Monday, May 10, 2010

What I Pass-by

As we all drive to work in the morning, we each see unique perspectives of our environment. For instance, when I was living in Milwaukee I would always take the same route and pass-by the beautiful park and lake across from our home, I would drive by KFC, Walgreens, the gas station, Boyland Honda, Target, and so on and so forth until I arrived at work. Think about your drive to work and all the things going on and the places you pass-by that are so familiar to you. Maybe you have been living in the same place and working in the same facility for the past 20 years; or maybe you have recently moved or started a new job, but you still pass-by things and places that are familiar to you (Target, McDonald's, etc). Or maybe you are like me and nearly everything is different, as you look out the front window of your car, on your way to work.

Amman is a fairly large city. Each morning I drive just over an hour on my way to work. I start at my home, bring the kids to my in-laws home, then turn around and head towards work. I take essentially the same route to work each morning, depending on which location, of three locations, we are working at today.

I start my drive going nearly straight down and hill, stop at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill and then continue straight up the next hill. My kids LOVE this part as they feel like we are on a roller coaster; meanwhile, my car HATES this part because she feels like I am going to wear out her brakes and burn her clutch.

The traffic is always interesting in Jordan. When I first started driving here I thought I would never get it, it seemed like mass confusion. However, as time has gone by, I recognise it's order and I can drive my way through the city. Yet, on my way to work, I am always in a hurry and always yelling at the neighboring cars to get out of my lane..."Just pick a lane, would you?!!" Drivers do not pay attention to the street markings. They drive in between lanes to see which car in front of them will go faster; they will then follow this car.

My drive is fairly 'normal' for the first 15 minutes. 'Normal' meaning I pass-by places and things that I am accustom to seeing in the US, such as a gas station, city parks, hospitals, and the mall. It is when I start hitting stop lights that things get quite different from the US. In Jordan, there are many poor people who make their living from selling items to the people in cars stopped at red lights. These items vary depending on the time of the day. For instance, in the morning they are selling the daily newspaper (the Arabic and the English versions). In the afternoon, they are selling strawberries this time of year. They also sell fresh flowers such as roses and Calla Lilies. They sell usable items as well such as sunglasses, sunshades for the car, Kleenex, gum, etc. In the evenings, they are usually selling toys and things for your kids. They always remind me of going to the carnival/fair back in the States because the guy carries and tries to sell between 15-20 different blown up toys/balloons for the children. These men walk in between the parked cars selling and demonstrating devices that blow bubbles, coloring books, funny glasses, glowing necklaces, etc all of which are for sale. Honestly, I find it entertaining while you wait for the light to turn green and once in a while I will buy something from them. As common as these people are becomming in my life, I must always remember how sad it is that this is how this man earns his money and how he supports his family (and most of the time his children are also out selling items as well). Recently, I was waiting for a light and an older man, probably in his late 60's, was begging me to buy the cheapest Jordanian chewing gum from him. The gum comes with 5 pieces and he was selling it for 5 fils (about 6 cents). How incredibly sad it is for this old man to be out in the hot sun selling gum for 6 cents and he probably makes 2 cent profit from each packet he sells. It's really quite sad and humbling to see these people out there working...and trust me, they are not lazy workers, they really do work hard running up and down the aisle of cars trying to make their change of a profit-they do this day in and day out all day long. Occasionally you will also see a woman with her 1 or 2 year old child begging for money. It's heart breaking.

The next point of interest for me is along side of the road. I have recently noticed community of tents, who are growing in number over the past few weeks. The original Jordanian people are called Bedouins. Bedouins are a semi-nomadic people, who live off the land and live in tents or caves. My husband corrected me the other day that this particular group of people are not actual Jordanian Bedouins, but to me their living habits are quite similar. For instance, in this community there are roughly 20 tents made from tree posts, blankets and tarp. They are mostly grouped together with a few grouped off in another area not too far away. Quite sometime ago, I visited different group of Bedouins, so I am slightly familiar and know that some tents are for living and sleeps quarters, some tents are for outside visitors (they are more clean and made with newer/nicer blankets), some tent(s) are the kitchen(s), and some tents are for selling their products to outsiders (they sell goat milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy products and some sell produce that they grow). I really do enjoy driving by this small community. They are slightly hidden behind the line of trees to protect them from the highway. However, you can see their barefooted children running and playing together along side the rocky hilltops. I love to see the children playing. Today they were taking turns on a swing that they made by hanging rope in a tree and using cardboard as the seat. They laugh as children always do when they play: they know no different, this is home and they are safe.

Interesting enough as I pass-by this community, drop off my children, and make my way to work, I then pass-by the wealthy part of Amman. I drive between Mercedes, BMWs and the like. The homes are large and beautiful. They have malls, cafes and places that are common to the US. I drive by the US Embassy where guards stand watch with their AK 47 slung over their shoulders, army tanks are strategically placed, and barricades line the entrances. In general, the sight of guards with an AK 47 over their should is not that uncommon in Amman. You see them outside many embassies and also outside expensive homes. I am not yet comfortable with this; however, most of the time it is a status thing rather than a true threat that is present.

On my way to work today there was an point of interest, of which exactly I do not know the source of. Traffic was unusually slow and then came to a stop. Once it stopped completely, I knew that someone or something important was going on. I have been on the freeway a few times since we moved here and traffic has stopped for a diplomat or the King to drive through safely. A similar setting today; however, something special must have been going on in one of the nearby hotels. Once I was allowed to pass-by the hotel, there were 20-30 military police men and women lining the street, directing traffic, and standing on top of the rooftops of neighboring buildings to secure safety for whomever and whatever was going on. This evening on my way home from work I passed-by the same hotel and observed the same situation, yet now there was additional army tanks on the property again protecting whomever and whatever was going on there.

Interesting persons, places and things happening in the early morning hours of Amman. Less and less that I notice these things, yet every so often I am again consumed by them. I sometimes wonder what in the heck I am doing here; yet, many times I feel grateful for the things I am experiencing here. I have learned so much about how people live and how I live. I have an unique opportunity here and I hope that I never get fully use to living here. I want to keep recognizing how many things are here for me to learn from.


  1. I love to read your blog and note how observant you are. You notice things and appreciate everything. It is one of the many things I love about you.

    Try to find out what was going on at the hotel and let us know!

    Love, Mom

  2. The Hotel had all those people in front of it because there is something called SOFEX (Special Operations Foreces Expo) going on now for the next few days. This has been going on every two years since 2002 and has become a recognized, big international event for military people to sel their wares. From what you descibe, the King and possibly a head os state were at the hotel. Also FYI, the gaurds don't carry AK47's. They carry US manufactured machine guns. The people in the tents were probably gypsies and not beduins. I too see the people at the traffic lights. I feel sorry for them but they can also be an annoyance when you just don't want to buy what they have to sell. Nice to see Amman from your eyes. Enjoy.

  3. Thanks Jamal for your comments! I had thought it might be related to the SOFEX as I saw many signs around Amman for this event. I took another route to work today :-)

  4. I enjoy following your blog but wish you could add some pictures.

  5. This is an interesting post! I like hearing about your drive to work. It sounds like there is A LOT to take in during your commute!