Jordan: An Aesthetic Approach
By: Cait O’Connor/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Google has failed the country of Jordan.
A quick search for “Jordan” in the Google searchbar yields page after page of information about the popular basketball shoe.
Only after reminding Google that Jordan is, in fact, a country of its own will the iconic copper and sandstone images of Petra and Wadi Rum appear.
It was pictures like these that first piqued my interest in this country, a place I (and my Northern Virginia community) knew little about.
Days before my departure, I was on the phone with a bank representative who politely asked, “So, Jordan…what country is that in again?”
Needless to say I did not grow up with a wealth of understanding about the Middle East. What little knowledge I had was largely a tragic narrative of contrast between a glorious Ottoman past and a crumbling, war-torn present. Glossy images of ancient cities marketed as “exotic” tourist destinations contrasted grainy, televised videos of conflict and war.
It was undoubtedly these latter depictions that caused my relatives, upon hearing of my intention to travel to the Middle East, to tentatively question, “is it safe?”
I reflected on these questions sitting in a coffee shop in the heart of Amman, watching stories unfold about shootings taking place in Florida and Michigan.
What does it mean to feel safe, to be secure in one’s surroundings? And what right did I have as an American to gauge and determine safety when my own nation was plagued with terror and conflict?
There seems to me to be a real danger in letting fear dictate one’s impressions, of relying on a single set of images for information. In preparing for my trip, I tried to educate myself about Jordanian cultural traditions instead of dwelling on the latest articles lamenting political unrest.
This is not to say that politics are an irrelevant, or even negligible, aspect of MENA society. They matter continuously and constantly, in every region. Yet is is my own assessment that media coverage has been too long skewed in favor of politicized, extremist rhetoric.
So, equipped with only one introductory semester of Arabic and 250 brightly-colored Jordanian dinar, I was determined to get to know this society better on its own terms, to find beauty in the ordinary and peace in the extraordinary.
Any peace I found, however, must be endlessly attributed to the generosity of the Jordanian people. They welcomed me and my peers so warmly into their society, muddling through our broken Arabic and excusing our cultural insensitivities to allow us to learn from them and live amongst them.
I never intend to do the impossible in speaking for or visually representing Jordan. All I can do is display a few images that I captured, for my own sake, to remember the country that gave me so much in exchange for so little.
A City in Color, A Country of Contrasts
My study abroad began in the city of Amman, Jordan’s capital. Instantly I was struck by the details of the city and the unique design choices, both underfoot and overhead.
Vibrant yellow and orange checkered sidewalks-excellent for traction on the few occasions when the city is bombarded with flash floods.
A Jordanian favorite-trees planted in the middle of the sidewalk! Revealing the city’s preference for aesthetics over pedestrian convenience.
Sidewalks aren’t the only means of travel. The city, built on a series of rolling hills, is full of steep and winding staircases. Many of these stairways bypass homes built into the hillside. These passageways are a convenient means of travel from one section of the city to another if you can spot them camouflaged into walls and alleyways.
Moving from shadow into light: a staircase heading into the heart of downtown from the more touristic Rainbow Street
Street art like this iconic robot can be see on stairways and buildings throughout the city
The popular paper-crown designs flock like birds on the walls of Amman
One of the most popular places for picture-taking in Amman is the wide staircase overshadowed by a beautiful display of umbrellas. Located in the heart of downtown, this sudden burst of color begs the question: “why not?” The people of Amman need no invitation to incorporate color and vivacity into their urban landscape.
Everyone’s favorite street food-FALAFEL! Cheap, fresh, and delicious, this is a staple delicacy-colorful in its own right from a batter tinted with parsley and mixed with spices on the spot
One of the quick-fire chefs at Al-Quds falafel shaping the chickpea balls before they are fried
The colorful complexity of a gift shop in Jabal Amman
Art in Islam
Light blue patterning on the King Hussein mosque in Amman
The elaborately carved minbar inside the King Hussein mosque. The carpet is decorated with a traditional geometric design symbolic of Islam.
Beauty Beyond Amman
Intensely blue-green water in the port of Aqaba, in the south of Jordan. Beneath the water lies the Cedar Pride shipwreck, making this location one of the most exciting scuba diving spots in the Red Sea.
North of Aqaba lies the vast desert of Wadi Rum. Granite and sandstone canyons dwarf Bedouin-inspired tents below. Equipped with many ammenities, these tents offer tourist groups a night spent in luxury under the stars, finished with a traditional meal cooked in underground ovens.
A trip to Jordan would hardly be complete without a visit to Petra, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Greek-inspired temple face, known as the Treasury, is carved directly into the towering rose-colored canyon. Camels and donkeys are a favorite means of transporation along the winding canyon path that leads to the Treasury and beyond.
Further north yet is the Dead Sea, nestled between Jordan and the West Bank. Here the path leads down to the sea, so saturated with salt that it is nearly impossible not to float. Truly a surreal experience! Salt deposits solidify on ropes in the water and on swimmers relaxing in the sea.
A short drive northeast takes one to the region of Ma’daba, site of the holy lands. This is the hazy view from Mount Nebo, the elevated site where Moses is believed to have looked out over the Promised Land.
Bathers in the Jordan River, believed to be the site of Jesus’ baptism. Traditionally, bathers dunk themselves three times in the water that bridges Jordan and the West Bank.
Furthest north, the view from Ajloun castle looks out on the bordering lands of Syria and Palestine. The castle was built around 1185 to accommodate a Saladin general and his family. The castle would go on to be a fortress against Crusaders, a target of Mongol invasions, and a base for Ottoman generals.
The view from this perspective betrays the richness of these fertile landscapes, so often presented as fragmented territories devoid of the potential for peace. I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity to have exprienced this country for a short and beautiful time.