July 10, 2011
You never quite know what to expect when you’re traveling by car in Jordan. Highway pavement can be very nice, smooth and well lit, especially in tourist areas, but it can also be bumpy or even smooth with an unexpected (on purpose) speed bump in the middle of nowhere. The highway can lead you through cities and villages or a vast expanse of nothingness. It may be completely flat in the desert, or make your ears pop every ten minutes as your vehicle climbs a treacherous mountain highway. But no matter where you are in Jordan, the things you see from the highway are always unexpected.
For example, you might run into traffic on the highway going into Amman at 9pm on a Saturday night. Where are all of these people going?! In populated areas there are foot bridges that cross the highway with a simple set of stairs leading to the sidewalk on either side (supposedly preventing jaywalking, although I’m not sure how well it works). You may see some small billboards, more like poster advertisements, really. Sometimes they are in English, sometimes in Arabic, and usually publicizing something unexpected – I saw a poster for Tang my first day here!
You may see camels and donkeys parked by the side of the road, or you may drive past an entire tent camp complete with several cars or trucks, horses, and goats. I once saw a man letting his goats graze by the highway while he was sitting on the safety rail trying to light his cigarette.
There are road signs here, although they tend to be few and far between. I never know what road my driver is taking. Sometimes I will see signs for where I am going, often in English and sometimes in Arabic as well.
You will also invariably drive past roadside stands. Sometimes a shack will sport Coca-Cola signs, or a man will simply sit on the ground near a blanket covered in watermelons.
You will inevitably also see a lot of construction, although of what I’m never certain. The strangest thing is the amount of “unfinished” houses and buildings. They will have rods and columns sticking up from the flat roof, giving the appearance of building another story. When almost all of the buildings I saw were like that, I knew something was up. I have heard two different explanations: one is that because families of multiple generations often live together, they are leaving the possibility of another floor to house the great-grandchildren. Another, possibly more truthful, explanation is that there is a tax for finished building, so the cheapest way to build a house is to never finish it!
Elizabeth Atkins is a junior at the College of William & Mary majoring in Sociology and minoring in Arabic. She is currently serving as a Cadet in the Virginia Army National Guard and in William & Mary’s ROTC Program. Her 2011 summer in Jordan opened her eyes to many things about the Arab people that could never be learned in a classroom. Read more about Elizabeth’s adventures abroad at Elizabeth In Jordan.