For the past two years, the subject of Amman has been unavoidable for me. Not only do I live in this city, but I’ve also been, with my company SYNTAX, involved in the first big branding effort this city has undertaken. I am overdosed on Amman! The branding project has been completed but writing about Amman this year is still unavoidable :-)
So, on Friday Amman held its first large city parade. I was really glad that I came to this event simply as a spectator with my family.

It turned out to be Amman’s most colorful day!

Now, just for some moments, consider some of the tough realities of contemporary Amman (let’s forget, for a moment the “10 thousand years of history” the tourism people like to talk about):

A city of refugees, starting with CIrcassians brutally kicked out of their land, to the Palestinians, to the Iraqis of today (and many other groups). On the more positive side, Amman was also at one point a utopian city representing a new Arab beginning. But this is largely a city of displaced people.

A socially divided city. Let’s not forget that we’re still with one foot in the Third World. This is not a European middle class city.

A city used “practically” and not celebrated emotionally. People just wanted to build a house where they felt safe. Have a job. Get the kids educated. No time to philosophize about this “city”.

A city with an inferiority complex. A young Arab capital trying to stand shoulder to shoulder with Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus. Not even to mention western capitals. Amman is often described as “boring”, “not a city”, “fringe”, “unplanned”.

A capital city of an “artificial” country. Those who feel that way forget, of course, that all identities are “artificial”. Yet when a country is still relatively young, many people scoff at its still emerging identity and its emerging capital.

A city undiscovered by many of its own citizens. My favorite examples are the 22 year old girl who’s never been to downtown Amman and the 25 year old guy who doesn’t know what Rainbow Street is.

A city that, until recently, was often treated by the “authorities”, as a traffic and infrastructure challenge and not as a cultural opportunity (despite the sporadic, exaggerated, grand poetic homages on national occasions).

So.. can such a city have a good parade?

The answer is a resounding “yes”.

And maybe it was the little touches that made this parade a success.

The city cleaners, those orange men that we often ignore, where suddenly marching center stage and greeted by the crowd. The street sellers with their typical carts carrying anything from vegetables to a meat grill, marched through the city with the same importance as the police motorbikes. The second hand clothes seller where there too, dragging their racks through the parade. Girls and women in various dress styles and attitudes. The “annoying” gas sellers, represented by a gas pickup. Amman’s most famous cartoon characters (Abu Mahjoob and Abu Muhammad), businesses, NGOs, actors. Not to mention horses, camels and lots of balloons!

Suddenly it was all there. The people, the organizations, the history, the authorities.. They where all marching together with Amman watching them.

For a few hours, a city simply celebrated itself. And if this is the “normal” thing that a parade is supposed to do, just consider that this is the first time this happens in Amman. Just consider all the tough realities I mentioned above, and you’ll understand the importance of what happened on Friday.

This event was not a “deep” intellectual exercise. But it achieved something that is intellectually very important: making Amman realize its own “cityness”.

Our Amman is the product of the 20th century, now moving into the 21st century. And this is what was celebrated. Not the Romans. Not the Ammonites. Not the Omayyads. But the people who are the Amman of today.

A number of lucky coincidences made this possible: Amman Municipality’s 100th birthday was presided over by a mayor who started his tenure by asserting that Amman should have a “soul”. This gave a voice to those Ammanis who saw value not only in the ancient history of the place (which indeed is important), but ALSO the contemporary collage of the last 100 years. In the background there was a branding initiative which gave Amman a new visual language that celebrated the populated hills and the diversity of the people.

The immense challenges facing Amman have not gone away, of course. But we the city seems to have taken an important step towards accepting itself and maybe even dare show its colors.

Check out my photos of the parade..

Amman parade photos




20 responses to “Amman’s most colorful day: a city no longer ashamed of itself!”

  1. Dalia Avatar

    well said Ahmad

  2. P Avatar

    Great pictures! I kinda regret not standing by the City Hall in Ras el Ein!

    I must say that the parade was one of those rare occasions where I felt that I love my city, and that I am in fact happy to be in Amman.

    Like you, I liked many of the smaller touches in the parade, the cotton-candy vendors, the gas cylinder tune remix, the floats and generally the reception by people.

