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..