Published: June 18th 2012May 29th 2012
[WARNING: This may get a little insensitive in regards to the treatment of animals. I absolutely love animals, but I just have to tell the facts. So if you can’t handle it, read the directions.]
Have you ever woken up, sat in bed for a few minutes thinking about what you’re going to do that day, and then decide you’re just going to walk and see where it takes you? Well, that’s what I did. I got dressed, strapped on my handy backpack with Simba poking his head from the top and set off down the hill with my camera around my neck. Because it was a Wednesday, the markets weren’t basking in their full potential so I, looking like a straight-up American tourist, got more than several offers as I walked around. They had nothing better to do really that day. I snapped pictures up and down the streets of il-balad, which I’m sure people thought was a little weird, but I really wanted to just capture my everyday life. There was really so much to see that no one really captures when they’re on vacation. It’s not a true “tourist” site so to speak, but it’s
still something that came to be familiar to me. The streets teem with color and life everyday. Each day brings me something new but the people remain the same. A common trend that I see is shoes. There are so many shoes that, for a fortunate American like me, I’d consider rather junky, but to someone walking through life barefoot would consider Cinderella’s prized glass shoe. I will actually buy a pair one day though, a good hiking pair that would withstand another adventure like Wadi Mujib.
I walked by a group of caged and boxed animals, the ones that you eat as fresh as possible at home. There were ducks and chickens flooding the cages placed haphazardly in the middle of the sidewalk without a care while the more pet-like creatures had the opportunity to be inside the shop like rabbits and traditionally non-edible birds. One thing that caught my eye, that I am seriously considering buying is a chick. But not just any chick, a colored chick. And not just any color, blue, pink, yellow, green. They are too cute and adorable and really every child’s dream. It’s an actual pet that you looked as though
you’ve snatched out of a cartoon. You can take it home and feed it and love it and cherish it. I thought about it for a real good minute. These chicks are 10p each, which is basically a 14-cent pet. Animal lovers stop reading. It made me wonder why they were so cheap and I found out later the gruesomeness that was also tied to why I found several of the chicks laying face down dead in the boxes. The dye poisons them and the chick’s life expectancy goes from a few years to a week. They are so cheap because they die so fast, and when it does, they want you to buy more so you can literally buy a new pet every week.
It’s actually quite a smart system because kids will always want one and it’s not like they’re a big responsibility to maintain. So parents have no real problem spending 10p on child entertainment. Seriously, when’s the last time any American child got a 10-cent live playmate. The downside to that is, if you’ve ever read Of Mice and Men (a tragic horrifically good book), you know that the main
character Lenny, who’s mentally handicapped, would accidentally kill all of his pets. He loved them so much that he just wanted to pet them and hug them as hard as he could. Squeezing the life out of an animal is an easy mistake to make when you’re as humbly affectionate as a child. Jad told me he accidentally did that all the time. He loved them so much that he just hugged them to death, literally, and his mom would just go buy a new one. Easy money for a businessman, hard truth for animal lovers like me. Ok, animal lovers can start reading again.
I took the opportunity to start gauging prices so that I could do some pretty good bargaining for the best deal when the time came. I am not leaving the Middle East without a hand-woven rug, so I was expecting the prices to be slightly inflated, but am ready for the bartering challenge. I stopped by a shop with a few of the rugs and asked the many how much for one.
“3JD.” Whoa, wait, what? I pointed at one on display that was quite beautiful with gold
string woven in the stitching, making it shimmer in the sun. He nodded and repeated himself. I started playing the point game by pointing at random ones laid on display, hanging from the shade, and finally I found one that looks similar to the one my dad brought back from Saudi Arabia. It’s green with brown tassels and has the picture of a highly decorated mosque in the center. When I pointed at it, he said, “1JD.” I looked at him like a crazy person and asked, “Seriously?” which I later learned is aun-jad. (Yes, Jad’s name means serious, but also kind and generous. Weird combination but whatever.) Again, another pondering moment of why it was so cheap. I didn’t actually clicked until a few days later: it’s a prayer mat. Since many people use them for worship, it’s not exactly a hot commodity, but a simple necessity. No one back home will know the difference. It was then at the moment that I felt a bit of guilt for using the religious relic as a magic carpet every single time I watched Aladdin, expecting it to just up and fly with me if I said some sort of magic word. At the same time, I was 6 so I figure my ignorance can be forgiven.
