Street of culture…what culture?

I came across this letter to the editor from Karen Asfour today while browsing through the JT website. I thought I’d share.

Street of Culture
Where is the traffic police? Where are the people within the municipality who decided that the best place to have the "Cultural Street", resulting in single lane traffic, is Shmeisani? Have any of them seen the horrific traffic jams that have become a daily occurrence?

You’d have to see it to believe it: cars backed up and honking, angry and frustrated drivers on every street in the Shemisani network. God help anyone who might have an emergency (or appointment); the possibility of surviving the up to 30-min wait to get out of there is absolutely nil.

I have found my own solution to deal with the problem and I would advise the "powers to be" to advocate the same for other frustrated drivers in the area. The answer is knitting! I take mine along with me and sometimes I am able to knit a whole scarf while waiting for the jam to unsnarl. If drivers are supplied with yarn and knitting needles they will knit instead of honk and those responsible for the mess can forget about correcting the problem. Simple isn’t it?

Source: [Jordan Times]

Indeed. This extension that I usually call "Share3 elSakhafeh," or the street of idiocy, instead of "Share3 el Thaqafeh," or street of culture, is simply a waste of space. It really is a challenge to find any cultural item on this stretch of cement and pavement loosely dubbed a cultural venue. Here’s a few more pictures taken by the husband a year or two ago of the street in question.

Street of Culture fountain Street of Culture Umbrellas Street of Culture Gallery

Who in his right mind would think that Shmeisani is a suitable place for such a street? Are not those working at Greater Amman Municipality aware that there are better, more authentic neighborhoods in the capital more suited for such a deisgnation than the overcrowded, extremely noisy Shmeisani? Why couldn’t they do this in a nice area such as Jabal Amman or Jabal al Weibdeh par exampla? Ah, I could go on forever about this, but who listens?!?!

On a lighter note, I thought the author’s of knitting idea is brilliant. I usually substitute that with reading the daily paper.

20 thoughts on “Street of culture…what culture?”

  1. We are the biggest sufferers in this issue :/ My gradmother’s house(which we used to spend every summer at) is in Shmesani, practically on the main street that is now Share3 il Thaqafeh, and ours is a few streets behind. It’s horrible, horrible, horrible. I spent many happy hours in my childhood walking to Frosti’s, going to Istiklal, and sitting in Chili House and El-Farouki. I remember a time when Shmesani was so nice to take a walk in, and now I hate driving through it so I take long turns around Rabyeh and Gardens to get to home.
    I hate them for doing this!

  2. Ok i agree that the location of the so called Culture st. is wrong plus there isnt much ‘culture’ going on on it.
    However i quite like the idea of having these ‘promenade’ type things for a change, i mean the fact that it is always crowded shows how much 3ammanies are just dying for some space to step out of their cars and strech their legs a little bit, to be able to walk around and interact with each other, and there are very few places people can do that in Amman.
    On the other hand, i blame the ammaneh for this because they don’t actually have any sort of planning sense, they make streets that are too narrow, and then a few years later, they either try to do some sort of project on them turning them into permenant traffic jams, or they try to squeeze some tunnels into the street thereby turning them into dangerous highways in the middle of town.
    If only they would bother to fix Sweifieh a little bit, you know something like proper wide pavements for example, or a couple of parking lots???? it isnt that hard really, just needs some creativity.

  3. Roba,
    I know exactly how you feel about Shmeisani. I lived there for many years with my parents. I remember how nice and quiet this street was. Like you I used to walk to Frosti and the Istkilal library . I also used to walk to Tom and Jerry fast food restaurant (I think this was way before your time:)) and Abd Al Hamid Shoman public library (yeah I’m such a nerd). I spent a wonderful time with my friends and cousins wandering around those streets of Shmeisani! Nothing is the same anymore. That street is just unapproachable. Uff,, why can’t things just stay the same way they are! Sometimes you just do not need change!

  4. Onzlo,
    I agree with you completely. Ammanites are dying for an open-air space where they can for a change interact with the rest of the Jordanian society that is currently segregated into social classes that rarely mingle and usually clash if they ever do. Ah, I wish the amaneh can think of a project like the solidaire in Lebanon. Man, that what be something!

