The light of Amman, Jordan is strikingly similar to many parts of Australia, perhaps derived from the age of both areas – their vibrancy worn by thousands of years of activity.
The light is dry, bright, harsh and shallow – like the contrast has been turned up on the TV. It refracts off the ubiquitous sandy grey surfaces of every building, leaving few shady refuges. The glare is intensified by the doggedly cloudless sky, making you lose sense of distance and scale as the cinder-block buildings roll over the endless hills.
The sounds of Amman are just as abrasive as the light. Like white noise, it comes from everywhere and nowhere, rattling across the whole city. A cacophony of cars, trucks, building sites and vendors rises and falls with the sun and the moon.
Even the wildlife is rushed. Bedouin race undernourished horses on the asphalt, selling rides to children. Above, pigeons race in packs from rooftop to rooftop, searching for the dwindling number of keepers who preserve their once-noble role as messengers.
The din of the city peaks in the mid afternoon rush before slowly evaporating in anticipation of the maghrib or sunset prayer. Save for the odd car horn and the seemingly relentless traffic, the drone of the streets fades – as if the city is collectively exhaling in relief – in the lead up to the variable pitch of the Muezzin’s call .
The aural and visual assault on the senses retreats temporarily and the harsh light follows the sound, making way for rich blue skies that so many prophets have walked under. An atmospheric blanket of dust is left behind by the day’s hustle and reflects the fading light through brilliant oranges, reds and pinks into purples and blues. Dotted throughout the spectrum are the sapphire lights of the minarets.
Quickly trailing the changing colors and sounds comes the temperature, as the relentless, dusty heat abates and cool evening breezes wash over the city. By dark, the undulating hills take another role hosting the lives of Amman’s inhabitants, as the evening reprieve lures people out onto the hilly streets and empty blocks.
On any given weekend and every night in Ramadan kids play games, men walk – prayer beads in hand – to clear the mind and youths find their favorite hill on which to enjoy a smoke and the view the city, while westerners gather to share their stories of (mis)adventure that week.
This daily cycle of sound and light shapes the lives of Amman’s residents between March and September – the Middle East’s extended summer. Yet it something most visitors will sadly miss through haste between historic sites, or are advised to avoid – either due to the heat or Ramadan*.
If you are planning to visit the region, don’t let Ramadan scare you off, it is an unforgettable experience that can only add to how much you take away from the region.
The evening street life and communal vibrancy of the region are magnified even further. After breaking the fast at sunset, the locals glow with relief as they smoke, eat and drink and talk. They don’t want the night to finish and stay up late savoring every moment of darkness. In few other scenarios will you find so much training in patience and reflection.
Many unnecessarily panic or dismiss Ramadan as too difficult – as a non-Muslim you do not have to fast, just don’t eat in public. If you do choose to try fasting, relax, you will eat dinner eventually and no you will not expire from dehydration in less than a day. Thinking about things other than immediate desires is half the point. As the sun dims, find a nice restaurant with seats in the open, sit down with newfound friends and watch one of the world’s most enduring religious spectacles.
*Ramadan changes from year to year on a lunar calendar. It generally advances a month or so earlier each year but for the last 3-4 years it has been in the height of Summer. In a few years it will be in winter.
Photos courtesy of Carly Bowden and Elle Rose.