    However, I find it interesting how the parade was celebrating the very things that Amman is trying to relinquish: Isn’t the Mayor trying to create a new Downtown, where vendors are forced to move to other parts of the city? Isn’t he trying to create a well-planned, pollution-free (be it visual, noise or environmental) city? Or does this mean that the Mayor wants us to embrace these things, that have become in a way, part of our identity?

    As romantic as it may sound, I think that perhaps in the midst of Amman’s chaos lies its true soul. The parade helped me come to terms with that.

  3. 7aj 2a7mad Avatar
    7aj 2a7mad

    agree with you about the realities of the city and the history behind those realities. the dreadful realities that you mention and their causes should be eliminated.

    the mayor and our leadership – they indeed have a refined vision for the city, as a city, and they are working very hard to make it more practical, cultural, international, more than what it is now. in my humble opinion, they should focus more on the social side as well.

    during the past 100 years, only 3 generations (maybe 4) have been living (and are still concurrently living those realities in many household).. we (the latter generations) are still influenced by the realities that our fathers lived 100 years ago. This should end. We should look at the brighter future. Get rid of the prejudice that was inevitable in those days. (actually it was better back then, till the 80s).

    This parade is one step forward. maybe with the new upcoming generations, things will change. lets hope so.

    And we should not forget about the other cities, the more historical ones, which bare more of the “Jordanian” heritage rather than the Circassian / Palestinian / Palestinian (Kuwaiti) / Iraqi heritage. Cities like ramtha, ajloun, mafraq, salt, madaba, karak, tafieleh, ma’an, and aqaba.

  4. Hamzeh N. Avatar
    Hamzeh N.

    Excellent, and you are a true Ammanite Ahmad, as anyone who lives or was born in Amman should be proud to call themselves.

    What you said here

    “Our Amman is the product of the 20th century, now moving into the 21st century. And this is what was celebrated. Not the Romans. Not the Ammonites. Not the Omayyads. But the people who are the Amman of today.”

    is exactly why when someone asks me in the US where I’m from, my answer is always “Amman.” And when they often repeat the question, they get the same answer.

    I’m from Amman, and I’m proud of it!

  5. Ali Avatar

    I was stuck at work when the parade was happening or other wise i would have been there.

    At the day of the parade i met some French tourist who came to rent a car from ” Hertz ” I told them about the parade and they told me that we want to see it, I told them just head downtown and you’ll see everything there, They came back later and thanked me for a good time.

    I love amman and i will always do, And i really love the mayor of amman, His plans and visions are amazing, He is a really good man with a brilliant mind, Amman already has a soul but it needs more and more to become perfect, It needs better road planing and a better transportation system..adding to a lot of things but there are the main things i can think of right now.

  6. Rana Goussous Avatar
    Rana Goussous

    thanks for keeping us expats up to date, great blog ahmad!

    a proud ammani

  7. Faisal Avatar

    I was happy to see such a parade in one of my favorite Arab cities and one which I find myself visiting quiet often be it for business or leisure. I really wished I was there for this event.

    You do bring up very good questions and dilemmas, but they all seem like nothing in light of the potential and achievements this city is coming to as seen from an outsider like myself. you guys have a clear executable vision which none of the other Arab cities has (Not even Dubai), and you can be proud of that despite all the challenges you will face. I one for one root all the time for Amman. Cheers.

  8. ameen Avatar

    I must admit your visual coverage of the parade is way better than JTVs. They should make you train the director next time an event like this happens :) Excellent post.

  9. Oksana Avatar

    I had to miss it, though I really wanted to come and see it! Amman became my home in the past three years and I Learned to love it the way it is – as someone nicely said – Amman’s beauty emerges from chaos.
    I love the city and proud to be partially Ammani :)

  10. 7aj 2a7mad Avatar
    7aj 2a7mad

    can’t anyone who actually saw the parade post a comment! i even checked out the Mohd Qaq blog, nothing! no one was there. lol proud Ammani’s yeah right

    maybe Ahmad gave us a very positive view. maybe it sucked! and did not add anything. amman’s “soul”, that’s a first.

  11. Blogster Avatar

    very good: name dropping and advertising! SYNTAX, Hertz, Why not McDonald’s and HSBC Bank as well

  12. Monty Avatar

    When I first heard that this parade was being organised I really didn’t think it would be a success…perhaps I have been living in Amman too long and have become automatically negative!

