Amman Destination

If you ask a local to show you the ‘real’ Amman, you will undoubtedly be pointed to Jebel Al Webdeh, or L’webdeh as it is better known. Part of its charm lies in its proximity, forming a bottleneck between the gritty working class downtown of the capital, and the more prosperous, urbane west. There’s a multitude of small family-run enterprises in the area, benefiting from low-rents and community-inspired town planning, which has given the white stone villas a multipurpose function. Some serve as homes or bakeries, others as restaurants and cafes that still offer healthy servings of thick, sweet Turkish coffee as they did a generation ago. 

This affordability of space has also attracted dozens of creative start-up companies. It’s provided artists with their creative dens, and brave raconteurs with off-beat cafes and restaurants, which can be seen in rows along pine-tree encrusted avenues. The identity of the district has been grounded by the ethos of starting-small and thinking big, which is why people here are happy to be overshadowed by the more cosmopolitan Jebel Amman district for now, which can be seen on the adjacent hill, lights flashing long after most of the residents of L’webdeh are tucked up in bed.[AS1] 

A starting point for Jebel Al Webeh is the Paris Circle that feeds onto a web of streets best travelled on foot. The hilly topography of L’webdeh creates pocket-like sanctuaries of calm and detachment, the perfect homes for the neighbourhood’s many art galleries. Makan, Darat al Fanun, and the Jordan National Gallery for Fine Arts already attract some of Jordan’s best and brightest artists, and this has given the art houses regional prominence. However, it is the quaintness of L’webdeh that is its selling point, and in suburban-like streets you will find pristine gardens of tranquillity. Best known is the ‘Lover’s Bench’, which has been the meeting place for many adolescent first dates, and a point of return for some of L’webdeh’s older residents who still gather at the scene, reminiscing of their younger, free-spirited days.

Beit Sitti

Maria Haddad

Driving through Jebel Al Webdeh one day, Maria Haddad’s mother pointed out the home where her grandmother was raised, and seeing the neighbouring house for sale, she and her sisters, Dina and Tania, decided to use it as a restaurant-cum-cookery school to showcase the intricacies of authentic Jordanian cuisine. ‘I realised that people who visit Jordan don’t have access to real home cooked local food. So we thought what better place to show off our culture, traditions and food than in this neighbourhood,’ she says.

Now on long weekend afternoons, groups and individuals come together to prepare local signature dishes under the careful eye of expert cooks. Weather permitting; they will enjoy the meals they created, together, under the stars in the villa’s courtyard. 

‘Although everyone in Amman says their grandmother is the best cook, for me, mine really was. When I would visit her home I would be greeted by these lovely smells of amazing food; it was so cosy and homely, and this passion for cooking grew from there.’ 

Beit Sitti’s purpose is not just to give visitors a glimpse into Jordan’s rich culinary traditions, but also to bring to light the long history of the area. Haddad takes her guests to the market to buy vegetables through the district’s calm leafy streets, and then down the hill to a cauldron of noise and commotion in the souq.

‘L’webdeh is where a lot of older people I know grew up and all their stories revolve around this place. It has a unique history, and it is where the art galleries started and the real Amman we’re told about in stories of our parents in the sixties. We like to show visitors this.’ 

Bath Bayakha

Johnny Dabeeb and Wissam Tobeileh

In Amman, a city full of paradoxes, the potential for satire is enormous and that is where Johnny Dabeeb and Wissam Tobeileh come into their own. From the goat dung on millionaires’ row, to sports cars parked outside hole-in-the-wall restaurants, a complex network of societal relations in Jordan gives comedy an almost universal reference point. ‘Comedy is a very important tool for communicating who we are in this day and age. I think in some ways it gives us a sense of identity. I feel it’s a voice we can use to speak about all the issues are out there that need to be addressed, and why not through comedy?’ asks Dabeeb. The pair founded Fluid Production, a production house best known for Bath Bayakha, a collection of satirical, often absurd, well drawn-out sketches that burrow deep into the Jordanian psyche. Together they have created many memorable characters, from rough Arabic-street-talking American tourists, to the spurious conversation of two ‘Ammani’ fashionistas, clips that capture the essence of everyday life in the capital.   

Starting life as a YouTube channel the group has just been signed up by the Orbit Showtime Network and the group believe they are the first and only Jordanian show to be acquired by a cable pay-per-view network. ‘Our plan is to keep producing content, and hopefully content that matters, which can inspire people. I think Jordanians have a lot of potential, we are always used to doing a lot with very little, so imagine if we have the kind of resources available elsewhere – we could prove to be leaders in  the Arab world.’ 

JO Bedu

Walking along a row of typical Levantine shop fronts in Jebel Al Weibdeh, an unsuspected flash of yellow pastels, watermelon sketches, and a now synonymous camel silhouette road sign, jumps out. This is the home of JO Bedu, one of Jordan’s most exciting clothing brands, owned by Michael Makdah and Tamer AlMasri. T-shirts with slogans such as “Got Jameed?” have become hugely amongst young Jordanian and visitors; an in-joke about Jordanians’ weakness for a locally-renowned dried yoghurt dish.  

But JO Bedu transcends mere parochial expressionism, the aim is for the brand to be instantly recognisable across the Middle East, and it’s not just the camel silhouette logo that gives it a regional significance. Makdah says, ‘People in the region share the same pop culture, we grow up watching the same cartoons, we all have lot of similarities in our language and daily lives, so we didn’t want to just market the brand to a Jordanian market. When we started JO Bedu we thought, let it be a Pan-Arab brand, let’s look where culture connects people rather than doing something ultra-patriotic that divides us even more.’ 

The pair stress that JO Bedu is not just a fashion label but a lifestyle brand that will work its way into other creative fields in the coming years. ‘When we started JO Bedu, we wanted a company to encompass creativity, art and marketing, and we came up with a lot of ideas, such as a TV channel or radio station. This is all part of the overall vision of JO Bedu, and these are things we want to do in the future, but we’re taking it just one step at a time.’ Fans not only assist with creating new slogans and designs, but also take a more proactive role, and Facebook and twitter have been key tools for this communion. It has taken the “tribe” to the southern coastal city of Aqaba, branding camel warning signs along the way with the JO Bedu motif, and this approachability has made the store in L’webdeh both a place of commerce and interaction, for ideas, inspiration and general chitchat. ‘To start the JO Bedu brand, designing t-shirts make a lot of sense to us; it seemed like the best launching point for this idea. We can put designs together, test art formulas for the JO Bedu model, and make t-shirts with a real medium of expression. All forms of interaction are there – photography, models, design.’  

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