families young and who find it very difficult to carve individual lives away from the intensely influential wider family unit. The average wage is low (JD 150 per month). Improving yourself and achieving upward social mobility is becoming easier but is still very difficult.
One of Jordan’s great strengths is that it has little that anyone else wants. It has no oil. Potash is its most valuable mineral resource. Its greatest “dollar-earner” is tourism. Under the guardianship of His Majesty King Abdullah, it strives to maintain its life and standards while the world observes, occasionally acts, and pontificates about the dangerous lives of its neighbours. As long as such a situation holds, Jordan will never realise its potential as a magnate for the world’s tourists. As long as it relies on foreign aid, few of its people will experience a real improvement in their standard of living.
The wise will value their life in Jordan and will wish or it all that it wishes for itself.