Words: Tamer Masri, Jobedu Co-Founder | Photos: Jobedu
I was at work when Meesh called to tell me about a gem of a store he found tucked in a nook in Jabal Lweibdeh, nearly seven years ago.
Driving home after lunch at his grandma’s house in the neighborhood – where he was born and raised till the age of four – Meesh saw a “for rent” sign on a beat up storefront on Baouniyyeh Street. I joined him there right after work.
He’d given me a heads up before I arrived that it was a dump. He wasn’t kidding. Abandoned for years, the store was falling apart all over. Molded wooden panels wallpapered the walls from floor to ceiling. The bathroom’s last guest left a lasting aroma that crowded out all breathable air. But this was it. Meesh saw something beyond all that. He saw what Lweibdeh is today and wanted Jobedu’s first store to be at the heart of it all, at 10 Baouniyyeh street.
Over the years, it became our tradition to invite the neighborhood to barbecues, manaqeesh breakfasts, knafeh and any other reason to get together and acquainted at Jobedu. Very soon that yellow store started attracting the youth of Lweibdeh and surrounding neighborhoods.
Lifelong friendships were forged through every event we’ve held, including those who joined the team from the Lweibdeh community, and the businesses and organizations that set up shop in the Jabal. Cafe Graffiti, Volks Burger, Fluid Productions, Shashat, Warsheh, Jamalon, OCD, Immortal Entertainment, Namliyyeh, Fann Wa Shai, Rakwet Arab, Rumi and many many others who, together, built on the amazing spirit of Lweibdeh and added flavors of their own to make it the cultural pulse of the city that it is today.
Last weekend, Malahi, an artistic events agency founded by Shermine Sawalha, organised a Jabal Lweibdeh walk called “Kazdara” – a public invitation for people from all around Amman to come and see what the area had to offer. Thousands came, and Lweibdeh was never this lively. Everybody was touring the neighborhood, hopping from one place to another, and using Malahi’s comprehensive attractions map to guide them. For Kazdara, Jobedu and Feesheh put together a jamming session in front of the store that brought together a score of musicians who added a super unique soundtrack to the festivities. Many visitors discovered more about the creative treasures their city holds in a span of a few hours than they probably did for years.
During Kazdara I was approached by an elderly resident of Lweibdeh who asked me if this event was part of the movement to displace local residents with foreigners.
But not everyone sees Lweibdeh’s development as all rainbows and butterflies. Although the economic benefits are surely felt by many residents, there are those who feel like outcasts in their own neighborhood. During Kazdara I was approached by an elderly resident of Lweibdeh who asked me if this event was part of the movement to displace local residents with foreigners.
As it stands, complex contradictions exist in this beautiful neighborhood that need to be discussed as this community continues to evolve. Many criticise the older residents’ practice of renting out their apartments exclusively to foreigners who are willing to pay a premium to reside in the city’s cultural hub. From a different angle, the added income allowed some of the landlords to improve their living standards and give their kids a better education, which in turn, benefited their families and community at large.
Some older residents still live in mixed-use buildings, consisting of residential and commercial establishments. Despite the fact that they are openly, constantly frustrated from the many inconveniences that come with being among high traffic businesses such as cafes, concept stores, art galleries, bars, and offices. At the same time their residency precedes any of those establishments – to ask them to relocate to other residential areas is no better than urban displacement .
New apartment buildings are not affordable for the average Lweibdeh resident, rather they are priced to attract Ammani’s from other neighborhoods who can afford luxury living, and want the proximity to the heart of Amman’s cultural scene. On the one hand, young local residents are crowded out of their own community if they want to move out of their parent’s house, and on the other hand, new tenants with higher purchasing power are enriching local supermarkets, butchers, bakeries, and restaurants, who ordinarily might not be able to generate the same amount of revenues from the locals. With the costs of living on the rise, the added cash injection is understandably much-needed.
Although the youth are thriving in modern day Lweibdeh, some of the older residents feel pushed to the sidelines by the rustle and bustle of ad hoc urbanism. Growing up there, they too probably had a vision for the jabal. As the founders of this beautiful and rich neighborhood, it’s essential to celebrate and include them in the continued prosperity of Lweibdeh through an open and constructive dialogue. Initiatives such as Kazdara are excellent catalysts for conversations that allow the public to understand community positives and challenges. Such discussions are the foundations for building a shared vision that will paint an even cooler picture for this unique neighborhood we are proud to call Jobedu’s home.