After a 20+ hour flight from Singapore, we finally arrived in the capital city of Jordan: Amman. This is where our Middle-East tour began.
Neither of us had been to the Middle East before, so we were excited to experience a totally new atmosphere and culture shock (yaay, a break from seeing more temples!! ;) ). The culture of Jordan was actually less of a shock than we'd expected, but we did get a different shock that was unexpected: Amman has some of the friendliest and most welcoming people out of all of the countries we've been to so far!!
While walking past various shops and restaurants, most vendors happily shout out "Hello!" and ask "Where are you from?". In other countries, these greetings and small talk are typical pretext for touters to then harass you into visiting their shops… we politely answer their questions, "Canada!"… and then expect the typical requests to visit their shop… instead, they excitedly respond with "Oh!!!!! Very nice country!! Welcome!! Welcome to Jordan!"… "Thanks!", we reply.. ok.. now they'll ask us to visit their shop… except... they don't. After this happens repeatedly over several of hours of walking, we begin to wonder.. maybe they really are just super genuinely friendly and welcoming...
After spending 7 months in Asia, the markets started to become typical for us. Here, we started appreciating them again since there were so many new fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and spices that we'd never seen before. The vendors could tell that we had no clue.. and they didn't speak much English, so we couldn't actually figure out names of what we saw... but they would give us a big smile and insist that we taste/sample stuff.
In other cities, when the call to prayer rings out, the volume is so high that it causes the loudspeakers to harshly pop and crackle. The first time we heard Amman's call to prayer, it stopped us in our tracks. It is actually sounds like a soothing meditation chant, ringing out through the silence and echoing from the hills in every direction … it was really beautiful and amazing to hear.
During our city visit, we had a few Jordanians ask to take a picture with us (kinda indicates that they don't get a lot of tourists in Amman..). One little girl was playing in front of her house and wanted us to take a picture of her and her sister. In most other countries, this is a scam - after you take the photo, the children aggressively demand money for the picture you've taken. Dom took a chance and took a couple of pictures anyway. The girl just giggled and smiled as Dom showed her the picture. Then she smiled and waved goodbye as we walked away.
We are now in the land of Hummus, Pita, Falafel, Tahini, Hummus, Pickles, Fatteh, Tabbouleh, Hummus, Shawarma, Shish-Tahouk.. did we mention Hummus?
One of our favourite places to eat in Amman was Hashim, a small hole-in-the-wall type restaurant that is open 24 hours a day and serves only a few dishes… and no meat. We walked in looking clueless and asked for a menu... which they don't have. Instead, one of the waiters gave us a tour of the different food stations where each cook gave us a big smile, a food sample, asked us where we're from and, of course, welcomed us to Jordan!! The waiter sat us at a table and for only 4JOD (~$6CAD) we got pita, beans, hummus, falafel, fresh vegetables and 4 cups of tea… such a good deal! ...and so delicious that we ate here every day that we were in Amman.
We also visited the King Abdullah Mosque, which is built right next door to a Coptic Church… Christian and Muslim churches cohabiting. This is where we had our friendliest encounter.
As with every good tourist trap, the King Abdullah Mosque has a separate entrance for tourists that requires you to walk through the small market of souvenir shops. As usual, we expected them to ask us to visit their stores.. instead they just greeted us, asked if we were here to visit the Mosque, gave Jen a special robe to wear, and pointed us up the stairs. They even asked if we had a camera and said "good! please take pictures of the Mosque!".
After our visit, Jen returned the robe at the market where they thanked us for visiting, invited us to look around, and then disappeared back into their shops. Jen started browsing some the bracelets when one of the shop owners approached her with a concerned look and asked about the eczema rash on her arm. Jen warily followed him to a Dead Sea products store, where he brought her to see the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper took a look at the rash, opened a new bottle of Dead Sea oil from the sales shelf and showed Jen how to apply it. He explained that Dead Sea products were really good for skin and eczema and that she should apply the oil 2 times per day. Then he wrapped the bottle and gave it to Jen saying "Thank you for visiting my store.. please.. take this as a gift". We felt bad and tried to offer to pay but he absolutely refused to take our money and only said that his sister suffers from eczema and that the oil really helps her, so he hopes that it will help Jen also!
Exaggerating a bit… one of the stereotypes that Hollywood and the media ingrain into us, is that Arab countries are full of Muslims who hate Westerners. Whether you know it or not, these constant media messages have instilled a subconscious and unjust sense of fear and paranoia in most people. Within only a couple hours of being in Jordan, these stereotypes couldn't have been proven more wrong. The people in Amman have been so unbelievably friendly and welcoming.. we were so pleasantly surprised that it made us both absolutely love it here!
That being said, it still doesn't mean you should trust anyone absolutely.. similar to in Asia, all prices require negotiating. That includes anything from a bag of chips, to hotel prices, and guide/driver or taxi rides. If you don't negotiate your prices here, you are most likely paying too much!