There is no denying it. The best way to explore a city is with a local. Not only do you get the insider’s perspective, but you get to see things that you may not seek out on your own. Lucky for us parents of my college friend Faris live in Amman and offered to take us out and about for a day. As it turns out, Laila Asad is quite the accomplished tour guide. She’ll try talk your way into the closed Royal Automobile Museum, convince the security guard that tells you not to take a picture of King Hussein’s mosque that he’s wrong and encourage you to take it anyway, and negotiate your way out of a sticky situation with the British Embassy after you’ve snapped a few scenic shots out front of their fortress on September 11th. Oops!
But seriously, a day out with the Asads is not to be missed. After a divine lunch of vegetarian mezze at a local restaurant, we saw and learned quite a bit about Amman. You see, Amman used to be a relatively small town, but over the last 50 years it’s absorbed huge numbers of immigrants and refugees from it’s neighboring countries – particularly during times of conflict – like say, now. And it’s not poor refugees. The Kuwaitis and Iraqis who’ve made their way to Amman our fueling major economic growth and development in West Amman.
New Amman is full of massive newly built villas, fancy shopping malls and possibly the largest Starbucks in the world. The contrast between the old downtown area and newer areas like Abdoun in West Amman are drastic. Downtown women, at a minimum, wear a hejab that covers their head, markets bustle with people buying fresh produce and little eateries serve up amazing, cheap hummus and falafel. In Abdoun, you can drink a pricey cappuccino, eat any kind of food and watch young couples, who could very well be from the US, flirt and socialize with one another.
Indeed the only thing that reminds you you’re not in the west while touring West Amman is the security you pass through to walk into a restaurant or mall. Don’t forget to pop that trunk before you park your car in the garage!