Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Weekend in the West

Amman is a pretty unique city in the Middle East.  It is in Jordan, one of the United States' biggest Arab allies, and thus has a prominent western influence.  However, there are also areas that are unmistakably Arab, lacking in the fast food joints, large malls, but where the delicious food and hospitality pervade.  Western Amman tends to be the more affluent, westernized area, whose inhabitants are often referred to as ajaanib, or foreigners (read: westerners), by those living in the more traditional eastern Amman.  This past weekend was an accidental exploration of some of the tagharrub, occidentalism, in Amman and the at times overbearing prevalence of specifically American culture.

Thursday night, my oldest cousin, Roba, invited me to go with her and her husband Musa to a "house party".  She called me while I was hanging out with some other cousins playing pool at an Irish pub, the likeness of which would easily be found in Boston.  The party turned out to be in someone's backyard, with a DJ who seemed to like drum and bass a bit too much.  There were a handful of European foreigners, but all the Arabs there were obviously among the richest in Jordan, and could easily have been European themselves.  I spent the majority of the time talking with Musa, who turns out to be one of the smarter guys I've ever met.  Roba was mostly socializing, so he and I spent the few hours talking about a number of different things, one of which was the economic divide in Amman.  He said that he had mentioned this to Roba, and that they, by mostly hanging out with the wealthy elite, were limiting themselves to maybe 100,000 people in a city of more than 2 million.

The following morning, cousins Ghassan, Omar, and Abed, their friend Sara, and I all went to a place called The Bake House for breakfast.  It was an American styled diner, and happened to be adjacent to a place called Waffle House, which I assume was essentially the same thing (for some reason shops and restaurants in Amman love having their competitors right next door, the most famous example of which is the two fresh juice stands across the street from each other downtown).  I was enthralled at the prospect of eating an American breakfast abroad, a luxury that is oft wanted while traveling.  A lavish breakfast is one of the few defining cultural characteristics of America, and is not missed until abroad, so this was pretty awesome.  One of my friends has had the idea of opening an American diner in Amsterdam for a little while, convinced that all the Brits will come flocking at 2 a.m. for some delicious pancakes, eggs and a never ending cup of coffee after toking up.

Friday was Ghassan's birthday, so we celebrated it by going to a place called ClimbAt Amman, which is a rock climbing facility.  Another destination for the rich, and apparently the latest fad in the Middle East, it was a bustling place with 60 foot climbing walls, over priced food and water, and a bunch of self-confident guys who seemed to be imbued with a desire to show off.  It was fun, but extremely exhausting.

My weekend, and stay in Amman, came to a close with a decidedly un-western activity: I met up with the Jordanian delegation from Seeds of Peace 2010 at a coffee shop where we drank tea and talked intellectually about the Middle East.  They were the first group of a hopefully large number of Seeds that I will be seeing throughout the coming months.

I will be traveling to Syria tomorrow.  If you're interested, you can check out a brief history of the Bashar al-Assad regime here, under which I will be living for the next nine months.

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