Popes, souks and driving lessons

We had quite a big weekend here in sunny Amman- the Pope came to visit and Jordan celebrated its 68th Independence Day on Sunday. Traffic was a mess but getting an extra day off was pretty great!

I’m not super-religious but the Pope seems like a pretty cool guy from what I’ve heard. He set up camp in one of Amman’s sports stadiums and officiated over a Mass, which was packed to the rafters. Jordan has about a 10% Catholic/Christian population and it isn’t uncommon to run across a few churches of varying denominations here.

The 68th anniversary of Jordan’s independence also went off with parades and fanfare, although my only participation there was enjoying the few fireworks that went off in my neighborhood (saw more on Saturday night when Real Madrid played Atletico Madrid in the Premier League Championship- priorities, y’all) and having my nap interrupted by the air force jets that screamed overhead a few times. That and watching the street in front of my house collapse into the poorly planned construction site next door. Whoops.

I also made new friends this weekend (yay!). The first was a girl from the Netherlands who has been in Jordan for about 3 weeks. We met up for coffee and explored Souk Jara, which is a great summer market that opens and has all sorts of handicrafts, local art and delicious food to try. There is always such an eclectic mix of people there so it’s fun to people watch in addition to seeing all the creative booths.

We chatted over beers late into the night as we talked about Jordan, life in the Middle East, and the struggles and triumphs of being a young, female ex-pat anywhere in the world. She previously lived and worked in the West Bank with a group of people she referred to as the ‘atheist activists’ and all I could think was, I’ve found my people….!

I met up with another new friend, a Jordanian pilot-turned-writer who let me sample too much ice cream at the same shop Claire, Tamer, Kinjo and I sat at two years ago and tried to play chess. He spends his days lurking at a small restaurant using the wi-fi, so much so that the staff have come to affectionately ply him with free coffee and occasionally dinner (wasta in all the right places). Someone had caught a fish for dinner so we dug in, an impromptu community forming around the deliciously spiced fish, veggies and rice. Have I mentioned that I love food?

We retired to a small shisha café that I would have never found by myself.

‘Is it down the scary alley and up the dark stairs?’ I found myself asking.

‘Yes!’

Feels around in bag for a minute… good, I’ve got my Taser.

The unassuming entrance led to a charming outdoor café, separated into sections by trees and a small garden which made the stares of the male patrons just a little easier for me to deal with. Shouts came from the interior where the Premier League football game was on but we enjoyed the green outdoors, drank tea and smoked shisha (lemon and mint- the best) for a while. There are few things better than warm nights in Jordan.

Turns out my new friend’s wasta went further than cafes, and we drove further into the heart of downtown to visit his friend’s hotel to sit on the rooftop terrace and catch the end of the football game.

And I got to drive.

Wooo!!!

For those of you who might not know me too well, I love to drive. I’ve never owned my own car and have spent all too much time on buses and trains, so I very much relish the opportunity to get behind the wheel and go. Singing along to car radios is the best, as is driving with the windows down.

Although I understand the concept of a manual transmission I don’t get to practice much, but with a bit of cringe-inducing gear grinding and one unfortunate killing of the engine we made it to the hotel in one piece.

Part of living in Amman is feeling like you live in a fishbowl- you can see into your neighbor’s apartments (and vice versa), onto their rooftops and are privy to other peoples’ lives in ways you are often insulated from in the States. From this rooftop terrace we could see the expanse of downtown Amman ranging from the heights of the Citadel to the Roman Amphitheater, the Nymphaeum to the vendors shops and cafes lining the old streets.

From my perch I could also see the rooftop balconies of a few other cafes which had the football game playing on big screens. The game, a tight match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, had the majority of the male members of the city jumping and cheering along with their favorite team as the game went into overtime. Real Madrid ended up winning and the viewers went nuts- you could hear the cheers from the city as fans swarmed the streets for a brief moment and then dissipated back to their homes honking and carrying on.

And somehow, with much concentrated effort and just a bit of screaming, I drove all the way back home.

So that was my interesting weekend. My friend Meg from the States is coming on Thursday so I’m very excited to adventure around with her for a bit! Our other friend Rachel will be here Sunday so there will be much merriment. Happy Memorial Day, too!

(Side note to my coworker: when you ask me what you need to do to get over your ex-girlfriend and aren’t happy with my ‘buy a jar of Nutella and grab a spoon’ advice, don’t complain. You asked.)

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