Have I mentioned the roads here? Terrible. Just accept it. People will cut you up on both sides, forcing you into a pot hole the size of a moon crater, and there are no road signs. “Just turn right at the 8th circle” is meaningless when the road actually goes under the circle and you are completely unaware that you’ve passed it. We found our hotel and passed it three times as we encircled it like a lion and its prey. It’s simple to say: “Whoops, we’ve gone past it. Let’s just do a u-turn.” Sometimes the road goes over the highway, sometime under, never in the anticipated direction and before you know it you’re at the Syrian border crossing (at the time of writing not somewhere you want to be.)
Let’s move on to more positive experiences of the trip so far. I immediately relaxed after seeing Amman in daylight. Yes, it’s run down, confusing and barely visible under a layer of rubbish (finished with that can of drink, just chuck it in the road. Same with the plastic bottles and bags. Not a problem. Why would you want to live in filth that is completely preventable?), but it’s perched prettily on a hill with olive groves and fig trees, and after a few years of living in Chicago (where the sledging hill was manmade) and Dubai (where views are only obtainable from the top of skyscrapers) I felt at home. I first visited Amman 30 years ago with my parents, and although young, I can remember it in parts. I don’t think the city has developed that much since then, which is surprising considering that it was little more than a village when it became the capital city in 1921.
We decided to take a day trip to the Roman ruins in Jerash today, as well as the 12th century anti-Crusader castle of Ajloun. En route we passed snapshots of everyday life. Colourful souqs under Bedouin tents, mounds of pomegranates for sale at the side of the road, hill top mosques next to hill top churches. We started to point out the pens of sheep to the children explaining to them that that’s how people bought their meat. And then we saw the A-frames beside the pens, and quickly released that these we effectively drive-through abattoirs.
The ruins in Jerash are spectactular. Andy and I made Monty Python jokes about “what have the Roman’s ever done for us?”, and when that wore thin (after about 30 seconds) we turned our attention to trying to find interesting ways of getting the girls to see the site with excitement, rather than a pile of broken rocks. We tested out the ampitheatre and examined the chariot wheel ruts in the road. But explaining 2,000 years of history to children who think the age of five is the pinnacle of maturity is a bit of a tall order.
Ajloun Castle, however, did seem to capture their imagination. It feels off the beaten track and I’m not sure we spotted any other Westerners. This means that there is no shiny visitor centre and you don’t get on a conveyor belt to rush you through the experience. On the plus, we were able to wander and explore at our leisure, led by two excited girls looking for soldiers and princesses (why does Disney have to spoil everything?!). On the minus, we were able to wander and explore at our leisure, which means children (other people’s) clambering over ancient and delicate parts of the past that should be respected, leaving empty crisp packets in their wake.
The children have been treated like minor celebrities since we’ve been here. People want to touch them and have their photograph taken with them. I remember this used to happen to my blond little brother when we lived in Kuwait, and three decades later, blond curly hair and blue eyes can still cause a stir. I was rather taken aback, and flattered, when a young lad around the age of 16 wanted to take my photo (I have dark hair), and even more aghast when a young man asked to have his photo taken next to Andy. We joke about his hair being blond but it really is white!
Filled with enough history we drove back to Amman, and fed up with the roads (after only a day!) dumped the car and hailed a taxi to take us to Rainbow Street, where we ate Egyptain food on the street and watched the night life. Interestingly, the British Council is on the same road, surrounded by a huge security fence, massive metal doors, and a concrete barricade to protect it from car bombs. Security really is on a high here. We had already passed an armoured van with a machine gun post on top, armed police and even our hotel has a bag x-ray and body scanner. Our car is checked for bombs before we can even enter the car park. I’m not sure whether the Arab Spring is expected to spread here or whether it has passed.
We’re moving out of the city tomorrow and heading to see a sixth century Byzantine mosaic map. I’m sure the girls are as excited as me.