The New Downtown of Amman
Crossing any border involving Syria seems to also involve smuggling. The driver of the shared taxi I took handed me several packets of duty-free cigarettes to stuff into my jacket as we were waved through into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Maybe he felt I owed him one for the wait that was incurred once the staff issuing the visas saw the Iranian stamps in my passport. It promptly disappeared out back for half an hour before they granted me leave to enter the country.
Arriving into Amman from Damascus initially came as quite a culture shock. The place is undergoing a huge amount of construction. The skeletons of buildings take form, cranes dominate the skyline, and everything seems all very new. I had grown used to the absence of occidental chains in Syria. McDonalds, Starbucks, Toni & Guy; Amman has it all, so to speak.
The military also reflect the Western dollars in the country. The army & guards in Syria are usually quite a scruffy affair, brandishing tattered old machine guns, and often in an equally tattered old leather jacket. Not so in Jordan. The army here keep their boots shined and their fire-power reflects the $464 million of US economic assistance they receive. (2006 figure.) The machine guns were of the M-16 variety (as opposed to that of a Kalashnikov), and it wasn’t unusual to see a jeep with an oh-my-god-look-at-the-size-of-that gun bolted to the roof. No messing here.
The place is full of contrasts, and there is still a lot of poverty. These new developments I speak of sit on one side of the hill, and the other side houses the pre-fab buildings of the refugees and the poor. Somewhere in the middle sits Downtown, where its older buildings house (fake) DVD shops, jewellers galore and some pleasant little humus joints & narghile cafés, along-side the odd Roman ruin.