Friday, November 02, 2007

Independence from Mecca

Since my last post I've changed jobs and in some ways it feels I've changed lives. Although I'm now heading a single program team that is twice the size of the entire office I used to work in, I'm out in the field a lot more and have a lot more direct contact with local communities. It's very cool.

A lot of our work is in East Amman, which is basically seen as "the other half" of Amman. I've lived in Jordan for more than four years now. I've driven through East Amman a lot, to get a better feel for the entirety of the city, but now I have real contact with this less developed part of the city.

One of the things I've recently found is the new Istiklal, or "Independence" Mall in Nuzha. Malls in Jordan are a relatively new phenomenon. There are only a couple of real malls there, and they are all in the richer West Amman. They cater more to Gulf Arabs who come to Jordan in the summer for relief from the unbelievably oppressive heat of the summer. These malls are full of designer stores with prices that almost no one in the country can possibly afford. They are also some of the few public spaces in Amman where you can go and walk around and sit and do some real people watching. Some people may make their lives there, but for a lot of people from East Amman it is a special occaision to take the family out. During holiday seasons the malls will often not even let in young single men, out of concern that they will harrass the legions of young upper class single women making their weekly shopping pilgrimage.

The Istiklal mall, in poorer East Amman, is different. It has stores where regular people might actually be able to buy things. It looks a lot more like an average American mall than any of the other high class malls of Amman. You don't feel like you should dress up in your best clothes and take a shower to go there. It's just a place to go and shop. It is suprisingly normal for fasion and image-conscious Amman. It still looks incredibly out of place in the run-down neighborhood of Nuzha, but it's a real step towards addressing a market that is hardly ever recognized in Jordan.

On some levels I hate the idea of malls. They totally destroy the small mom-and-pop stores that are often the bedrock of emerging middle classes. But it's a real pain to go to 15 different stores to try and find something decent to wear. A mall let's you scan a few isles, catch a big variety os styles, colors and prices, and do some seriously stratregic shopping. Most of my clothes come from downtown, Jabal Husssein, or the US when i manage to visit there. I definately can't afford to shop at Mecca Mall or Abdoun Mall. I'll still go there for Prime Mega Store, with excellent books and music, but for actual shopping, I think it's going to be Istiklal.


Blogger Bashar said...

nice post, your understanding of Jordan as a whole is pretty impressive!

"I'll still go there for Prime Mega Store, with excellent books and music, but for actual shopping, I think it's going to be Istiklal." do you think you will be able to find good books or good music there, you better think twice :)

8:31 AM  

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