American in Arabia: "Ugly city it ain't - Amman, I got your back!"
Most would find this shot of Amman beautiful. It seems there are some who find it ghastly.
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Some self-appointed travel gurus, humbly labeled the U City Guides, have just put together a list of the Top Ten Ugliest Cities, 'for today's modern traveler'. Whoever the U City Boys are, they've voted only one magnificent medina from the MENA as among the nasty nominees. One might think the bullet-ridden homes of Damascus or the worn down streets of Baghdad would be deemed derelict. Despite their shambolic credentials however, all of these war-ridden cities dodged the bullet. Who, then, is the world’s most abysmal Arab city?
Coming in among the top three is none other than the safest spot in the Levant - Amman, Jordan. This fair country has already taken a few hits as of late, namely being ranked as the least tolerant nation in the entire world by some guy named Max. To be fair, the Maxster was reporting for the Washington Post from an extensive survey done by the Swedes. For time’s sake and the fact that Arabs love Sweden, we’ll let this one slide.
But the U City Thugs' pithy two-sentence slam against the capital included calling Ammani homes dull and grisly. Ouch.
Granted, most buildings are monolithic in terms of color but the city is a fortress- everything is made of stone. We're talking solid rock, people. This means that nothing is going to topple these terraces- fire, earthquake, termites… they don’t stand a chance. In fact, Amman is one of the chief exporters of this ‘ugly’ material to the other GCC countries.
You want color U City? The warm hues of white smiles that come from the people of the Hashemite Kingdom bring in plenty of light. Aside from the Jordanians themselves, who have shown me nothing but hospitality and tolerance (Max!) for the past five years, there is a kaleidoscope of other Arabs and expatriates who call this place their handsome home.
Safe haven kingdom, people!
In fact, New York Times claims that, “Jordan is in the eye of the Middle Eastern storm” in an article where they sing Amman's praises. Ask any recent refugees from stormy Libya, Iraq or Syria and they’ll tell you that Jordan is their rainbow (street) and Amman is the pot of gold.
In the online critique, the Top Ten List assemblers don’t even have the class to insert a picture! For all we know, this list was developed by a group of dainty tourists who call eating at Hardees “roughing it” and have never even stepped foot in the Middle East. Just how extensively have these guys globe-trotted -- have they even seen Los Angeles or Slough?
An ugly city ‘worth avoiding’? Oh great judges of all that’s beautiful, have you even been to Paris Circle? Jabbal Amman? Abdoun? “Dirty, chaotic streets” and “buildings crumbling on top of each other” is what you took from your time here? Where did you go? Did you take a taxi straight from the airport to the town dump?
Obviously you did not tour Amman as it truly should have been experienced. One needs to take in the tumbling terraces lining magical hills and the dizzy vistas of villas framed from a roof top or a 'sky' bar.
So to whoever dropped the bronze medal for dreadfulness on the MENA’s shining star, I invite you to come stay with me for a week. We’ll catch a concert at the Roman Theater, play paintball in Salt, harvest olives up North, and then devour mensaf at Al Quds.
We’ll bump Amman off that lackluster list because when it's all said and done, being called ugly is something no Arab will tolerate.
Huh. Well Max, I guess you got a point.
By Brett Weer
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