Walking through the souk, or market place, next to the al-Husseini Mosque, in the heart of downtown Amman, Jordan, I feel as though I’ve entered a market straight out of Arabian Nights.
The merchants have created a maze of stands and shops filled with produce and people from sunrise until sundown. Some of the merchants even sing about the fruit and vegetables they’re selling.
Then, as I wander away from the souk, up one of the steep winding roads which litter Amman’s many hills, I arrive at the Citadel. The Citadel has served as a home to a Roman temple, Byzantine church and Umayyad Palace throughout the site’s 7,000 year record.
Meandering on the hilltop, surrounded by the ruins and remains of Amman’s past, I hear the call to prayer as it emanates from the minarets that rise up in force against the city skyline. I feel enveloped by the capital’s traditions and history.
Yet, when the alert for prayer pops up on the TV during the commercial break of the ‘CSI: Miami” episode I’m watching, or when I’m walking around a mall where half the women wear the hijab and listen to ‘Hotel Room” blasting from the sound-system, it becomes clear that this is not the Jordan I’ve learned about in school or even read about in travel books.
Despite the fact that I was academically aware that Jordan has historically been a cultural crossroads, it is still surreal to see two cultures actively colliding. Although the Roman and Ottoman traders are long gone (save all the buildings they left behind), it is amazing to me that the integration of civilizations remains one of the most striking facets of Jordanian culture.
Tradition and modernity are in a constant tte–tte here, and it is exactly this unique dance between the two which makes Amman such a livable city, where one can immerse himself in a newer kind of Middle East, without losing a sense of its ancient roots.
Simpson is a member of the class of 2011.