Amman: Week 3 // The “Highs” and “Lows” of Culture in Amman

With my goal of exploring Amman more and be uninhibited about exploring by myself in mind, I hit the ground running checking for Facebook events that sounded interesting. I was so presently surprised by the wealth of free lectures and budget friendly unique activities available in Amman. The most striking thing about my time on Facebook hunting for events was how close Amman is to Jerusalem and Ramallah. When I searched for nearby events, a solid 60% majority of events were in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I was also extremely surprised at the range of events available; from coding classes to talks in art galleries, Amman has it all.

On one hand, I seem to always forget that Amman is urban and the capital city. While on the other hand, I have to remind myself that culture is everything… Which is why this post is called The “Highs” and “Lows” of Culture in Amman. Get it? Tehehehehe I think I am super punny and clever.

Anyways, this new grand search for culture led me to five absolutely fascinating experiences:

  1. The Future of a Different Museum | Chris Dercon in conversation with Vassilis Oikonomopoulos // Darat Al-Funun دارة الفنو

To preface, the Darat Al-Funun is a darling art gallery/museum in Jebel Weibdeh that has stunning views of the city and takes a much more holistic approach to art. They not only focus on showcasing the art, but also help in the creative process.

Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern in London, discussed “The Future of a Different Museum” together with Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, Assistant Curator, Collections International Art, at Tate Modern. The talk began with a discussion of identity (political versus cultural) and what it means to be a museum. It was defined that a museum is “a place where you can revisit works”, which was the main contrasting factor between museums and “other places where art is shown”. He also stated that “museums are the only place you can watch people watching, are allowed to ask questions even Google can’t answer, and as Woodie Allen as shown, is the best place for dating… But museums can give you a little sense of reality and serendipity.” These statements could not have rung truer as someone who also works as at a museum. AKA friends who go to the University of Illinois, please check out and take advantage of the Spurlock Museum. We have an amazing collection and it’s FREE. Plus, if you head over to our Facebook page, you can check out the events section where we post cool events we are hosting that may or may not include food. Cheap and amazing date idea to spice up your love life courtesy of Love Guru Theresa.

Back to the talk, because of this, the art can be appreciated in various different contexts. How does this relate to culture and Jordan? This is where the talk gets interesting. Dercon then discussed how the world is changing constantly because geopolitically speaking, borders are constantly changing. But what is a border today? For example, how would we define a border between Jordan and Syria? We live in such a world of contradiction and arbitrary categorizations. According to Dercon, the “function of culture to give people a sense of place and identity”. But as pointed out, traditional big art museums only focus on works of the west and have this mentality of “Oh there is a hole in the painting, we will not touch it”. An example that I thought was beautiful was artist Ibrahim el-Salahi and the medium in which he creates art. All it really comes down to is the chemical composition, which is different for every medium.

As Dercon states, “At Tate, we need to show the courage to exhibit what we don’t know yet. We don’t want to follow the given cadences anymore and [these artists] deserve a place next to Picasso and Lichtenstein.” Artists like Wolfgang Tillman who was one of the first to photograph the Syrian Refugees in Europe and make the world think about, “What does it mean to walk day and night to a place where you are not welcome or “out of place”?” Tillman also photographed the refugee city in Berlin where over 14,000 are living in eight airplane hangars. Dercon raises an excellent point in terms of the international refugee crisis, “we cannot console or yield these tragedies with small pleasures like “poems”’.

There are so many other tangents the talk explored, but to sum things up, we must reinvent the function of art and museums. These museums must be more humble and the era of the big art museum is over. Museums can be anywhere, like Dayanita Singh has with her portable museum. Museums as a whole must not only undo all the noise, but also include the public whom should not be viewed as a hindrance.

The two personal things that I took from the talk are; learning is an art in itself and that works of art never stop asking questions.

Also in attendance of this talk was Prince Ra’ad bin Zeid. NBD. May have accidentally bumped into him before the talk without knowing. #AmICoolNow?

2. Troubling the Political: Women in the Jordanian Day-Waged Labor Movement // Sinjal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture

This lecture by Dr. Sara Ababneh discussed women’s role in civil activism in Jordan, specifically focusing on the key role played by women in the Jordanian Day-Waged Labor Movement (DWLM) (a critical component of the Jordanian Popular Movement (al-Hirak al-Shaʿbi al-Urduni) from 2011 to the end of 2012). Ababneh is an Assistant Professor at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan and her current work examines the popular Jordanian protest movement (al-hirak al-shabi al-urduni), the Jordanian Personal Status Law, and EU-Jordanian Relations. This talk was extremely empowering and insightful. Ababneh did an incredible job not only summarizing the movement, but then explaining women’s roles in a digestible manner.