    But all credit to everyone involved in pulling this off – decided to attend at the last minute and took the family down and all of us had a great time…every aspect of this was done perfectly – the location chosen, the easy access, the floats, the storyline, the marching units, the viewing areas etc etc…the only negative I heard was that JTV’s coverage could have been better – no surprises there!

    Congrats to the Mayor, to Khalid Burgan, to GAM, to iJordan, Orange Red, Kharabeesh and everyone else who helped make this a huge success and invigorate the soul of Amman!

  13. Lana Avatar

    Thanks Ahmad… you cant beleive how working on the parade made me personally feel… my feeling of belonging grew with every step! The colour came back to Amman, and sharing the moment with all ammanis was invaluable

  14. Lana Avatar

    have you seen the negative comments about the parade… what a shame that some of our brothers and sisters still force their eyes closed…

  15. Bardees Avatar

    WOW! Thank YOU Ahamd, it’s been a pleasure reading your post,and very much spirit uplifting :)

  16. ala taha Avatar
    ala taha

    i beg to differ on that one…we dont need a parade…we need a media outlet to educate and to form a homogenis society… is the number one influence in the west, i used to see generations of english people being totally brought up with values and beliefs from tv shows and music…we are missing that in jordan….real investment should be made into jordanian tv and music…..and not in skyscrapers….

  17. Mustafa Avatar

    I thoroughly enjoyed this ‘blog’. I hope Amman will hold more of such self-asserting events (figuratively speaking.) As an ex-pat who is perpetually nostalgic about Amman, I always find myself going –when in Amman- to Rainbow Street, Sports City, Jabri’s downtown branch, Shabsough and a few other places of my childhood. I am often disappointed at how run-down some places have become, but I suppose life has to go on.

    I hope there is no grandiose scheme for Rainbow Street though. It is like a hidden treasure, and I hope it remains this way.
    Amman may have been unplanned and chaotic, but it was ‘organic’. When asked where I came from and about my childhood here in the US, I normally say: it was a ‘Norman Rockwell’ painting…. I seriously feel this way. Forget about urban-planning, what matters ultimately is people, and Amman had the nicest people.

    I pity my children. We live in a new, well-planned urban area that is picturesque and replete with parks and facilities, and yet, they spend a lot of time alone in the house. Parents in the neighborhood have no time. We do not know most of our neighbors. We fear for the children’s safety. We are afraid of perverts, mosquitoes, swine flu, the elements…. you name it. To arrange for a play date, it takes planning and a lot of effort. A chaperone has to be with the children all the time. It is a big ordeal.
    We played in the street on asphalt. Neighbors (my mother included) cursed us when the ball fell on plants. We ate corn on the cob, kaak, chick-peas from street vendors building our immune system in the process. Ignorance is a bliss sometimes.
    But what I miss the most is Amman’s weather. The crisp cool air in those summer nights is unmatched.

  18. Ahmed I.B. Naser Avatar
    Ahmed I.B. Naser

    Very inspirational. I am truly impressed. Now I can understand Tareq Abdallat’s enthusiasm about all of this. Truly amazing.

    What I disagree however is comparing it to other Arab capitals. Amman is young yes, but it is an apple among potatoes. And yes, an Apple, shiny crunchy and juicy. An Apple…

  19. 7aj 2a7mad Avatar
    7aj 2a7mad

    @Ahmad I.B. Naser: can you please explain what exactly do you mean by “shiny crunchy and juicy”? how is amman better than other capital? what is it better in? (in practical words please no need for poetry)

    it may have a diverse variety of qualities that other cities may not have, but all those qualities are sub standard in my opinion. Modernness: most GCC capitals are more modern. Social unity: Damascus, north west african capitals are in better unity, no segragation between different parts. Tourism: hmmm, no comparison really to Dubai, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Marakesh, etc… what else? Night life: Beirut, Cairo, Tunis, even Damascus are better.
    can’t really think of one thing that amman is better than other capitals.

  20. salah Avatar

    will 7aj 2a7mad
    don’t you think that Amman is cleaner than Damascus? or even Manamah in Bahrain?
    don’t you think that Damascus has more air polution than Amman?

    i like Amman more than Damascus and even more than a lot of GCC cities
    Amman is nothing compair to Dubai but atleast you can smell a fresh air so you can feel that you are a live