You will get the picture of how impatient I was to visit Jordan if I tell you that I was actually waiting for few years for the trip to take place. I knew that I shouldn’t travel on my own, not around Middle East and not for the first time at least, and local agencies back home were still not doing trips to Jordan. After I have seen photos of Petra, I have read all I could find about this ancient city, and I was just waiting for the opportunity to pop up!
And it did! It happened in 2008 when I have finally packed and went to the Middle East for the first time. I traveled all over Syria and Jordan, and this trip turned out to be an introduction to many more travels around the region in years to come. So, Jordan! Here are few guidelines on things to know about the country, just to prepare you for what’s yet to come in this series!
There will be more about Jordan history in future posts, but I should mention that the city of Amman was proclaimed the capital in 1921, the same year when king Abdullah I founded the country of – Transjordan.
The country developed rapidly after the World War II, but that was also the time when Palestinian refugees came in serious numbers. Jordan people often refer to Palestinians in a positive manner, saying that they are extremely diligent and hard working. As the situation in the region got seriously turbulent given the fact that the Arab Spring began at the end of 2010, there was the huge impact on Jordan population. A lot of people from Libya came after Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown. Some of them stayed for few months, while others moved here permanently. Refugees camps that were inhabited by families from Palestine and Iraq for decades were now not enough to take in the unfortunate people from Syria who started to come in 2011.
Not only that the population was influenced by the new situation, but also the whole economy of Jordan, including tourism. Although Jordan is a peaceful country (it’s one of the Arab monarchies that didn’t allow almost any Arab Spring demonstrations), it cannot avoid the impact coming from regional turbulence. Bear in mind that Jordan borders with Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia!
Jordan stretches to the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aqaba, along 27 kilometers of the coastline. (More about Aqaba in one of the future posts!) There is a desert to the East and the great Rift valley of Jordan River to the West, which is also the Israeli border. Jabal Ram is the highest point of Jordan, while the lowest is the famous Dead Sea. (There will be more about the Dead Sea, of course, stay tuned!)
The official currency here is JD – the Jordanian Dinar, almost the same worth as a Euro (1 Euro – 0,80 JD). According to Arab tradition, you will find king’s posters on every corner. His name is Abdullah II, he was educated in Great Britain and United States (his eyes are blue), and he is married to beautiful queen Ranya. Jordan is considered to be the ally of the West and in close relations with Sunni Arab monarchies in the Gulf region.
Although Amman is one of the modern Arab cities with vast quarters in the Western part of the town with skyscrapers, wealthy mansions, large business centers and a lot of foreigners from the West who work here, you have to remember that this is first and foremost an Arab country. Sharia law and Bedouin tradition are far greater here than any democratic or secular society rules. So, it’s always good to know few things before you go.
No matter how hot it gets in the summer (and it can get seriously hot!), don’t wear short skirts or sleeveless tops! It’s not forbidden in Jordan, not officially, but it might turn out to be pretty unpleasant. When it comes to Jordan women, there are those who are covered from head to toes, but also those who dress like any other woman in the West. Still, most of them cover their hair with scarves, while at the same time they often wear tight jeans and shirts, and walk in high heels. Men are usually in long white jalabiyas or in „ordinary“ clothes. The only thing they don’t wear ever (not even in the summer!) are bermuda shorts or short trousers of any kind. (This goes for the whole Arab world, not just for Jordan.)
Here are few more things to know about Jordan. For instance, did you know that Amman is one of the Arab cities that you cannot send a letter to! It’s true – there are no street numbers, not the way we used to at least. If someone expects to get any mail, he has to have a PO box. There is no postman to knock on your door every now and then. If you are in a taxi, he will know the street and you will just point to the building. This is not an issue if you are in a hotel, the name of the hotel would be sufficient.
You should probably know that non married couples are not really welcome to stay at the same hotel room or to hold hands in public. Like in any other Arab country, you shouldn’t show any affection in public. It really is rare that tourists have problems because of sharing the hotel room, but still – try to come with the group of fellow tourists or get a room at slightly better hotel (if it’s just the two of you), and find yourself a local guide. These are just things to know and consider, since some of them are against the local law and tradition.
Since I was fortunate enough to visit Jordan on several occasions and to stay in Western Amman flats, I have noticed few more things. As the dusk falls and you have to turn on the light in your apartment, all the blinds around are being put down immediately! During the daylight you close the heavy curtains, but as the night falls you use all you have. Here’s why! If you don’t do that and you allow people to see inside because of the artificial light and your „naked windows“, this might be interpreted as a permission or even an invite for your windows to be looked at. So, if you don’t want a group of young Arab guys to maybe whistle and cheer from below, just put your blinds down and close those curtains at the very site of dusk.
Also, I couldn’t get used to some song coming from the street, funny music that I have heard every day, several times a day, to be exact. It was a little colorful truck coming to the neighborhood numerous times. It even reminded me of those ice cream sellers from old American movies. I was explained later that the music was the way to notify people that the truck with kitchen gas tanks is near by. So, you pull out your empty one, rush out, stop that small truck and get yourself a new one, filled with gas!
I was confused by the water issue as well. You get used to buying drinking water when you travel. But never before have I encountered the situation with water tanks placed on the top of the building which gets refilled from time to time while the water is to be used by all the tenants. This is for bathing and washing dishes. Never the less, the country lacks in water and so, when it’s hot and there’s not enough water for everybody, people tend to rob those rooftop tanks. Regardless to say that water bills get pretty expensive.
It’s like you have the drain pipes in the building, but not those to supply you with water. The same happened with washing machine – there was no fill hose! Okay, you get the idea that water is to be taken care of here, it’s not to be wasted etc, but this was a bit odd. I took a big pot filled with water which I then poured into the washing machine. The drain hose goes into the toilet. After a while, you get used to these things, of course. And you can always ask a janitor (who also serves as a doorman), who can be found in almost every building in West Amman…
Okay, this is probably enough for now. You got acquainted with few interesting facts about Jordan and we should go around Amman in the next Glimpse. There’s so much to see, believe me!
Next: AMMAN, THINGS TO DO (2)
The full Jordan SERIES