I’m back in the Middle East! Amman is hot, dry, dusty and noisy… perfect. I’ve been to this part of the world a few times now but only in winter or autumn, and this time in the August height of summer it feels like quite a different place. The sun is up until late in the evening and the streets of downtown Amman are busy, packed with traffic that throws up dust towards footpaths bustling with bodies. Large cloths stretch out from the shopfronts to give shade to overheated window shoppers and there are more westerners around than I’ve seen on any other trip here. Amman, unlike Damascus or Aleppo which both have incredibly old and very charming centers, is a pretty ‘modern’ city, an urban jungle spread across seven ‘jebel’ (in Arabic , ‘mountain’ but in Amman, really just ‘hill’). So, while I’m maintaining my usual trick of walking nearly everywhere that’s not too far to get my sense of direction together, I’m also gonna get a pretty rapid tan and am drinking PLENTY of water.
My hotel, where I’ve very luckily scored a breezy room with a great view out over ‘Jebel al Qal’a’, is in the ‘downtown’ area and like any other great city’s downtown area, it’s colorful. While further up on the hills you can stay in any one of the very shiny (and much more pricey) western chain hotels, I figure why fly halfway around the world only to seal yourself off from it? This area of town is full of cheap hotels like the one I’m in, some full of backpackers and others with Iraqis who arrive here to await whatever’s next – ‘refugee’ status registration with the UN, illegal manual jobs if they’re lucky, or just an uncertain and dragging limbo.
Progress has been good so far, I’ve been meeting with the Australian embassy, with a very helpful communications officer from the International Organisation for Migration, and with an Iraqi producer who is going to work with me as a fixer/translator. I’ve also by coincidence come across Ali, an Iraqi-American academic from NYC who’s working on documenting the Iraqis from a pretty similar angle to myself – perhaps a chance to do some collaboration. Meeting with UNHCR tomorrow to see about what’s happening with their work in Jordan. I hope to start really photographing and interviewing by the end of the week.
In other news my somewhat hopeless Arabic is starting to come back. The simple conversations I try on with taxi drivers are getting easier all the time and they seem to understand some of what I’m saying some of the time! Funny thing is, though, while everyone here refers to this area of Amman as ‘downtown’, every time you mention this to one of the taxi drivers they look at you as if you’re speaking… well… English. Even the names of the streets down here don’t seem to ring a bell. So I’ve just taken to telling them to go to Abdali – the area at the top of the hill – then pointing downhill and telling them when to stop. Generally it results in a whole load of confusion and shoulder-shrugging but most of the time gets me to where I want to go! Either that or I walk. Haven’t quite figured out what’s with that yet – perhaps I’m living in a vortex for the next month?
So, two days in and plenty of progress, although the usual ‘doco project takes on a life of its own’ process has definitely begun. Not a bad thing, I’m strapping in for the ride!
Meeting up with a friend of a friend tonight for a beer… excellent.