By Mehdy Ghannad
We arrived to Amman early in the morning and were beyond thrilled to be in the Kingdom of Jordan. Nobody on the crew had ever been to Jordan before and the excitement and energy was contagious as we all headed out into the city to get a lay of the land before taking a day trip up to the ancient city of Jerash to kick off our journey in Jordan.
Jerash is a small city in northern Jordan, not too far from the Syrian border. Although there is a fairly new city setting in Jerash, people go there to visit the ancient Greco-Roman ruins that sit pretty on a hill overlooking the modern town. It is believed that the town was first settled during the Bronze Age, approximately 5,000 years ago however the sites that draw all of the attention were built after the Roman conquest about 2,000 years ago. The ancient site was discovered in the mid-20th century and the excavations done by scores of archeologists revealed some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world.
With an old arena that was once used for chariot racing (with slightly corny but still entertaining reenactments going on to this day), visitors can get an interesting feel for what things were like during the Roman conquest before walking away a bit confused as to why you just witnessed a chariot race in the Kingdom of Jordan. From there you can head over to the Oval Plaza, a colonnaded area that lies between the Temple of Zeus and the Cardo, the main road that ran through ancient Jerash. The old city of Jerash was one of the first places in the world to use urban planning, utilizing a smart grid-like system of roads and pathways connecting the different theatres, temples and arenas. Although loaded with tourists toting cameras and fanny packs, Jerash is definitely a spot worth checking out when you land yourself in the capital city of Amman.
The ride back to Amman took about forty minutes and we decided to take advantage of the perfect weather and walk around town to take in the sights and sounds of this new destination. Originally built on seven hills, Amman has many spots with incredible views looking out over the large metropolis that is home to about two million people. With very few tall buildings (there is one skyscraper under construction), Amman doesn’t seem like a giant city but more like a sprawling town with beautiful homes perched on hills and countless minarets soaring into the sky, serenading the city with the beautiful sounds of the call to prayer five times every day. The streets are definitely packed with cars and people and you absolutely feel the big city vibe while walking the streets. Although speckled with some ancient Roman theatres and ruins, the city has a very modern feel to it and you get a very nice mix of the old and the new.
We were invited to come learn how to cook traditional Arabic food at a place called Beit Sitti by the lovely young owner Maria Haddad. She reached out to us wanting to teach Mehdy the ropes in the kitchen and our arrival in Amman couldn’t have been timed any better than it was. And why is that might you ask? The day we went was Mother’s Day in Jordan and her entire family was going to be there as well. Beit Sitti, which in Arabic means, My Grandmother’s House, is a great place where travelers and locals alike can learn how to make a traditional four course meal before getting to enjoy the feast afterward. But since it was Mother’s Day and not a usual night, we got a special treat being welcomed as part of the family while the men and children lined the counter to prepare dinner for the mothers who kicked back and relaxed while smoking argeela (hookah) and waiting to eat. From cousins to nieces and nephews, to grandparents, significant others and more, the place was overflowing with the Haddad family and Mehdy and the crew couldn’t have been more excited and honored to enjoy the celebration of Mother’s Day with such a magnificent and welcoming family.
The food and conversation flowed for what seemed like hours and as the glowing full moon made her majestic ascent into the sky, the coals of the argeela burned bright on the patio of Beit Sitti. As members of the family slowly retreated home to sleep off the huge meal, we were saddened to see the night come to an end. Maria and her family had treated us like royalty and we were tempted to give up the travels and just stay with them forever.