For the last several days we’ve been making our way around Jordan – from the capital of Amman to the edges of the Rift Valley, from the north, now to the south. Although we still have much more to do and see, we thought we’d take a breath and share some of our first impressions of Jordan — from the cultural, to the human, to the culinary.
1. Ahlan Wa Sahlan (You are welcome.)
We hear this phrase often – from the woman working at a silversmith shop to a shepherd slinging grass for his goats to the coffee master at the side of the road. It’s more than just a pleasantry, it carries meaning. Its importance is underscored: sometimes it’s the only phrase a person knows in English.
This is connected to the concept of guest something that runs deep in Jordanian culture. People want to be sure that you are taken care of and enjoying yourself. When we were in Georgia (Republic of), we often heard a local phrase — “guests are a gift from God” — and we felt this. We get a similar feeling in Jordan.
2. Living ancient history
From Nabatean to Greek to Roman to Byzantine to Umayyad to Ottoman to modern day, the breadth of civilizations and depth of history in Jordan is almost overwhelming. Walking through Jordan’s historical sights like the Citadel in Amman or the Roman ruins of Jerash provides a living history lesson.
And to think, we haven’t even hit the mother lode of the Nabatean civilization at Petra yet.
3. Jordanian sweet tooth
Given the standard sweetness of tea and coffee in Jordan, we suspect a national shared sweet tooth. Ask for your coffee or tea “medium sweet” and you can’t really imagine what the full-blown version might taste like.
Another example of sweetness beyond is kunefe, a beloved dessert that combines cheese topped with baked, crunchy semolina and sweet syrup. Delicious, but decadently sweet.
4. Mezze style of eating
A little bit of this, a little of that. Jordan’s mezze style of eating goes throughout the day, from breakfast to dinner. It aligns with our preference for the small plate and the opportunity to sample multiple tastes and dishes at once. And hummus for breakfast? Although we had our doubts, we’ve since become converts.
Wonder what constitutes a dinnertime mezze? Click on the image above (you’ll be taken to the image in our gallery). On that page, hover over each dish with your mouse and you’ll find a note describing what you see.
5) Jordan, a crossroads culture
We were aware that Jordan has a large ethnic Palestinian population, but what we didn’t realize is that there are also pockets of Chechen, Turkmen, Circassian, Druze, and various ethnic groups residing for generations in Jordan. Some came to Jordan to leave persecution or war at home, others for economic opportunity. Makes for an interesting mixture of cultures, cuisines, traditions — and ideally, tolerance.
6) Arabic language = endless proverbs
It seems like no matter the topic, from the mundane to the profound, there is to be bound to be an apt proverb or poetic turn of phrase to capture its spirit.
The other morning we complimented the tea by saying it was so good it didn’t need sugar. For this, we learned a saying in Arabic that roughly translates: “When your finger touches the tea, this makes it sweet.”
7. Surprisingly varied landscape
Before arriving in Jordan, we had images in our heads of white cities, deserts and rocky lands (think, Lawrence of Arabia). Sure, there’s plenty of that. But there are also forests, fertile valleys and vast expanses of red rocks and canyons reminiscent of the American desert southwest.
8. Farewells, the future and “Insha’Allah”
Each time we discuss our itinerary or future plans with anyone, “insha’Allah” (God willing) captures the closing moments. To us, this expression acknowledges one part hope and another part grounding that nothing in life is guaranteed. Given our lifestyle, we can certainly appreciate this.
We should note that we’ve also heard that “insha’Allah” can also be used to indicate that you hope for something that’s unlikely to occur.
9. Breathing below sea level = nice
In our travels, we’ve trekked up to over 5,400 meters (almost 18,000 feet) where the air is thin and simple footsteps can prove challenging. Until now, we’ve never gone below sea level as we have in Jordan. At Ma’in hot springs we enjoyed breathing stunningly fresh, oxygen-rich air at 300 meters below sea level – air was so fresh, walking up hills was a breeze. If we could bottle this air, we’d take a tank with us.
We’re wondering if we’ll turn into oxygen-fueled superheroes when we visit the shores of the Dead Sea — a breath-giving 460 meters below sea level — next week.
10. Tea, the social lubricant
We joke that we need to return to Jordan just to fulfill all the invitations for tea that we’ve received so far on this trip. Tea is served everywhere. It’s often the first sign of respect and trust with new people, and it serves as a social lubricant.
Tea is served piping hot for a reason. It gives us time to become comfortable with one another, to develop rapport, and to cultivate more interesting conversation.