Forbidden territory

The other day, we were giving a tour of Amman to a new group of students that just arrived. Our friend Wael had his friend Maher take us all around town in his van.

The tour was going great. We told the guy we wanted to basically travel along the circles (1st through 3rd, anyway), including a trip by the Roman amphitheater, and then head back up to the University area.

He asked if we wanted to see East Amman. Jeremy politely said no. What he meant was that the students are all expressly forbidden from going there, both as part of the rules of the program and also on the advice of US Embassy personnel. The reason is that it is a volatile area of the city, with lots of refugee camps and political activist groups. Besides that, there's no real reason to be in East Amman unless you're doing research specifically related to the aforementioned issues.

So we saw the Roman amphitheater and Jeremy told Maher to start heading towards the University. A few turns up twisty roads later, we both realized that that was not where we were going. Next thing we knew, we were smack dab in East Amman, driving through a Palestinian refugee camp.

None of the other students knew what was going on, and I'm glad they didn't. They had just arrived in the city and didn't know west from east yet. Meanwhile, I was hoping that nobody would notice the van full of Americans that just pulled into town.

Inadvertent danger aside, it was fascinating to see this side of the city. The words "refugee camp" inevitably bring to mind the image of tents or other temporary living conditions. Obviously, however, these "camps" have had to be around for many years now. They're not collections of tents at all, but more like tenement housing. The shops and markets were all very shabby - most of them seemed to be selling bins of second-hand goods and clothing (including underwear).

We managed to make it out in one piece and continued on our way up to the University. After the fact, Jeremy went ahead and told everyone where we had been and then emphasized again that East Amman is off-limits.

The whole experience ended up being one of those things where I'm glad I saw it, but I wouldn't do it over again if I knew what was coming.

Sport City

The slide of danger