Wanderthirst: solo travelling in Jordan
15 Aug 2018
Illustration by serina.kitazono
I travelled alone to Jordan on 31 August,2017, hopeful that my solo travelling experiences across Europe would carry me to the Middle East confidently and safely. My first sights and impressions upon leaving the airport were sand, palm trees and flags. I still had in my mind the impromptu leaving party I’d thrown the night before, where many of my friends and family gathered to drink, laugh and promise regular FaceTimes. Weeks before I’d shared with friends a worry about leaving queer and/or black spaces and the support, entertainment and familiarity they provided. As soon as I arrived, however, my friends were with me virtually and my priority was getting acquainted with this vibrant new city I was to call home.
“To be honest, the reaction upon finding out that I’m Jamaican was often more earnest and less problematic in Jordan than in the UK”
For the first week I stayed in downtown Amman, which I would highly recommend for at least part of any stay in Jordan. Amman’s residential areas tend to be quiet, with fewer concentrated streets of restaurants, shops and establishments. This is peaceful for long term residents, but nowhere near as inviting as Wasat Al Balad’s winding streets laced with shops, stalls, lights, falafel and fresh fruit juice outlets and the call to prayer from King Hussein Mosque.
A visit to the downtown markets as a woman involved a strange mix of catcalling from market traders and the invitation to choose their shop over the others with nearly identical stock. I found that my reception as a black woman was one of intrigue and curiosity, especially as my Arabic improved. The Jordanian people I met were excited by the fact that my family are from Jamaica and I’ve made it all the way to the other side of the world. To be honest, the reaction upon finding out that I’m Jamaican was often more earnest and less problematic in Jordan than in the UK. The stereotypes and bad impressions haven’t quite made their way there yet.
As a solo traveller, my friends from home really made my time abroad. Not only could I speak my mother tongue for while, but my friends got my humour, references and watched The Apprentice with me. If you’re travelling alone, bear in mind that it’s completely okay to sit on the phone with friends and family for hours over the first few weeks. It’s tough changing your social circles, support networks, physical surroundings and daily occupation all at once.
Go to as many events as you can. Pretty much the entirety of Amman’s social calendar is on Facebook. I’ve seen everything from talks on the local region, cooking classes of all cuisines run by the same white woman, debates over dinner, football clubs – it’s the perfect way to meet people interested in similar fields and topics as you; I’d especially recommend going to the monthly poetry slam in downtown Amman. I met some of the most lovely, open-minded range of people there.
“If you’re travelling alone, bear in mind that it’s completely okay to sit on the phone with friends and family for hours over the first few weeks”
I met some amazing people on my travels. This wasn’t in Amman, but on a trip to Jerusalem. I met a man who was an instrumental member of the African community living in the city, who have had a base in the same area for generations. His name is Mousa and he sat me down for a while to talk me through the history of the community. He talked about how they’ve contributed to the preservation and protection of the city over the years, and the events they put on to build networks, friendships and to strengthen relationships. Meeting Mousa was a standout moment during my time out there because it made me realise how much I warm to a city once I’ve met the hub of community there. This is something that is so important if you’re staying somewhere in the long term.
I met a photographer named Sarah, who approached me on my third day in Jordan wanting to photograph me for the Humans of Amman project. Aside from being an excellent photographer and lovely person, it warmed my heart to meet up with her in May and chat solely in the Jordanian Arabic dialect, and think back to when we first met in September and I could barely string a sentence together in formal Arabic, nevermind the dialect.
It’s near impossible to use foot as your main mode of transport so visiting different cafes and restaurants is one way to get to new areas. I’d recommend walking around the nearest residential area, Weibdeh and Jabal Amman, the oldest and most central three hills of the city (including downtown). Having said that, I did become somewhat of a regular at these three places out of comfort, routine and an impressive happy hour.
Shams El Balad: This cafe comes up on all of those google-able lists of cafes to visit in Amman. I walked there in blistering heat during my first week, so it became part of my first impressions of Amman. It’s vegetarian, eco friendly, the tables are wide, the view is gorgeous and they give you free filtered water. I also sat here one afternoon and read half a book. Good times.
Hashem Restaurant: Fondly called Hashem’s by my friends and I because that’s just what English speakers do to establishment names. The oldest restaurant in Amman, famous for having all the falafel and dips you could want in the heart of the city. It’s hectic and there’s no written menu, but it isn’t a trip to Amman without a visit here.
Books@ Cafe: The only “openly” (as openly as it gets) queer-friendly establishment in Amman. They have a de facto LGBT night every Thursday, which is male-dominated – nothing new for either LGBT or Jordanian culture. Books@ is a comfortable, relaxing and friendly venue suitable for socialising and studying alike.
Questions about where you’re “really” from. People will be intrigued, although usually in a well-meaning way. If you speak Arabic, you’re even more intriguing. You are black but you say you come from England. You speak Arabic but you say you come from Jamaica. Where are you from from?
There is no apparent queer culture. This is, of course, was only in my experience. I know it usually only takes meeting one person who is a plug for the whole community, but moving from the UK, where I’ve lived in London and Manchester, I had culture shock to go on social media and not see a regular social event for QTIPOC, or at least the wider LGBTQ+ community. There’s a lack of social spaces for queer women. I met plenty of queer men; they were some of the first people I met in Jordan. I’m sure there is a community here, but perhaps it takes more than 9 months to find it. My advice: try and make friends with queer people out there. If you can’t find a queer scene – use this time to get into some queer media: podcasts, tv shows, films!
Try and find events, people and places that you think you’ll enjoy before you travel. It’ll help you hit the ground running when you arrive and will accelerate your settling in period. There’s a Facebook group for everything and Tip n’ Tag is helpful too. Go to a few events and places on your own, if you can. You’re guaranteed to meet new people so much more easily and it’s exciting to navigate a new country solo.