Our first day in Jordan was planned perfectly to get to know the country a little bit before starting work. We met up as a group and our group leader had arranged for us to do some sightseeing on Jordan’s first double-decker bus around the city of Amman. The bus conveniently picked us up at our hotel – the Marriott in Amman – and toured us around the city.
Amman is the capital of Jordan and has a population of just over 4 million. It is considered one of the most liberal Arab cities in the Middle East. It is situated on the East Bank Plateau and was originally built on seven hills, its terrain now spread among a variation in elevation. The parking lot of our hotel had a small hill and our bus initially got stuck with its bottom scraping against the ground, so we had to re-route in order to get out to the street.
Amman is the 4th most visited Arab city and in particular, is the hub for the Middle East’s medical tourism. There is a strong sense of nationalism and a desire to make us feel at home and safe was present from the beginning. We were given a multitude of books detailing Jordan’s history, sights, and culture to best introduce us to the people and the country that we would be immersed in.
The temperatures in Amman range from the mid-70s in the winter months up to the low 100s Fahrenheit. Traveling in the midday heat, exposed to the sun, we were cautious to apply sunscreen and protect ourselves with hats and scarves.
It’s hard to imagine staying covered up from head to toe especially in the heat, but the local women do it with such grace and elegance.
As we drove around the streets of Amman, trying to get a sense of the city, I felt reminded of Cairo, a combination of the heat, the architecture, and the Arab influence.
The streets are alive with sounds and smells, and your senses are assaulted from every angle.
Everywhere you look, you can find people working or socializing.
Traffic is at its worst in the normal rush hour times when people are traveling to and from work.
The Jordanian flag can be spied in locations all over the city, exemplifying the national pride that exists for the majority of the citizens.
The Abdoun Bridge in Amman is the only cable-stayed bridge in the country, crossing the Wadi Abdoun. With its Y-shaped towers and S-curve, it is easily recognizable for its complicated architectural design.
The bus toured us through the back streets, through the high-end housing district of Amman, to the Citadel – a historical site at the center of the city. This particular site is an area of historic importance, as throughout history it has been occupied by many different civilizations, including the Romans and the Byzantines.
From the hill that the Citadel lies on, there is an incredible view of the entire city including the biggest flagpole, the Raghadan flagpole. It is 416ft tall and when it was erected in 2003, was the world’s tallest freestanding flagpole. It is a distinctive landmark and was made to withstand even the worst weather conditions, perhaps as a marker of the country’s resiliency.
We ended our tour of the city at Q Restaurant, where we were greeted with a menu displaying something that surprised us – camel burger! Advertising the country’s first cuisine of this kind, we had to give it a try.
Surprisingly, camel meat is very low in fat and cholesterol.
Similar to bison, the meat was extremely lean and flavorful. I expected it to have a gamey taste similar to lamb, but it was delicious.
As we ended the evening, strolling through the streets back to the hotel, we discussed what tomorrow would bring.
After arranging our medications and setting up our pharmacy in the mobile clinic, we would start to see patients from many of the refugee camps in the surrounding areas. After this first taste of Jordan, we were ready to get deeper into its culture and learn more about the people. We could never have guessed how much we would get to know them over the next few days.