The Great Outdoors

18 Mar

My “Outdoor” Context

I am from what most of the United States would consider, “the country.”  My parents didn’t own a farm, but our small town with 2.5 traffic lights (the half traffic light was a blinking yellow light for most of my childhood) is still a place where you can sit on your front porch and call 75-80% of the passersby by their names.  And there’s a good chance that you’ll also know what they’re on their way to do!

My family grew up taking walks around our little town’s neighborhoods and among the woods of  my parents’ property, and when Phillip and I got married and settled in northeast Atlanta, we continued that tradition.  For me, relaxation and “detachment” from the hustle and bustle of everyday work life has always been assisted by leisurely outdoor walking.

This backdrop laid, it will be easier for me to explain how different living in Amman has been when it comes to “the great outdoors.”  Until I was able to give myself a major attitude adjustment, during our first few months in Jordan, I lovingly referred to Amman as “Stinkyville.”

Many of Jordan's trees grow at a sharp slant like these.  It wasn't windy this day, but the wind has been affecting these trees since they were saplings, I suppose.

Many of Jordan’s trees grow at a sharp slant like these. It wasn’t windy this day, but the wind has been affecting these trees since they were saplings, I suppose.

Environmental Conditions in Jordan

Air pollution (mostly from car exhaust and burning dumpsters of garbage) is intensified in the summer when the dry desert heat seems to be trapped close to the ground.  I remember one of the first times I experienced rain here in the fall of 2011.  Phillip and I were walking home when it began to sprinkle.  Within 30 seconds, the falling drops had filtered so much dust and particles of debris out of the air that we both looked at each other and took a deep inhale of purified air!  It was so quickly and noticeably different just from a little bit of rain.

Granted, part of Amman’s pollution issues are due to Jordan’s climate and natural weather patterns.  Hey, it’s the desert!  But as with any nation on earth, other factors related to pollution are driven by:

  • legislation (or lack thereof — There are recycling programs, but none that have really gotten on their feet and made a noticeable impact that I can tell.  And, Note to Self:  No complaining when it’s time for my next emissions check.  Yes, it is an annoying step to have to take when you’re going to pay a 12 month tag tax on top of that, but it makes a HUGE difference, people!);
  • economics (Older cars tend to be more populous here since purchasing since there is at least 100% sales tax on the purchase of new ones.  And if a foreigner wants to purchase a car, by law, it cannot be more than 5 years old.  We certainly couldn’t afford a car here!);
  • cultural habits (i.e., Burning garbage.  Littering.  Smoking.  Cashiers bagging EVERYthing even if you’ve only bought a single can of Pepsi or one Snicker’s bar.  These colored plastic bags are almost immediately discarded when people leave a dukkan — convenience store.  Thus, plastic bags are all over the ground and all blow all around in the wind.  For this reason, an American friend of ours coined the idea that Jordan’s national bird is the plastic bag.);
  • and perhaps — dare I write ita general lack of care by the majority.
Wow!  A garbage can at the park!  Oh, wait... it's bottomless...

Wow! A garbage can at the park! Oh, wait… it’s bottomless…

Many, many times Phillip and I have observed people (young and old) simply discard a bottle or candy wrapper or cup after they’re finished with it.  Our apartment’s patio is 1/2 below street level with a retaining wall around the outer edges for privacy.  Every morning, the patio is FULL of trash that has blown in off the street and gotten trapped or that has been thrown over the wall by our neighbors.  Guys in BMWs will open their door in traffic and set a bag of trash out on the street.  Then drive off.  Earlier this week, I observed a university student gingerly lay an empty water bottle beneath a tree right next to one of the University of Jordan’s main entrance. I thought, “If careful placement of your trash actually crossed your mind, why not put it in a trash bin?”

This being the way it is in the great outdoors of Amman, you can imagine what it’s like to take a walk for leisure as I described earlier.  Actually, I could ignore the trash, but most of the time, because there aren’t continuous sidewalks throughout the city, cars and taxi are zooming by and instead of relaxing, my mind is thinking about how not to get hit by a car while I walk.

Have I lived the past 2 years indoors then?

No.  Phillip knows I’d go crazy.  We have gone on hikes outside the city when the seasons have permitted.  Petra is wonderful for hiking in the spring/fall.  Northern Jordan is green and beautiful.  And places like the outskirts of Irbid and Ajloun (shout out to Wadi Yabbis!!) are my absolute favorite for scenery.

Fit Chicks!  The women's gym that I go to near our home.  Notice the blinds over the windows for added privacy.

Fit Chicks! The women’s gym that I go to near our home. Notice the blinds over the windows for added privacy.

And, no.  We can’t go hiking every weekend, so I have found a little gym just a 12 minute walk up “the big hill” from our apartment.  It’s only for women :) (as most in Jordan are segregated by gender) and I can go 12 times per month for just about U.S. $21.  My ipod and I have very much enjoyed access to a place where I can exercise without fear of being run over by a car, without garbage, and without having to wear pants and long sleeves.  Despite it being all females though, I’m the only one I’ve ever seen wear shorts in the gym.  haha.And, Phillip and I do enjoy an occasional cup of American coffee (sans the cardemom) at an outdoor cafe.  There are lots of cool spots in Amman for this — Rainbow Street, Wakalat Street, Abdoun, and even the roof our apartment!

Last weekend, we joined our friends, the Bullards, at Sports City Park.  Amman’s largest outdoor recreation area.  Some of its fields and facilities require paid membership to enter, but there are outdoor trails among windblown pinetrees that are free and open to the public.  We enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon there — outside.

Phillip shows us how it's done at an exercise station along one of the paths at Sports City.

Phillip shows us how it’s done at an exercise station along one of the paths at Sports City.

Sports City Park, Amman, Jordan

Sports City Park, Amman, Jordan

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