Friday, October 7, 2011

Jordan Challenge 6: Become a Rainbow Street Regular

So, given the fact that some of this year's challenges, like learning even a little Arabic, are going to be monumental I think I deserve to throw some easy ones in there too.  And this one definitely qualifies as easy, and also delightful.  I think every city has a neighborhood or area that is known to be a little (or maybe a lot) more international and artsy and bohemian.  In Amman, that is Rainbow Street. One of the only things that makes Amman even vaguely navigable as a city is that it has seven traffic circles running consecutively westward from the city that help you get your bearings because they are called "First Circle", "Second Circle", etc.  Happily, Rainbow Street begins at First Circle so it's easy to reach, even by a directionally-challenged person such as myself..  It's connected to another street called Omar bin al-Khattab, except that everyone calls that street Mango Street.  The main point of all of this is that both Rainbow and Mango Streets are loaded with cafes, bookstores, cool little shops and ex-pats.  And at the risk of becoming a cliche, it's where I intend to spend a good amount of time during my Fulbright year.

Things are off to a strong start, thanks to some of my Fulbright friends, most especially Elizabeth, who embodies the term vivacious in all that she does, and one of my awesome graduate students, Rola, who knew after only a few weeks of classes that I clearly needed to spend a morning exploring beyond Books Cafe, where I usually make my beeline on arriving in the neighborhood.

Rola invited me to meet her at First Circle on a Wednesday morning.  Once we'd both arrived, we went for a walk down Rainbow Street that took in bookstore shopping, a visit to the Jordan River Foundation -- a nonprofit founded by Queen Rania selling high-end crafts made by Jordanian women -- and finally, a new cafe for both of us, the Old View Cafe on Mango Street.  As you can see from the pictures, the food was fantastic (these are various forms of manaqeesh -- a kind of flat bread covered with various savory toppings) and the views even better.  We spent a phenomenal chunk of the day with Rola explaining all kinds of things to me -- from Jordanian words to customs, and we will surely be back.

The Old View Cafe comes by its name honestly.  The view is truly fantastic!

And the food is quite tasty.  Yet another reason to be grateful to Rola -- being introduced to kiwi-lemon juice that we both had.

Here's Rola hamming it up a bit.

And here she is in front of the Jordan River Foundation shop and doing a little promotion for my book on AIDS policy in the US that I lent her for a paper she's going to research.
Today (Friday) is the day of worship in Jordan and kind of  like Sunday in the United States.  Nothing happens in the morning but in the afternoon after noon prayers some things do open, including most of the shops on and around Rainbow Street.  It's also the day of the Souk Jara, another Rainbow Street institution.  It's an open-air market of crafts, art and food, and loads of fun.  So, of course, Elizabeth suggested we should have brunch at the expat standby, Books Cafe, and things got even more fun when our Fulbright friends Christina, Jayme and Kelsey agreed to join as well.  After a very leisurely load-up on many carbs and iced drinks, and running into quite a few other expat friends, we finally relinquished our cushy couch to other hungry Friday fans, and headed to the Souk Jara.  A few paintings and book purchases later we declared the afternoon a success and broke to go to our respective houses to whip up something tasty for a Fulbright potluck we'll all be attending tonight. 
Two more Fulbright students -- Grace and Hannah -- demonstrating that it is, in fact, possible to do work on Friday afternoon at books.  They are both working as English Teaching Assistants and were working on their next week's lesson plans.

The brunch crew: Kelsey, Christina, Elizabeth and Jayme.

And here they are again in the heart of all that is happening in the Rainbow Street neighborhood -- on the corner of Rainbow and Mango Streets.

The take-away point is this: if you're in Amman you owe it to yourself to check out Rainbow Street and while away a few hours in the cafes and shops.  And if you're in Amman for a while, it might just become a habit.

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