The City and Me Amman – Hard to Love, Hard to Leave

Twilight sheds its merciful light on the concrete desert of Amman
Twilight sheds its merciful light on the concrete desert of Amman | Photo: Sascha Lübbe

There are cities you can fall in love with instantly: Venice, Paris, New York. But some take more time. When Sascha Lübbe, participant in the journalists’ exchange Close-Up, arrived in the Jordanian capital city of Amman, he wanted one thing most of all: to leave again. This is a case for love at second sight.

Honestly? The first thing I thought when I arrived in Amman was, “How do I get back out?” Brought to the centre of the city by the taxi driver, I was suddenly standing in the middle of it: a gigantic sea of buildings. The city’s many hills are entirely plastered with beige-grey, at first completely identical looking houses. It looks monotonous. It feels confining.

But it soon passes. Amman is one of those cities that takes time. It took three days until it “clicked” with me. I had discovered the playful façade of Salon Verte, an old restaurant in the city centre. And the many narrow lanes of the city. The improvised souk with its loudly haggling vegetable sellers. But most of all the perceptibly friendly people who come from different parts of the world and make up the essence of this city as nothing else does.

Syrians, Egyptians, Somalians all crowding through the streets, standing together behind the counters of the restaurants and bakeries. And of course it is only a peaceful coexistence at first glance; of course there is also racism in Amman. Not a few Jordanians see Egyptians only as cheap labourers, women from the Philippines as cleaners and nannies. Nonetheless, this blend is impressive and unique.

It doesn’t stop at the doors of my host office at the Jordan Times, either. My supervisor comes from India and her deputy from Romania. There are Serbian reporters and American final editors. The editorial office jokingly calls itself the “United Nations.” What most impressed me is this incredible serenity with which they do their work. No hustle and bustle, no loud words, no bad moods. It’s familial. And when things are running late, there’s always telephone extension 25. When it’s rung, someone comes bringing freshly brewed coffee.

A touch of nature in the asphalt jungle: urban goats on their way through Jordan A touch of nature in the asphalt jungle: urban goats on their way through Jordan | Photo: Sascha Lübbe Generally, Amman is an extremely rewarding city for foreign journalists. You are right in the centre of the Middle East and yet live in relative safety. This has given the city an astonishing density of NGOs (you get the feeling that almost every European or American you meet in Amman works for an aid organization) and yet it also leads to repeated flows of refugees. This is a topic that interested me in particular.

Jordan has always been a country of immigrants. Long before the Syrians and Iraqis, thousands of Palestinians fled to the country. It is estimated that they make up far more than fifty percent of the Jordanian population. Most of them arrived following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and after the Six-Day War. It was they, too, who ultimately transformed modest Amman into a true capital city.

The city looks accordingly “new fashioned.” Amman is no city out of Arabian Nights with picturesque medinas and historic city gates. Amman is a city of taxis, traffic jams and roundabouts. It is a modern city. Better yet, it is a city that was modern in the 1960s. No beauty in the classic sense, but charming in its own way.

“Tourists love Beirut, but no one wants to live there,” a Lebanese café proprietor in Jabal Al L'weibdeh, Amman’s trendy quarter, explained to me. “By contrast, Amman is initially repulsive. But those who stand it anyway end up staying.” I thought that was fitting. My stay lasted four weeks and it was hard for me to leave.