  5. Speaking of “social classes” and segregation, Amaneh has nothing much that it can do to help . This is a disease in the Jordan society which I do not know what to attribute it to. Status and pride are obsessions that people in Jordan have a problem with. Coming from a certain family, or tribe, or even holding a degree will make the person think he is one of a kind. While self- esteem is a good, and to be pursued trait, I can’t believe that such a status will make the Jordanian talk and act from his ” nose” down to others. My experience with scientists, inventors, and the “prettiest” here in the US shows me how down to earth great people are and can be. After all, Jordan is as small as such big differances should not exist.

  6. God bless their souls in the Amaneh! Their interpretation of the King Abdullah “Gardens” was concrete buildings, and theirs of a “cultural” St. is more cement as I can see. I have never been there, this is all after my time. I heard of it and at first thought: Hmmm, small cafes and struggling artists and musicians,…how French! Maybe the solution lies in building memorial walls instead. They may have more green than so-called gardens.
    PS Tom & Jerry…I remember a time when it was virtually the only western-like fast food burger place in Jordan. Funny, I rememeber being there for b-days as a kid 🙂

  7. Hi,
    I have a different view on this. Granted, there is no culture on that street. Hence the name of the street is ‘baseless’. That’s not a design mistake but a mangement mistake. There are an underutilized gallery, kiosks and small performance spaces there. If those would be properly utilized they would bring culture into the street.
    The street itself is an intersting experiment:
    1. It gave more space for pedestrians. (good).
    2. It gave less space for cars. (good in a city that is so car oriented).
    3. It set a good design example with good street furniture and landscaping.
    As for the people having memories of Frosty, Tom and Jerry and Shoman library, well, I have the same memories from the late 80’s. There is nothing stopping from taking almost the same walks today (and Frosty is stll there). You could also take your lunch out from Chilli House/Chilli Ways and go and eat it in the open air of ‘Culture’ street.
    Had the municipality built a highway in the middle of Shmeisani then I too would complain. I see that the people who are complaining are mainly talking about the traffic jams. They loved *walking* in Shmeisani in the good old days, and now complain that the can’t *drive* through the area.
    This is actually good. Yes, please avoid driving through it whenever you can. Do you have an appointement somewhere inside Shmeisani? Park on the outskirsts and walk for a change. The best thing that would happen is for the whole area to be pedestrianized actually.
    Jordanians mostly consider it a birth right to park no more than 50 cm away from the venue or shop they are visiting. We take drives to the grocery shop around the corner for god’s sake! We keep buying more and more private cars, then we bitterly complain about traffic jams and the fact that we have tunnels and bridges everywhere.
    Wait until you see the tunnel-bride project at the 4th circle connecting Abdoun Roundabout to the Prime Ministry area!
    Anyway. I think that the Municipality deserves praise for the Shmeisani street. That does not absolve them from the total failure of bringing culture into the street.
    P.S: Natasha: your great blog is unviewable on Apple’s Safari, which means many Mac users can see it 🙂

  8. Hehe, Natasha, of course I remember Tom and Jerry 🙂 We used to bug my mother and aunt to death until they’d take us 🙂 Tom and Jerry on the TV for hours on end and burgers during a time when there was no Burger King… a child’s dream 🙂 and I actually wasn’t that young when it closed….
    Can you believe I’ve never been into Shouman although I must have spent a total of two weeks of my life in Frosti’s and about 2 month of my life in Al-Farouki Internet Corner?
    I guess I’m not very hopeful that they’d have English books. Do they?

  9. Ahmad, you’re seeing things from a guys point of view. You see, I’m one of those people who really enjoys walking more than driving, and I used to walk around Shmesani for at least an hour every single day during the summer. I can’t do that anymore though, because all the people who resort to Share3 Il-Thaqafeh are the poorer people from Amman East- they stare, they say the rudest things, and they follow you around. Not fun, it’s very scary actually, and all my neighbors feel the same way.
    Shmesani isn’t for Shmesani residents anymore, and Shemesani is supposed to be a housing district.
    Although the Amaneh’s efforts to provide European-style cultured streets in Amman is appreciated, they should have given this particular project deeper thought and better analysis.

  10. So, it is the ” poorer people in Eastern Amman” that cause all the problems. I see this as a disgusting remark from which I smell the tune of contempt and look down at people. Like Shemesani is Paris , London or Seattle.

