Finding your way around in Amman takes courage and a strong knowledge of the area. Only main roads are named. There are no “addresses,” because the houses aren’t numbered. This means directions must include landmarks — a shop on the corner, a sign, a building, or some anomaly that is identifiable.
Once you have directions, however, there’s the small matter of driving the streets. Horns sound everywhere, as drivers position themselves according to their needs (and regardless of yours), and near misses are commonplace. A two lane road becomes a four lane road simply because the drivers decide they can make it so. Lane markings? Who cares? It’s all about getting where you’re going. Defensive driving will leave you at the curb. Aggression is what’s needed here, aggression and a hand on the horn.
Waseem is a veteran driver here, and he wove in and out of traffic with a skill that New York cab drivers would envy. He lets old men into his lane, but that’s where he draws the line. We swiped a parking place from a woman at the mall. She was there before us, but we had the advantage. Why wait?
Zig, zig, zag! That’s Amman on wheels. And it rained today, which made driving even more adventurous.
Ahead of us, a cab driver stopped in traffic to pick up a fare ON A CURVING HIGHWAY ONRAMP. We almost crashed, which brought several horn blasts and a few choice words from my son-in-law. “Idiot!”
Our destination was Mecca Mall, four floors of shopping that you might find anywhere. Prices are ridiculous, at least twice what one would pay in the States. We rode the escalators up and down, which was great entertainment for the kids, and bought an American favorite: Cinnabons.
After the mall, we drove around the ritzy neighborhoods to look at mansions under construction. These, folks, are palaces, and many of them are being built for newcomers to Amman and Jordan. In just four years, the population in Amman has gone from about one million to two and a quarter million people, many of them businessmen from Iraq who are seeking refuge for their families here. These are people with money who prospered under Sadaam Hussein, and there is concern about what would happen to Jordan’s economy if they suddenly left to return home.
The other growth engine is Palestinians, who continue to find friends, family and support in Jordan.
Construction is everywhere, and land prices have quadrupled. A small piece of land in a nice neighborhood will run upwards of a half-a-million dollars. Schools — private schools mostly — are being built to handle the influx of children. New roads are being built to accommodate new traffic patterns and all the new motorists here.
But, as I mentioned earlier, there are clearly two Ammans, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is enormous. There is no government assistance for anyone, so people make a living however they can. My daughter and son-in-law’s home is in a very nice neighborhood, but the windows are all barred, and a stone and steel fence surrounds the property.
At the end of the day, we had one more stop to make, but Jenny couldn’t join us. She was too busy holding two sleeping beauties who’d had enough of roads and shops and ice cream and escalators.
These are the moments that grandparents cherish and for which we burst with pride.
Life is, after all, a series of changing seasons, and I have had my share this year. I came here to escape Christmas, all the holiday trappings and the emotions that accompany them. What I found exceeded my expectations — and by a mile. For half-way around the world, I discovered the best holiday gift ever: my family.
Words are simply insufficient to describe what that means to me.