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a demonstration.

February 13, 2011

On Friday, I accidentally wandered into a demonstration. [Oops.]

Let me just make something clear: as most of you have probably heard, there have been demonstrations here in Amman for the past few Fridays, at least in part inspired by the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. But really, there’s no comparison between the two: it’s apples and oranges. You’ve all seen the photos and video of Tahrir Square, right? Well the demonstrations here are more like orderly marches through the main streets of the balad (old school downtown), with bored policemen standing on the sidelines and everyone else going about their afternoon as usual, buying roast chicken or whatever.

I know this because I saw it firsthand. (Even the roast chicken part.) We foreigners have all been warned to stay away from the demonstrations just for good measure, so the closest I planned to get was when my roommates and I tried to catch a glimpse from a good spot on our hill–which happens to overlook the balad directly–last week. We went too early (the demonstrations have been happening just after Friday prayers), so we didn’t see anything. So it was never my intention to walk through the demonstration. It just…happened. [This story will not surprise anyone who knows how absent-minded I am on a day-to-day basis.]

On Friday morning, I visited a great church in Jebel Amman, a small congregation made up mostly of immigrants. Not expats, like me, though there were some of those too, but Sudanese, Ethiopian, Filipino, etc. folks. After the service I decided to walk to the Western supermarket a few blocks away, since I had a list of groceries I couldn’t obtain in my local dukkans and the weather was so gorgeous for a change. Blue skies, warm sun, and empty streets because most stores are closed on Friday–I couldn’t resist. I left the supermarket and kept walking.

My plan was to grab a taxi at some point, but I soon realized that Friday traffic meant they were few and far between on a normally busy thoroughfare, and I missed the one or two that passed by because I wasn’t paying attention. (Typical.) Okay, no big deal. I would just keep walking, head down the hill to the balad, and catch a serveece on the other side. Granted, I’d been advised by an upstanding local family not to walk in the balad on a Friday if I could help it, because it is pretty much a men’s only space at that time, but I could see a few clusters of women out and about too.  So I felt safe.

Just as I began to cross the second main street and head towards my serveece route, I heard some strange noises coming from my right. It sounded like…chanting. Whaaa…? I turned my head and stared. There, advancing slowly towards me, was a mass of men, holding signs and, yes, chanting. In all my calculations about whether or not I’d be uncomfortable walking through the balad, I had completely forgotten about the possibility of a demonstration. At the exact time that I’d be crossing the street. At the exact place that I usually cross it.

I would’ve taken a picture, except I didn’t have my camera, and anyway I was more preoccupied with getting home so I could put down my grocery bags than playing photojournalist. So I only slowed down for a couple of seconds to take in the scene before heading across the street to hail my serveece, as originally planned.

As it turns out, the little demonstration I saw was a particularly modest one, focused more on solidarity with Egypt and anti-Mubarak sentiment than anything else. Another reason it didn’t feel like a big deal was that there were only a few hundred (rather than thousand) demonstrators out, and they were all surrounded by the overflowing Valentine’s Day paraphernalia for sale on the street. It’s hard to take a protester seriously when he’s standing in front of a pile of giant red teddy bears. And while everyone else is busy buying chicken.

As you can probably guess by now, I’m not exactly worried Jordan will be the next Middle Eastern country to be overtaken by revolutionary sentiment, no matter what the overblown Western media stories tell you. But one day I really am going to have to buy a chicken from that place in the balad. It smells delicious.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    February 13, 2011 9:14 pm

    Take your camera next time!

  2. Hei-Jung permalink
    February 14, 2011 11:48 pm

    I am glad you didn’t have a camera, people may have gotten upset at a foreigner taking pictures of them. You describe it so casually so I guess it was/is safe. But please do pay attention and think before you do things. This is mama talking… worried about her little one.

  3. Susie Han permalink
    February 15, 2011 9:30 pm

    yea skim. listen to your mother 😛
    p.s. can you tell by my comments all over your two blogs that i was totally catching up on my blog reading? lol. miss you. and you didnt respond to my fb post about trying skype again!

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