The cultural musings of a weary archeologist.

Four weeks in a country is plenty of time to get a feel for the culture. The culture of Jordan, as in any country, is constantly changing. This is not a discussion of Western vs. Eastern cultures, and whether or not the changes are good; it is simply an observation of what I have noticed regarding Jordanian Culture as it stands in 2019. There are plenty of things that I could choose to write about, but in the interests of time I will stick to one thing I like and one I do not. That is, driving, and waste management.


At first glance, driving in Jordan seems to be a chaotic, messy, and dangerous activity. Drivers do not always drive on the correct side of the road, and any lane markers that do exist are really a suggestion. Add to this that as far as I can tell people drive at the speed they feel is best. There are police posted at regular intervals along major roads, but I have yet to see them actually doing anything. There is a section of highway just outside of Umm el-Jimal that is a divided roadway. One half of this road is under construction at one point, and so traffic traveling on that side must temporarily use one of the lanes formerly allotted to traffic coming the other way. After the construction there is an arrow indicating that traffic should merge back onto the other side (unlike the US where there would be cones as well. Not everyone does so. This leads to a situation where people are sometimes driving straight towards each other, head-on in a game of chicken. In the city of Al-Mafraq, drivers park and double park as they please. This is combined with pedestrians crossing the street at any given point (something not limited to the city). I have seen someone who parked a full-size pickup truck perpendicular to the sidewalk instead of parallel parking even though he had space to do so. So far, everything I have related paints a dire picture. And yet, there is a strange balance to it all. I have not seen any accidents, and drivers seem to be more aware than in the US. Driving in Jordan is an art form, and not for the distracted or the faint of heart. One thing I pay attention to when I visit another country is what sort of cars people drive. The variety of cars and trucks in Jordan is significantly less than the United States. People in Jordan tend to drive, sedans, pickup trucks, or minibuses. People drive cars that are practical and reliable. They also like to display massive stickers across the back of their car windows that say ‘Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’ have a massive crown, or both. These stickers take up most of the rear window. Another car related thing that I wish to explore further if I ever return to Jordan is a massive junkyard that I saw on the outskirts of Amman. I know nothing of it except that it was on the side of the highway on the way to Umm el-Jimal and that it sprawled over a vast area. Jordan is a great country for someone like me who is interested in cars and car culture.

The other cultural issue that I wish to write about is that of waste management. Culturally, the thinking goes that anything outside of your own property isn’t really your problem. This means that trash piles up along streets, in empty lots and all over beautiful natural areas like the mountains outside Petra. The shore of the Dead Sea has trash along it; and even Umm el-Jimal has modern litter across the site. There are dumpsters placed around for people to use but it seems that some people would rather drop their trash in the general vicinity of the dumpster. These piles of trash are just plain nasty. I don’t want to see your discarded ketchup flavoured chip packet or your empty 1.5 liter of fruity Fanta. Occasionally the trash is then moved into a pile and burned. While I appreciate that something must be done with it, (I know that collecting trash in a dump poses a series of problems of its own) I cannot see why it must be done in the middle of a busy city. Unfortunately, it is. Occasionally as we were in both Amman and Madaba, the smell of burning trash would waft through the air. I know for a fact that these practices contribute greatly to pollution and degrade public health. If you have not guessed already; this is the part of Jordanian culture that I strongly dislike. Unsurprisingly, piles of trash really take away from enjoying an interesting city or ancient site. Umm el-Jimal is a fantastic site, but empty bottles and chip bags kind of take away from the feeling that you are getting a glimpse into the past. I sincerely hope that the ongoing efforts to clean up Jordan, and change the way that people view waste management and personal responsibility, work. Jordan is a beautiful country with fantastic, friendly people that will be even prettier when they are able to take care of their trash. I also hope, from an ecological and health standpoint that they find a way to get rid of trash then just burning it in the middle of the city.
As I have stated; Jordan is a great country. The people are friendly and welcoming, and the driving is just something else. Most of the food is good, if somewhat monotonous (there are only so many ways to make chicken and rice and even shawarma can get boring after a while). I also don’t know what to make of the ketchup flavoured chips either, but that is neither here nor there. Overall, I think that Jordan has a fantastic culture that suffers slightly from some issues. But after four weeks of exploration, digging in the sand, and moving rocks, (several of which had daytime temperatures over 100 degrees) I am ready to go home. And, like Tony Stark in Iron Man, I want a cheeseburger. Preferably one with lots of bacon.

 

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