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. There are plenty of things that I could choose to write about, but I will stick with the topics of driving/cars, 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 merely 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 other than spot checking drivers licenses. 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. 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. This is combined with pedestrians crossing the street at any given point (something not limited to the city). 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. It seems paradoxical but making roads safer with more regulations and signage may lead to less aware drivers. Jordanian drivers on the whole have to be much more aware.
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.
Something 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. Exploration of the junkyard would be a sort of archeology in its own right. By looking at the cars in the junkyard, and classifying their types and why they are no longer driven; one begins to paint a better picture of what Jordanians drive and why.
The other cultural issue that I wish to write about is that of waste management. Trash is allowed to pile 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 are happy to drop their trash in the general vicinity of the dumpster. 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 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. Part of the problem (and this is a world-wide problem) is single use plastic. Traditionally, most Jordanians were/are Bedouin. They were used to having stuff that lasted or would degrade quickly if thrown out. The old mentality remains unchanged while products change. A good waste disposal system is a luxury. Collecting and disposing of trash efficiently is expensive. For a fairly poor country like Jordan it is much easier to do things the way they do now. 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. But after four weeks of exploration, digging in the sand, and moving rocks, (several of our work days 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.