  11. Casting my mind back to when I was teaching the GAM boys English, we had many a discussion about this street. I, like Ahmad, always kind of liked the design and the sort of European concept behind it. The street was motivated by Amman’s place as the Arab Capital of Culture for 2002. GAM was working overtime to try and make sure the city fit that mold. Sometimes it didn’t work. In 2002, that area had quite a number of gallery showings and even outdoor concerts. I think the Superstar show was broadcast on a big screen that year when Curazon won it for Jordan.
    It was nice but it was obvious pretty quickly that it was getting mighty crowded. The vehicle traffic did not decrease. I think the message in reducing the number of lanes was to cut down on traffic but driver’s preferred instead to troll the concrete island for reasons best described by Ahmad. That inevtiably led to some of the cat-calling and staring complaints that have eventually taken over the area.
    I think one of the bigger problems with the whole issue was that the residents of the area really weren’t consulted. I’m betting that doesn’t happen very often with GAM projects generally. But this one was so “neighborhood oriented” that it’s ramifications were felt really quickly. You guys can tell me if I’m wrong, but Shmeisani is one of the sort of ‘classic’ neighborhoods of Amman. It has just grown and grown out of control. That sort of ‘growth’ passed right on up into the Street of Culture.
    Now the street is near empty of culture (when is the last time the gallery was used?) and it has brought in an element best described by Roba as somewhat undesirable. I can tell you that GAM had no ill will in mind when they put this project together. They thought it was a masterstroke, something unique and beautiful. But since such projects are somewhat novel in the capital they had no way of anticipating its draw. Well, maybe they did but they didn’t really utilize that knowledge if it existed. And they apparently don’t have any real way to control or book the area because it seems to have lost its cultural component.
    It’s too bad. I think the concept was really nice but GAM didn’t have a long range vision of things and they didn’t consult those who would bear the brunt of this development. I know they didn’t think the latter would be an issue, but that proves the old adage: Assume makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

  12. No, Jareer. It has nothing to do with looking down at people, I speak more from a point of view regarding loss of privacy in an old housing district in Amman.
    I agree with you, it was a sad day when Jordanian society started facing problems of social segregation depending on status and pride, and we have a huge problem as entertainment options are limited to those who can afford them.
    So like I said, the efforts of the Amaneh when it comes to trying to provide a space for the people is deeply appreciated, but they misanalyzed everything. When Share3 Il Thaqafeh first opened, they kept the people who visited Share3 il Thaqafeh busy with exhibitions, shows, and various other means of free entertainment. Then they started getting complaints from all the people who live around Share3 il Thaqafeh about the music being loud and old people and students trying to sleep- so that put an end to the free entertainment. Now many people resort to Share3 Il Thaqafeh looking for entertainment and find none, so they resort to vandalism and lack of respect for privacy, something very annoying if you happen to live there.

  13. i dont get what you guys are talking about. its too confusing.
    hehe
    but speaking of knitting, i try to getmy teta to teach me recently but she siad i kept messing up the scarff she was making. so i dont know how to knit

  14. I have to side with Roba here. Ahmed, your idea of taking Chili House food and eating it on the street of culture will simply not work for women. They simply won’t be left alone. They will be harassed with comments like “Yil3an 3oumri ana” or “amout ana bi el burgar!” and others that I can’t post here.
    And Jareer this is not a matter of poor and rich it is a matter of good upbringing and learning how to treat women as human beings and not as sexual objects, a mentality that is very deep-rooted mostly among east Ammanites. You can’t see this cause you are a guy and you have never been harassed in Jordan, obviously. If there were open spaces for all and East Amman got to mix alongside with West Amman then we might see change in this segregated society.
    If this happens then East Amman guys will get used to the site of seeing unveiled women or even an unescorted woman for that matter. If the East mingles with the West then probably, the sight of a bunch of women enjoying a chili house meal in public won’t draw much attention anymore.

  15. With all due respect Natasha, I do not buy this kind of analysis which I see shallow, unfair, and lack the root cause analysis of the harrassment issue. Not that I do not agree with some of what you have mentioned, but because you are drawing a geographical line to define who is good and who is bad. A man is a man no matter where you put him. Also, few kilometers between Eastern and Western Amman do not define a different culture. What if the person who harrasses you is a boss from 3abdoon, how much does he differ from a harrasser from Wihdat? Why do you consider people from West Amman are brought up better than other areas? Where do all people come from anyway? So, people in Eastern areas treat women as objects, but the 3abdonian treat them as human beings ! This does not make any sense to me. Look back to the comment made, and you will see the term ” poor” was used. I did not make it up. Speaking of poverty, its almost always the wealth that corrupts. Are the richer people nicer? They are more mean, lusty, greedy, self centered, less social etc. Poorer people are less spoiled-if ever, while a lot of ” may3een” come from western areas. Sorry, I have to leave it here, hope to continue later.