Ababneh states that the DWLM was so successful because it is not a political movement. These women were only standing up for their right to economic self-determination. Day wage laborers were stuck in a deadly unjust cycle of employed poverty. How were they so successful in organizing? They followed two main guiding principles: 1. Respected and worked within economic constraints, 2. Respected and worked within social constraints. With these principles in mind, they did not hold regular meetings, but only met when there was a protest. That was the only requirement inorder to be an active member. They also used liaisons in every government and had a strong phone tree network to build a sense of community within the organization. The more informed the people were, the more people became involved and participated. The women also transformed the private sphere into political sphere. By doing so, it allowed them to stay active within the social constraints. That was the most inspiring concept for me. These women whom most assumed that they would be inactive in politics, worked the system they are in and found a way to be involved. I wish more people (including myself) took that initiative and had that drive.

The most thought provoking statement during that talk was:

“We look at protest movements and revolutionary movements and judge their success on whether they get their aims accomplished. We don’t consider whether the structures themselves are political and revolutionary.” – Dr. Sara Ababneh

For more information on the Sinjal Institute and their events, check out the link on the events page of our website at: http://sijal.org/event



  1. Madaba

I ended my school week with a field trip to the town of Madaba for a cultural dinner with some locals. We learned how to Dabke and had dinner at the Catholic Church in Madaba, belonging to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, more infamously known as the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. We also had Knafeh for dessert. I had a big realization this night also… I am not in shape enough to properly Dabke. I wish we were given the opportunity to explore the town of Madaba just because of its importance in Christianity and as a model place where Christians and Muslims live peacefully.

  1. Souk Al-Jooml3a or Abdali Market (aka Friday Market)

The Friday Market is by far the most intense flea market I have ever been to. It is exciting, overwhelming, and as my first time extremely frustrating. The market is much smaller in size than I anticipated, but is pack to the brim with clothing, shoes, houseware and people. The walkways are narrow and all the vendors loudly advertising (YELLING) prices of their items. I found some incredible beautiful leather boots in sizes too small and walked away with a burgundy scarf for my upcoming trip to Petra and Wadi Rum. This scarf purchase was disheartening to be honest. A young boy, 14 at most, walked up to me as I was looking at the scarves and told me each was 1 JD. When I was done digging and found a big scarf I felt comfortable buying, I walked over the boy with my new scarf and confirmed the price. I handed the boy a 10 JD bill and he immediate ran off with his friends. In that moment, I knew I had messed up and should have come with change. Change in Jordan is also a ridiculous thing. No one wants to give you any and hates big bills. Anyways, I was not about to leave so I stood there as confidently as I could until the boy came back. Ten minutes passed and I began to get worried. The other sellers began to stare and whisper to one another. The boy came back and seemed surprised that I was there. He handed me four JD and told me that I was done. I was overcome with emotion especially since this seems to be a trend for me. I immediately told him no and he ran off again. He said something in spoken Arabic and as I began to run after him, a neighboring shop owner told me the boy will be back with my change. After waiting another five(ish) minutes, the boy was back and proceeded to only give me two more JDs. I looked at him and again told him no. As he began to pocket the rest of my change, I raised my voice, again repeated the word “No” in Arabic, and used the word “Haram”. I was angry and it was not necessarily because of the money but I was just fed up with people assuming I do not know what is going on. The neighboring shop owner immediately stepped him and grabbed the money from the boy. As the man was counting back my change, it came up one JD short. I grabbed my change, gave the boy one last look, and thanked the man for stepping in.

Though I felt frustrated a bit discouraged, I am optimistic and think I will find some amazing things the next time I go!


  1. Organic Brunch and Market with Yanboot // Fann wa Chai فن وشاي

After the market on Friday, I headed to Fann wa Chai in Jebel Weibdeh for an organic delicious brunch with my friend Haley. The food was absolutely delicious and my body appreciated the raw natural ingredients. I don’t think I have missed eating a salad so much. Leafy greens are not as big here as they are in the US. The brunch also included a small market with a wide variety of produce to be purchased. It was pure perfection. The weather was fantastic so we sat outside and talked about potential spring break plans! I am super excited about attending more of these weekly brunches!

I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on some long overdue writing and work. Fann wa Chai is the perfect place to set up shop, drink tea and get some work done. My laptop hate their WiFi, but I think not having access to internet may have been for the better!

This week showed me the amazing high culture in Amman and the “low” social norms as I hit one of the most frustrating points since arriving.

I am so excited for this upcoming week and to continue sharing this experience with everyone! Just to preview, I will be taking a trip to … wait for it … PETRA AND WADI RUM!

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