Friday, September 08, 2006

My Impression of Amman

On December 30, 2005, I found myself in Amman, Jordan, on the next-to-last night of a 10-day visit to Jordan. Our group consisted of a young husband and wife team of graduate students who had been to Jordan once before, a colleague of theirs, and the wife’s middle-aged aunt and mother. I am the oldest member of our traveling party.

In the winter twilight, we five travelers squeezed into a cab for a ride across town for dinner at a restaurant in Abdoun Circle, a more westernized neighborhood than our hotel which is a few blocks from Jordan University. After a cozy ride with the four women squeezed together in the back seat, we piled out of the cab and walked a block, crossed the traffic circle and went into a restaurant.

Shortly after we placed our order, a man entered the restaurant with a police officer. They spoke to the restaurant manager, who gestured to our group across the room. The manager then gestured to Kevin (the only male in our party) to step over to them, leaving the four women across the restaurant worrying about what was going on. After a brief discussion, Kevin returned to our table alone.

He explained that the man with the policeman was our cab driver. Unbeknownst to me, my wallet had fallen out of my coat in his taxi. It contained a few US dollars, plus all my credit and debit cards, and my ID. The taxi driver, with the help of the traffic cop who had been directing traffic around the Circle, had tracked down a bunch of clueless tourists to return vital documents. The driver did not stay around for a reward, or even a thank-you. He returned my wallet to Kevin and left with the policeman.

There’s no better event to illustrate the spirit of this city. The city of Amman is a strange brew of modern high-rise luxury hotels, rich peoples’ walled compounds, and empty trash-strewn lots. To the eyes of this first-time - and not very well-traveled - American tourist, the place is intimidating in its foreignness. I’m intelligent enough to know that to use the term “third-world” to describe portions of Amman would be to ignore the spirit of this ancient place. It would also be a grave insult to the cab driver who represented Amman’s modern inhabitants to me.

Even in my ignorance and travel fatigue, I recognized that I had just had an experience that would be unthinkable in America, but that was perfectly reasonable in Amman. Our driver spoke barely enough of my language to return my carelessly lost wallet. Of course, I speak no Arabic with which to acknowledge his effort. The irony is not lost on me. It’s a shame that such a stupid action on the part of this smug American was the catalyst for such a gracious and generous action on his.

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