After walking for a couple hours, I got a little restless of seeing similar shops and things over and over, and had literally walked from one end of il-balad to another. I thought to myself, what else is there? Then it hit me, The Citadel.
Sitting atop one of the highest hills in Amman, visible from nearly any part of downtown, are two large columns making up the entrance to the Temple of Hercules and a few other monuments and ruins. Today was the day I would go. I knew it the entire hill was called Jabal al-Qala so I figured I could just ask where the jabal was and walk up. It wasn’t that simple.
Started from street level and asked someone in a shop, “Wain Jabal al-Qala?” With my camera in hand and backpack, he knew what I was looking for. “Citadel?” I nodded. He gave some directions half in Arabic and half English, which were decently easy to follow. I started walking up a street on a steep hill, avoiding the cars barreling down toward me. Each time I got to a relative landing, I took a break to take pictures, but more importantly breathe. The hills around here are no joke.
I kept trying to look up to see if the columns were still visible, but of course not. I was dying for water. My little 600ml bottle kicked the bucket a while back and desperately looked for the next convenient store. I finally found one and sighed dryly with relief, which was a bad idea because the old women charged me 1JD for a bottle that should have been no more 60p. But when you feel like you’re going to die (which this time it wasn’t even that serious), you just will do what you have to. I, then, asked the man working there where the Citadel was. He took me just outside of the store, and pointed up a set of rigged stairs toward a residential area. I proceeded with caution taking note that the houses were more like apartment stacked on top of each other: one family per floor carved into the side of the hill. I reached the top of those stairs and took another breather. In front of me, there were there little kids. A big sister who couldn’t be more than 8, a younger brother of probably 5 and the littlest, cutest girl ever who looked 3. They stopped playing with the rocks and sand to look at me for just a second then continued about their business.
I felt a bit uncomfortable doing this because I was being the stranger that your parents say don’t talk to, but I asked the girl for more directions because I felt like I was being led wrong. There was nothing but homes of low-income families with clothes strung across the roofs and window wide open to let in light and air. She pointed to another set of questionable stairs as they were just dirt mixed with a bit of stone. I took the advice of the children and they watched me walk off and up. A few steps from the top, a few chickens and a rooster crossed my path. I walked calmly passed them and reached a platform of cobblestone with a metal bar surrounding the edge to prevent people from tumbling over the edge. It looked like a dead end, I turned to the left and there it was: the Temple of Hercules. No fences, no gate guard, no ticket office, nothing. Just me and ancient Roman ruins. I was highly confused as each guidebook said something about a large ticket office and there being a price associated with entrance. Instead, I just stumbled into it. I started going camera crazy and walked around for what ended up being nearly four hours. I eventually saw the ticket office from afar on the opposite end of where I entered. I tried to stay away because in this country, I stick out and they’d remember if they tore the ticket of a Black tourist with a stuffed lion sticking out of her backpack. In that span of four hours, I prayed in the ruins of a Byzantine church, stood at the edge of a cliff, walked through the main Roman road, got lost in an Umayyad residential area, and took lots of pictures.
It amazed me then and still amazes me how some of the biggest attractions and most beautiful views belong to the people. They sit with their houses carved in a hill overlooking the Roman Theater and have 24/7 free access to an ancient royal residence. Although the houses may not be of a “wealthy” stature, most times it’s the most free things in life that are worth the most: family, friends, beauty of nature, and a view J.
After that I stumbled into Eco-Tourism Café, which doesn’t have anything ecological or touristy about it. I think it is a hot male hangout too, since I saw one female, who soon left, when I walked in and everyone else just stared at me. They didn’t have food either, just fruit. So it was a bust and I ended up getting street food. Another day wrapped up and placed in memories, but I was getting a bit lonely and wanted other people to talk to. With my new Jordanian phone, it was time to call Ammar.