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A vibrant Asian community grows in the heart of Jabal Amman

By Areej Abuqudairi - Feb 03,2013 - Last updated at Feb 03,2013

AMMAN — Named after a famous Arab poet from the Abbasid period, Buhturi Street, which descends from Second Circle along the mountainside overlooking Ras Al Ain, has come to be known as "Little Manila" among the large Asian population of Jabal Amman.

The one-kilometre commercial street, predominated by Asian groceries, discount clothing stores, accessory shops, restaurants and bakeries, has gradually become a nucleus of the capital’s Asian community since the first wave of immigrants came to the Kingdom in the 1980s, said Peter, a 58-year-old resident of the area from the Philippines.

“The street did not look like this 30 years ago, when I first moved to Amman,” he added.

“Nowadays, you can see many Asians walking around the street, shopping, chatting, working. To some extent, it reminds people of Asia now."

Peter, who works as an "office boy" for an international aid agency, said low rent was the main reason immigrants chose to live in that area, noting that although it is nicknamed after the capital of the Philippines, many other South and East Asian nationals now live near Buhturi Street, including several from Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

“Now that it is mainly inhabited by Asians, more and more Asians are moving here as it reminds them of home," he reflected while enjoying one of his favourite Filipino dishes, Daing (dried fish over steamed rice), outside Pinoy, a small Filipino restaurant near the Second Circle.

Dalia, a chef at Pinoy, said the restaurant had opened 10 years ago to cater to the large numbers of Asians who were moving into the area at that time.

"So many people like to eat out on their day off and they like to get something from home. Arabic food is nice, but one always likes to eat something from home," the 30-year-old noted.

The restaurant, which offers authentic Filipino cuisine in addition to some Indonesian dishes, attracts Filipinos as well as Jordanians and other nationalities residing in the neighbourhood, according to Dalia.

Annie, who works as a cleaner on weekdays, said she waits tables once a week at the Filipino restaurant as a way of "connecting with home".

"I like to meet more people and to speak my language,” she said. “It is a change for me from working inside homes. I just do it for the sake of enjoyment not for money."

Like most other residents of the area, Annie lives in shared accommodation.

"I live with three other Asian girls. One is from Indonesia, one is from Sri Lanka and the other is from the Philippines. It is nice, we all get home tired and we have things to exchange about our day," she told The Jordan Times.

Opel, a Filipina woman who lives in East Amman with her Jordanian husband, said she visits Buhturi Street frequently to see friends and shop for ingredients needed to make Filipino food.

"Here, shops sell everything I need: noodles, sauce, spices and even vegetables. I cannot find this easily in other places in Amman," she said.

"We dedicated this section for Asian food when we opened the shop because we know what people in the area need. Some of them come and write things down for me to order," said Mohammad, a cashier at Al Buhturi grocery.

The neighbourhood, which residents of other parts of Amman refer to as the “Filipino" or "Egyptian" neighbourhood due to its large concentration of both Asian and Arab immigrants, has become an attraction for shoppers who come from all over the town to buy cheap clothing from the many discount stores on Buhturi Street.

But Haitham Sharadi, a shopkeeper on the street, said most of his customers were residents of Little Manila.

"They come to shop for clothing and accessories. They are keeping this area vibrant and busy," Sharadi noted.

"They are kind people. I do not understand why we make generalisations about others without getting to know them," he added.

Residents of the area said marriages between Jordanians and Asians, such as Opel’s, had become more common in recent years.

"Many Jordanian men marry Asian women nowadays, especially Filipinas. They have children as well," Sharadi said.

Despite the home-like feel that Little Manila offers its inhabitants, an ongoing crackdown by the Ministry of Labour on undocumented foreign guest workers has left many residents fearful and suspicious of strangers. "You know there are many migrant workers in prison nowadays. They have problems with passports and paperwork,” said a Filipina woman, who did not want to be named.

“People are scared to speak with anyone as they are afraid they might end up in jail," she added.

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