  16. Well Jareer, I agree with you that we shouldn’t generalize. There is always the good and the bad in each society. But it is a known fact that west ammanites – due to social and economic reasons- are more exposed to the outside world than east ammanites, thus will act less crazy when they see unacompanied women.
    That’s a fact we can’t ignore. I will never go to east Amman on my own, because it will be a very uncomfortable experience, been there done that. Once I was driving and got lost and found my self somewhere in Wihdadt. It was not fun as some guys gathered around my car and started banging on the windows and the doors while making sleazy comments and gestures. I freaked out.I had to dodge the crowd and was able to leave this place in one piece. I know it is difficult for you to understand cause you are guy. Life for women is much more complicated.That’ why I’m siding with Roba:) We relate:)

  17. So, you did what you were suggesting the Amaneh should do, “mingled” with Wihdatians !
    So, why didnt you say it from the begining; Wihdat. Wihdat does not represent eastern Amman. I was once threatened by an employee at work who brought a steel pipe with him to my office to beat me. I called the police right away. When we both went to the police office and they started investigation; as soon as he mentioned he lived in Wihdat, the ploice slapped him on his cheeck !
    On the other hand, and in the same company; my boss (owner of company) used to harrass ladies and secretaries who used to work there; they would come and tell me why he did that; what does he mean by this and that. You know what I did? During the training process for new employees, I would warn those ladies (implicitly) with some comments like; do not get deceived if a person is an old one, or rich from a respected family; always always always , be carefull. This boss was about 60 years old, his company in Shemesani, and lives on the airport road.. no more clues ! This is my last comment on this subject, but I thought I should voice my opinion since I loved the neighbourhood I once was raised in, and where most of my friends and memories are attracted to, even from ten thousands miles away.

  18. And I must admit, Jareer, that I have met the most misogynist of men in Western Amman. Many of my classmates in school also belong to the “elite” society in Jordan, and they do not treat women any better simply because they come from “Western Amman” or because they study in the West. To understand problems like mistreatment of women or “honor killings,” which many of the women here even deny they exist, one must understand that the social system in Jordan is an honor-based system that has functions in society and play a precise role in it…more on this in a different note.
    Back to the topic of Eastern and Western Amman: Natasha has mentioned that the East has to mingle with the West for change to take place. But what really constitutes the West, and how much of the percentage of the Jordanians do the “Western Ammanites” constitute? Who do really resemble the Jordanians: is it the 2% of Westernized Arabs (who unfortunately know very little about their own culture), or is it the majority of the Jordanians who dwell in other cities and villages spread out all over the country?
    Western Ammanites are but a minority that can have little or no influence on the rest of society. Besides, people of the West are the ones who do not want the change. They are satisfied with the social order and, in fact, any change in it threatens their place in society and their prestige. Clearly, Natasha claims that women in Western Amman are more modernized than those in the East, simply because they do not wear the head cover and because they drive luxurious cars. Unfortunately, the majority of Western women who seek Westernization tend to be adopting the negative aspects of it (i.e. preoccupation with fashion and obsession with physical appearance and luxury), which further objectify women and keep them in their place. I notice that the obsession of the women in Western Amman with fashion and luxury controls their minds and time and money. It keeps them, “in their place,” and they no longer seek change in other aspects of life. As women in Western Amman become satisfied with the way they dress and the cars they drive, they blindly accept the life –cycle of the Arab world (authority of men, child-rearing, etc). This obsession with luxury and fashion also creates competition among women, which leads to more divisions and less solidarity among them.. Lack of solidarity among women gives men more confidence to practice their control and reduces any chances of creating social institutions (i.e. women organizations) that would empower women and encourage them to improve their status in society. Being class conscious like Ruba and Natasha (who do not want to be lost in the streets of Wihdat or have Wihdatis destroy their thaqafa street) are obviously not as concerned about improving the status of Jordanian women as they are concerned with/ paranoid about losing their status. Hearing some women speak here proves to us that women also perpetuate the oppression of other women. In fact, many of the upper class women study outside the country (and boast about it, of course) and are not aware of what is going in rural areas and among lower classes. Besides, what makes a Westerner a “Westerner?” Isn’t Westernization marked by sensitivity toward others and strife for equality, liberty, and freedom? Obviously, not wanting people from Eastern Amman to be in touch with you has no call for equality and seeks no freedom pf mobility, whether it be social or geographical, to those in Eastern Amman.
    Maybe it is true that there is not a division of social space in Western Amman as there is in East Amman, and here I’m speaking about having domains distinct for men and those for women, but it will take much more than drinking coffee in a café in Western Amman to challenge an honor-based system. It requires more comprehensive historical change, which will take hundreds of pages to discuss, and not a simple “mental mayhem” discussion board. Many women from Eastern Amman, even those who are “head covered,” are very concerned with their independence and struggle daily to carve their own destiny. They did not have it easy as some women in Western Amman did, but they because they have suffered; because they belong to “traditional” Arab families and thus those who resemble the majority of Jordanians, they are the ones who struggle to make change and they will be the ones who make change, while, unfortunately, Western “wanna- be -women” will remain in their place. They will be neither Arabs nor Westerners; what a loss to society such women are!

