~~Our afternoon in Old Amman begins on Rainbow Street, with falafel, at Al-Quds Falafel. I am told that this hole-in-the-wall with a very amicable falafel maker is the oldest in Amman. His offering is delicious, unpretentious and not heavy on the spices. We eat our sandwiches standing up, outside the store, among the ambling crowds. A boy with fiery eyes approaches us, asks for money. My companion offers to buy a falafel sandwich for him instead of giving him cash. He takes the sandwich, crosses the street, and climbs atop the stone fence of a makeshift playground where a group of boys are playing football.
From there it is a nice walk to the heart of Old Amman, those traditional stone homes of beautiful exteriors and spacious, cool interiors–the Mango House, the Mufti House, the Sabbagh House, and my old high school, the Ahliyyah School For Girls (formerly known at the Christian Missionary School.) This Amman is one of the most beautiful parts of an otherwise lackluster city, harking back to a time when Amman was a sleepy old town oblivious to the future waves of foreign money (from the Gulf, then the rich Iraqi exiles of the two Gulf Wars) and refugees fleeing the unending wars of the region.
Many of Old Amman’s streets have been turned into bustling sites of pedestrians, coffee and juice stands, restaurants, and artisan shops. Beggar boys and girls are reminders, though, that the underside of Old Amman is far less pleasant and vibrant. We sit down for some tea. From our perch, the downtown is a jumble of cluttered rooftops. In the distance, we can see all the way to the Citadel.
“You see all these rooftops with all the zbaleh (trash) on them?” The speaker is a friend of my companion. “We’re going to turn all these rooftops into gardens.” He speaks with contagious enthusiasm. “All of it. Families will be able to sit on their roofs, children will water the plants.” True, Amman rooftops have everything–broken fridges and bikes, torn mattresses, old tires. Junk. As he speaks, I imagine shrubs and trees and flower and vegetable gardens, herbs and sunflowers, lavender and za’atar. The picture is beautiful, a far cry from the present. He appears determined; he’s young, speaks with energy.
After tea and falafel, it is dusk, and we are ready to call it a day–the promise of the rooftops in the distance, the lurk of the boy with sandwich behind us. All of it, we’re going to turn all of it into green gardens where young boys and girls will water the gardens, play in the shade.~~