Tuesday, October 04, 2005

We left too soon!

The LA Times had an interesting article on Amman becoming a boomtown of late. Things were hopping in general for quite some time before we left, but the city's also now attracting money that might have been invested in Lebanon and now isn't due to the craziness there. Ashraf Khalil writes,

It's the Middle East's newest boomtown. Property values are up as much as 200%
in the last two years, traffic jams are worsening, and hotels are packed with the
strangest of war-zone bedfellows: Iraqi politicians and businessmen, international
aid workers, foreign contractors and mercenaries . . .

. . . Five years ago, the very mention of Amman in comparison to other Arab cities
would prompt snickers and eye rolling. It was a backwater next to the throbbing
vitality of Cairo and glitz of a resurgent Beirut. Even Baghdad under Hussein had
a livelier reputation. According to guide books, the esteemed travel writer Paul
Theroux once dismissed it as "repulsively spick-and-span."

But that very blandness has become the city's principal virtue. Amman has been
safe, and in the modern Middle East, safety sells.

Yes, we hope it will remain safe for a good, long while, too. There's been a very palpable sense among most people that I know that Amman must be next on the list--that things have been quiet and without incident for an amazing amount of time. The events in Aqaba a few months ago perhaps have changed that sentiment a bit, but I suspect that people are still feeling cautious and amazed that Amman up until now has avoided any major catastrophe.

But anyway, back to the article. I had known that a certain amount of prostitution has been on the rise, and have heard a bunch of stories from a Filipina friend of mine about how people she's known are being completely supported by American soldiers coming to town, etc. But reading about the sheer yikky-ness of what's going on--and it seems to be happening on a huge scale for a place as small as Amman--truly grossed me out.

Thousands of muscle-bound, hard-living security contractors have turned the
capital into their final party spot before heading into Iraq, and their
detox-from-mayhem point on the way out. . .

. . . In a dark, top-floor bar hidden away from the families dining in the otherwise
sedate Shanghai Chinese restaurant, a platoon of European women patrols the
room, indulging the whims of patrons. The girls are forbidden to sit, so they
stand making small talk over the blaring Arabic and Western pop music. They
get a cut of the drinks they serve nonstop, accept tips appreciatively, and the
rest seems subject to negotiation.

The American military-guy-out-on-the-town phenomenon is a disgusting fact of life when living in Jordan, and probably many other places around the world. I can't even count the number of times we've been out and had to switch locale because of loud, obnoxious and drunk military dudes. I imagine the ubiquitous hired guns are first-rate, too.

Amman changing so much, and so fast? It kind of bums me out that it's not morphing into a more cosmopolitan place (which it certainly isn't if infected by tons of Americans, heh heh). Perhaps the restaurants will get better and cooler movies will come 'round. If that's the best we can do for now, I'll be grateful.


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