In Amman, staring at the stairs

When I first moved to Jordan in 2007, the long stairs were one of the most daunting things about downtown Amman. They connect streets and neighbourhoods on different levels since the older parts of the city are built on hills. I still remember how difficult it was to climb up the stairs on that first day in May '07 - not helped by the fact that my lungs were in terrible shape and I was toting a ridiculously heavy laptop. (Which would give me a shoulder ache for the rest of the year.) 

I'm back in Amman after eight years away; eight years in which I've done all of the things - writing a book, becoming a reporter - that I used to think about while walking down the city's streets and the stairs. 

The stairs are crumbling in places, I've noticed. I used to walk down them confidently in strappy heels and a suit, that heavy laptop on my back, amazed by what I thought was a grown up skill.

Now I bind my feet in sneakers to be sensible.

Elsewhere, the stairs lend themselves perfectly to Instagram photos. 

The city has changed in so many ways, and yet, as I made my way from Jabal al Webdeih to my old neighbourhood of 2nd Circle via downtown and back to Hashem (which has haunted my dreams since 2008) I instinctively knew which stairs and turns to take, which lanes were dead ends and which ones opened up into the ridiculously unreal views of Amman. It's weird what our minds retain. 

Amman in the Archives

One of my favourite things to do is look at newspaper archives online for coverage of cities. It’s always interesting to see the evergreen stories (or what I'd like to call 'what not to pitch'), the facts that are always mentioned, almost in a boilerplate fashion, but also the tone that ranges from the Orientalist to a genuine sense of discovery. 

Here’s Amman, Jordan in the Google newspaper archives

This reads like the opening scene of a James Bond film... 

1973: “There is only one cabaret in this Arab capital that boasts a belly dancer these days. And a visit to watch her could involve you in a gunfight.”

-     AP

1977: “There are no Bedouins now,” he says. “They’ve turned in their tents for villas, cars and color TV. If you call them Bedouins, they get angry.”


1980: “This new-old city boasts wide boulevards, clean streets, inexpensive public transportation, a growing number of good hotels, interesting foods, plus nearby historic and religious sites to assure the most timid visitor an exciting stay in the most exotic atmosphere of an exotic land.”

- The Evening Independent

1984: “Its present and its future are the teenagers in blue jeans and sweatshirts, businessmen in three piece suits and the new Youth Sports City complex that draws as many as 60,000 soccer or tennis players or swimmers on a warm summer day.”

This is an interesting estimate. I’m rather curious on what the current estimate is. (Also, wouldn’t it be the reverse in terms of dining preferences now?)

“At the rooftop Omar Khayyam Restaurant, co-owner Younis Shaer admits that fewer than 20 percent of Amman’s families dine out. His menu features traditional Arabic foods as well as hamburgers and steaks for his Western businessmen clients.”

-       AP