The following are random observations of an economic nature that indicate just how much or little Amman has changed in the 5 years that I’ve been gone.
Has there really been a rise in jobs in Amman? I open the paper everyday to find a handful of decent job availabilities, usually in English. A four star hotel is requiring immediately 17 job vacancies: from ‘director of sales’ to ‘chef de partie’ to ‘cashiers’. All with a minimum of 3 years experience. In the seventh circle Safeway I park my car in the underground garage to find posters pasted to the pillars offering 820JDs for Arabic-English translation (an American company no less). A sign outside the doors of this particular Safeway advertise an opening of a new branch: “Hiring Now!” reads the sign in Arabic and English.
While to the unsuccessful job seeker this perhaps may all seem like a cruel joke it is for me merely an observation of something that is happening today that was not happening 5 years ago when I first left. Rarely could you find a decent job in the newspaper, let alone several advertising internationally recognized companies. Rarely could you find many Jordanians willing to work various jobs that I see them taking up these days. That’s right; a quick glance at the buffet of retail stores and restaurants that have rapidly expanded the service industry of Amman shows mostly young 20-something year olds working behind counters, unashamed. I’ve dared to ask a few in the last couple of days about their work and their attitude tends to be similar: not a career, just a job to help out at home and pay the expenses.
It’s quite interesting. A decade ago most of the retailers in West Amman seemed to live outside of West Amman, now things have changed.
Moreover, many of the advertisements involve organizations outside Jordan (typically the Gulf) recruiting from within Jordan. Today’s Al-Ghad paper has an ad for a program assistant needed in the UAE, accountants in Saudi Arabia.
Nevertheless, economic indicators show that unemployment has not really gone down that much in recent years. Are more and more people leaving to find work outside the country? Or are we seeing a generation of of our youth ‘coming of age’ and simply filling in the gaps. Also keep in mind that these are mostly service industry jobs and not the kind of jobs graduates go looking for with a career in mind. That is a different story.
Everywhere there are major signs of Christmas on the tongues of retailers. It’s actually come to drive me a bit nuts lately. Nearly half of today’s Al Ghad paper has Christmas related advertisements. Most of them are for unrelated Christmas products. Imagine a digital camera wrapped in a red bow or a Nokia cell phone under a Christmas tree. What comes to mind is that retailers are cashing in on the marketing in all ways possible but what follows that thought is the obvious question: how many people are you or can you possibly appeal to? Christmas and Eid Al-Adha are within each other’s sights this year but only the very small Jabal Hussein clothing type retailers are advertising for Eid, the larger companies seem to be avoiding it all together. Is it possible Christmas is just more marketable than Eid? Probably. But I’m just dying to see some numbers on this.
Last summer the Royal Village was I believe the first proposed suburbia type project launched outside Amman. Since then it seems every now and then another project pops up. One recently showcased a couple of thousand homes to be built near the airport. Good thing or bad thing? A bit of both I think. Imagine living in a nice neighborhood where the houses are somewhat similar, there are actual blocks and facilities like local pools, even sidewalks and predetermined localized shopping centers; all of this only 10 minutes away from Amman. The problem with this is that it’s an invitation to house more and more people. More and more homes encourages more and more consumption of resources such as water, electricity and heat that this country has very little of to begin with. It does however mean people will start moving outside the city and as it took me 15 minutes to simply cross the Medina street today, I’d say that’s a good thing. I think the idea is to build now, worry later, but I’m more of the worry first type of person. The more homes, the more pressures will be placed on these resources, which will of course result in a rise in prices for everyone. I’m also curious to know the demographics: whose buying the homes thus far? Jordanians? Foreigners? What’s the ratio?
This is perhaps the strangest thing of all. What is now known on a shababi-social level as Swefieh’s “share3 il-shawarmah” (shawarma street) has about 5 shawarma restaurants literally all lined up next to each other. Most of them seem to be doing well. On Medina street, in the condensed block of of restaurants, there are at least 4 seafood places next to each other. The same can be seen in various other locations around town such as mujama3 jabar and Garden’s street. It reminds me of Irbid where there are whole streets that are identified with the occupations that occupy them. For example, picture one street with several tall buildings all of them offices for doctors, or dentists, or lawyers.
The Average Jo:
The average Jordanian is faced with the same problem as always: rising prices that make it impossible to save money. Expenses are through the roof when I compare them to 5 years ago. This is probably one of the major factors behind all the banks advertising in the newspapers and on tv, asking Jordanians to sign their life away to loans. One advertisement shows a married couple cutting the wedding cake with the headline: “have the wedding of your dreams with a loan”.
Increased taxes have not helped people fight off inflation either. The government’s economic policies with regards to this matter are a widely acknowledged failure. I think the overnight syndrome that has grasped the country due to the turmoil of the region has left only one stubborn policy to pursue: create more jobs. It’s a mantra now.
What seems to be worse is this culture of consumption we’ve come to incorporate into our everyday lives. The average Jordanian according to some economists, consumes 120% more than their income, to afford a lifestyle made possible by those bank loans.
Consumerism is fine by me, it’s what makes the capitalist system go round. However I cringe every time I see an overdose of consumption in a country that has limited production. It’s like a dog chasing its tail; it eventually crashes to the floor in a dizzy spell.
I’m willing to bet that if there’s any industry showing any signs of success based on its rapid expansion in the past five years, it’s been the food service industry. From American franchises to the local flavors, these places are opening up in practically every new building. Five years from now there will probably be a Starbucks and KFC on every corner.