Fellow data researcher, Eleanor, was in Jordan. I’ve only been to Petra so was interested to hear about her experiences in the country’s capital, and here they are! Best wishes, Mark.
Amman, location of my most recent data collection trip, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world. Though it has only been the capital of Jordan (or, to give it its official title, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) since 1947, Amman has existed in one form or another since before 8000 BC. Atop one of its central hills, Jabal al Qal’a, is the ruin of the Bronze Age citadel – together with the Roman amphitheatre, the city’s most famous attraction. But this is all that remains in evidence of the ancient past: around it, the rest of Amman sprawls out into a bustling and utterly modern metropolis.
Although it’s Rome that is best known as the original City of Seven Hills, Amman was also initially built on seven hills – or jabals, as they are known. (There are in fact more than seventy towns and cities worldwide which lay claim to being built on seven hills, ranging from Jerusalem and Athens to Albany, New York and the rather prosaically named Seven Hills in Ohio.) Nowadays, there are nineteen hills in Amman and the city keeps on expanding, currently home to more than 2 million people (roughly a third of Jordan’s population). A large number of these are expatriates – by proportion, Jordan is one of the world’s top five expat-recipient countries; the others are Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Singapore. Strong economic growth and a high ranking in social, cultural and environmental factors make Amman one of the best cities in the MENA region and, behind Dubai, joint-second most popular regional location for multinational corporations.
During my stay I certainly saw plenty of signs of a prosperous, cosmopolitan city. Greener and leafier than I had expected a city in the Middle East to be, the steep streets of Amman’s most affluent areas, such as Abdoun and Jabal Amman, are peppered with boutique shops, rooftop bars, luxury hotels and exclusive health clubs, all sitting alongside large mansions, embassies and contemporary art galleries. Malls such as the Taj Lifestyle Centre and City Mall cater to the shopping needs of most people, supermarkets such as Carrefour and Cozmo sell a huge variety of imported groceries alongside local products like dates, aubergines and olive oil, and for a change of pace there are still traditional souks in the city centre, some of which specialise in gold, books or haberdashery. The roads are always thronged with traffic – though it’s possible to walk around easily enough, crossing the road can sometimes require a series of complicated manoeuvres! – and life goes on late into the evening as people fill up bars and cafés to socialise, often over a shared water-pipe.
Perhaps because of the lively atmosphere, I found people in Jordan always eager to talk and I was able to have many interesting conversations with everyone from taxi drivers to journalists to relocation agents. No matter what the location or the level of language barrier between us, one topic on everyone’s lips was the current political situation in the Middle East. Sharing borders with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Jordan is entirely surrounded by the melting pot that is the Middle East yet, miraculously, a beacon of peace and stability. Security is certainly a subject of great concern for both the government and general public and this is much in evidence – police patrols can be found on nearly every corner and the malls are surrounded by airport-style metal detectors, policemen and armoured vans – but by and large people seemed proud to tell me of the country’s peaceful stature and their resolve to keep it that way.
Of course, nowhere could be wholly unaffected by this position and Jordan has for several years seen a huge influx of Syrian refugees who are housed in camps and communities in the northern regions. Around 680,000 refugees are estimated to have crossed the border and Jordan is working to meet their humanitarian needs as well as to develop projects that bridge the divide between local and refugee communities. It has also not always been trouble-free: terrorist attacks in Amman killed nearly sixty people in 2005 . And whilst the unavoidable presence of policemen and security guards made me feel safe, they are a constant reminder of the situation underlying the normal, everyday life of this busy city.
Despite all the problems raging beyond its borders, Jordanians and expatriates living there were keen to tell me how safe a city Amman is – something which I certainly felt as I walked around. As well as feeling personally secure, on several occasions I even saw people leave their wallets, laptops and phones unattended on café tables while they popped home to pick something up or went outside to speak to somebody passing by: something I would definitely never consider doing at home in London!
Though Amman has plenty of charm, most visitors to Jordan are likely to only pass through it on their way to the country’s premier sites: the Dead Sea and its resorts such as Aqaba, the desert of Wadi Rum and the ancient, rock-hewn city of Petra. Sadly, though, visitors to Petra have halved in the last four years as travellers are put off by the news headlines and begin to avoid the region in general. Although Jordan’s economy does not rely solely on its tourism industry, it’s a problem that many countries have suffered from in the past when hit by wars, natural disasters or severe social problems. I didn’t manage to add Petra in to my itinerary for this trip but as somewhere I’ve always wanted to see and having really enjoyed Amman and its people, I am putting it firmly at the top of my list and hoping that peace continues long in Jordan.
Eleanor is part of ECA International’s International Data Research team. She travels the world regularly, capturing price data for goods and services to assist with cost of living comparisons around the world.