Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Point of Sidewalks

In a nutshell: They don’t get it here. (The point of sidewalks, that is.) 
If a sidewalk happens to exist—and that is rare—it will be so un-walkable that its true purpose is truly a mystery.  Here’s a sampling of what I’m talking about:
-          Overgrown trees planted in the middle
-          Steep, unannounced, cliff-like drop offs
-          Recessed sewage drains cut into the middle with no cover (the drains are covered, but not the recess)
-          Random narrowing to impassable widths
-          And my favorite: a homeowner who decides to delineate his own walkway by building a brick/block mini-wall right in the middle of an otherwise good stretch of sidewalk! 

I have pondered quite a bit how Jordanians might view sidewalks, to no real avail…my only ideas to date are that sidewalks somehow serve as barriers between the houses and road, and secondarily as a planter for their decorative trees.  They are definitely not built for walking. 

So, the kids and I attempted what I knew would be a challenging walk yesterday:  We went to the store to get essentials, like milk and diapers.  The store, I am guessing, is about a 2-mile trek one-way (thus 4 miles round trip); and, no joke, it is uphill both ways—and a STEEP uphill at that!  (I emphasize, I am not exaggerating.)  The walk is a challenge on its own, then add to it 46 pounds of kids, 10 pounds of stroller, 30 pounds of groceries, an out-of-shape mother, and what feels like infinite gravity resistance…Going downhill adds difficulties of its own!   
This is how we roll.
In addition, sidewalks are spotty, and where they exist they are impassible with a stroller (as discussed above), pushing us into the busy street.  A typical 2-lane road here is about equivalent to 1 ½ lanes in the States, but then you must factor in the not-uncommon happenstance of cars parking in the drivable street.  The ultimate challenge, however, must have been this feat: crossing a 4-lane (a.k.a. 6-8 lane, depending on the flow of traffic) divided highway of endless traffic driving Amman-style, with a one-child stroller laden with 2 children, and (as mentioned above) on our return, bags and bags of groceries & supplies filling the stroller’s lower cavity.  I stood for a long time at the edge of this raging river of traffic, trying to form a plan, trying to muster the nerve…Turning around was not an option after what we’d been through to get there.  And I realized: In Jordan, walking is a bit like driving—if you want to get anywhere, you just have to start going and hope that the cars adapt around you.  It’s just that, when driving, there is a large bit of metal to protect you in case that they don’t—it’s a little more daunting with only the air as a shield.  But that’s what we did: we just started walking, slowly, using the turning cars as a pathway; we hopped the divider (with stroller) as gracefully as possible, crossed the other side in a likewise manner, and…SURVIVED.  Have I mentioned that this country is not stroller-friendly?  At some point during this excursion, two of the other ACOR fellows drove by in a car, honked & stopped long enough to say, “Enjoy your walk!”  I chuckled to myself—this is not the sort of walk one enjoys; it is the sort of walk one endures.  Kids crying.  Cars zooming.  Mommy puffing.  We may not be making that trip by foot again anytime soon. 


  1. Wow. Not for the faint on heart! Dang. And yet, inspirational...I should try a crazy, walk downtown with my kids just for gutsiness practice.