  19. Well Rivada, I think you are being harsh on the women who actually get harassed on a daily basis by labeling them as “Western wanna be women”. And I think you are actually generalizing by portraying women who live in the western side of the capital as only being concerned with fashion and luxurious cars (by the way the car that I drive in Jordan is a 1997 Kia Pride which is anything but luxurious). Harassment is very deep rooted in the Jordanian society and it is a shame that we always keep dancing around it and never try to solve it. It is a known fact that some parts of Amman are more hostile to women than others, due to many factors. Nobody can deny this fact.
    I don’t think you are being fair, Rivada, with your accusations about me and Roba not being bothered about the status of women while being concerned about our “class,” as you label it. You are throwing accusations without really knowing the social, or educational background of either of us, nor what we have done or not done for the empowerment of women in Jordan. I think you are being very judgmental here, jumping to conclusions based on a post that was designed to discuss the daily harassments Jordanian women receive on a daily basis.

  20. Rivda, very interesting comments some of which are really spot on. But I didn’t think the comments here were directed towards the women of East Amman, if we unfortunately have to break it down that way. From what I read here, the concern was with the broader idea of women and men intermingling. I think you are also dead on right that regarding women as equals or knowing how to interact with them is not something that can easily be divided along economic lines Jareer. And I’m certain some of the most sexist, misogynist men can be found in West Amman. I also have no doubt (and some experience that suggests) at least a good sampling of those in the East are the salt of the earth, far more friendly than some of the culturally self-involved in the West.
    But I think you misrepresent Natasha and Roba, Rivda, if you think they fit that mold. Just as you should not generalize about the minds of those in the East, you should not do the same for those in the West. I can tell you the wife is miles from your suggestion and from my interaction with Roba and my general knowledge of her interests I’d say she’s just not that interested in the car she drives or how she dresses in a “cultural way” (perhaps in an artistic way, but I’d leave that for Roba to address). I digress.
    The idea is that those unexposed to something are more likely not to know how best to deal with it when they are exposed or perhaps better said, the propensity is not to know how to deal with it.
    Well, I’ll open this up just a notch: I’d say that if I were “forced” to interact with bikini clad women on a regular basis, say in a work environment, it might take me a little while to “adjust.” There I am in my long pants and long shirt and next to me is something that I’ve not been that exposed to (at least in a regular, day-to-day working situation). It would take me *ahem* back for a bit before I adjusted. This example, largely given for comedic purposes to lighten things up is not meant to examine whether or not I’m a misogynist pig filled with the most vile ideas about women. I could well be (though I’m really not).
    But that’s not what is at issue here. At issue is how I’m adjusting to something not as common in my experience. In a few weeks, although my mind may still be exactly the same, my adjustment in terms of generally interaction will be more complete and I’ll be less preoccupied with what my co-workers are wearing … well maybe it’ll take more than a few weeks 😉
    Anyway, it’s a simple psychological process. In the US, the way it is often presented is in terms of violence. If you see a great deal of violence on a regular bases you get “de-sensitized” to it. And of course, that is bad thing. Here, I think Roba and Natasha are talking about the sensitivity of the men making comments and such and they are addressing a need for exposure to desensitize them. I didn’t see anything in their comments to suggest that the men of East or West were “better” in a general sense only that due to exposure to things more “Western” the Western guys were less reactive to seeing women eating Chili House in the street 😉

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