19 August 2014

Adventures in Jordan: Amman

When Danny and I decided to buy plane tickets to the Middle East, bombs weren't being dropped in Gaza and airplanes weren't being shot out of the sky over the Ukraine.  These current events definitely questioned our plans to take our 16 month old daughter on her first international excursion.  However, our friend Mohammed, who we would be visiting in Jordan, assured us that it was peaceful and safe in his hometown of Amman.  The people of Jordan have been surrounded by conflict for many years, but have successfully maintained a stable state.

And he was right.  We felt safe and at ease our entire visit.

Our tour of Jordan started in the capital city of Amman.  Built on rolling hills, the city's homes and buildings are all made from local white stone, creating a monotone landscape that is breathtaking.

Citadel Hill with the rolling hills of Amman
in the background

Ruins on Citadel Hill

The city is home to roughly 3 million people and the buildings seem to go on forever.  The sounds in the city are constant (especially coming from quiet Boise) - horns honking, gas trucks playing chimes, call to prayer being played from minarets, children playing in the streets.  The nights come alive as the breeze picks up and the temperatures drop.  The traffic is intense and constant, with lanes starting and disappearing at a moments notice.  The city is multi-cultural and multi-denominational city where even a foreigner can feel comfortable.

The first Philladelphia

Men overlooking the amphitheater 

The Jordanians are truly lovely people who welcomed us everywhere we went with kisses on the cheeks (four kisses: one on the right cheek and three on the left) and large smiles.  The Arabic culture is very family-oriented and extremely hospitable.

Mohammed's lovely cousin, Amenah

The highlight of the trip was spending time with Mo and his lovely family (Mama, Baba, brothers and their wives, sister and her husband, cousins and nieces and nephews).  We spent the week in the penthouse apartment of their building.  In Jordan, many families live in buildings together where each brother of the family has a floor of their own.  This creates hustle and bustle, constant fun and always having someone around.

The Hajjiri's apartment in Amman

Mama, Lauren, Danny and Anuj (our other travel partner and friend from Utah)

Mo's Mama is an amazing cook - she created many feasts for us that she claimed only took "1 hour" to prepare.  I can assure you she spent hours creating from scratch hummus, baba ganoush, breads filled with salty cheese, tabbouleh, roasted vegetables and lentils, just to name a few.

While we had so much fun spending time at the house, we also ventured out to explore the city.  Some of the highlights included Citadel hill, lunch at rooftop restaurants, driving through the old Amman on the east side, shopping for souvenirs, eating late dinners with Mohammed's friends and one evening out just adults.

Everyone we encountered shares a LOVE of babies and children.  Oh my goodness, what a difference from the United States!  Kiki made many friends - lots of cheek pinching and kisses from strangers.  Men would make baby noises and snap their fingers in an effort to make friends with her. Women and children wanted to take pictures with Kiki (her blonde hair and blue eyes were a hit).  Waiters at restaurants wanted to hold her.  It was heart warming to feel so welcome and loved.

Jordan is probably considered the most liberal of all of the countries in the Middle East.  You will find veiled women and unveiled women riding in the same car.  On the west side, women bare their shoulders next to women who are dressed in all black with only their eyes exposed.  Alcohol can be found in many restaurants and coffee shops.  Whoever you are, you can be it in Jordan.

Books@cafe for lunch.

One of the greatest gifts in life is having friends from other cultures.  These friends teach you so much about places far away from your home and comfort zone.  It is easy to form stereotypes about groups of people.  Traveling opens doors to people and places and helps us to remember that we are all just humans, most of whom are good, that just want to love and live a good life.

Uncle Mo, our dear friend and tour guide

I truly hope that Danny and I are instilling in Kiki a love for people and other cultures early in her life.  I know she won't remember her first trip to the Middle East, but maybe somewhere deep inside, that idea of tolerance and acceptance is planted.  And may she get that travel bug because our adventures are just beginning.

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