Civil Society


It’s that time again in Jordan when the streets are littered with those photoshoped pictures of middle aged men with mustaches peppered with the occasional female face and salted with the younger faces of men who have inherited the desire to run for a parliamentary seat. But what they all share are the tired old slogans that include nationalism, Palestine, freedom and some sort of economic mumbo jumbo.  What irks me the most is the complete lack of respect for the voters’ intellect and our ability to see right through these slogans.

 

 

For example you have a slogan that reads “نعم, الوطن لجميع’ this translates into “Yes, the homeland is for all”. So what does that really mean? Does that mean as a Jordanian woman I can pass on my nationality to anyone even my Palestinian kids? Does that mean a Jordanian with Palestinian ID no longer has to worry about the arbitrary withdrawal of Jordanian nationality and citizenship? Does that mean a migrant that has been in Jordan for over 20 years, has paid taxes and become part of the Jordanian fabric they can now become a Jordanian citizen and actually vote? What does a homeland for all mean, really mean, on practical terms?

 

 

 

OK let’s move on to another slogan that is about إصلاح or in English reform. Hmmm this guy among others does not say much else on the issue of reform. So my question is with the government already reforming and privatizing so much of its institutions what reform is he talking about? Political reform? I mean some of our biggest problems stem from the fact that as people we do not have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and don’t get me started on the freedom to associate and the new Associations’ Law. Does he want to tackle these issues or is this not reform worth working for?

 
What about the one that calls for a “فلسطين حرة” a free Palestine. Seriously, how will you as an MP work to free Palestine? Will you call for a state boycott on Israeli goods? Will you work to revoke and amend the “negotiated” Peace treaty and create more just and more equitable terms for Jordanians and Palestinians? Or will we wage war? What will you do as an elected MP to Free Palestine?

 

 

 

Another slogan that is interesting and at some level honest “بلا شعارات”  translates into “Without Slogans”. At least this candidate had the decency not to insult us with empty slogans and lofty statements. But even a no slogans campaign is condescending and arrogant for it doesn’t convey the true essence of this candidate’s campaign. When discussing her background it turns out this candidate is a hard core capitalist with a history and track record of working for the Jordan Investment Board and the Chamber Of Commerce which to me are red flags. What agenda will the person who is promising no slogans be pushing and will it be one of social justice and engagement or an elitist, capitalist agenda that will be pushing Jordan further towards a “global economy” whatever that may be?

 

 

 

And don’t get me started on the slogan that drips with religiosity and how it is our religious duty to vote and vote for the right man otherwise condemnation and eternal hell await us!

 

 

 

We as voters need to look critically at these slogans and read, question, and critic the agendas and manifestos of these candidates if we truly want change. Voting for the same mustache, same slogan, and same tired old parliament will bring us nothing but the status quo.  And it is this status quo that got us to disband the parliament we last elected and has us come back to this same place again where we as a nation get to “choose” our representatives.

 

 

 

I would really like to find a candidate that has engaged with the street, the public, on a grassroots level. Someone who has not just intellectually masturbated in political salons about what this country “needs”. I would love to see the day come when I don’t have to try and sift through names I don’t know and read through empty slogans and agendas but engage with an MP that shares my politics, values and beliefs and is able to represent the people and what they desire rather than the will of the government masked as the “voice of the people”. I would love to find a candidate that has started working on issues for the people, is from the people way before election campaigns start. I want a candidate that has tried to instigate positive change within our communities and societies because it’s the right thing to do, and is a way of life for them, not because they aspire to be and Member of Parliament or Cabinet one day.

 

 

 

 

Until that day comes I will vote because it is my political right to vote. As engaged responsible citizens it is our duty to go and vote. Because I count, you count and you count and you count… we all count and when we are counted our voices can be heard. Members of Parliament are our representatives in government. They are the voice of the people. Today we have a choice to make, remain silent and take the day off come Election Day, or go to a polling station and vote. And when we vote we also make a choice we can either choose to make a difference and keep the status quo by voting for someone, anyone even if they don’t carry our message or ideals or desires for a society, a better Jordan, because they are the lesser of all evils present or we can choose change.  But how if we don’t choose a candidate you ask? By voting blank.

 

 
If change doesn’t manifest it’s self in the form of a candidate then you can choose change by voting blank. Write in NO CONFIDENCE, I DON’T WANT ANY OF YOU, Captain Majed from Abtal Al Mala3eb or your own name even, just make sure you have a ballot and you use it. That ballot may or may not be counted in the results but you as voter will be counted towards voter turnout and THAT is a significant message rather than the one of apathy sent by sipping a coffee from the comfort of your home or favorite café. It is a strong message of a politically engaged and aware citizenship that is tired of the same old crap over and over and over again. Because voting for the lesser of all evils is voting for the status quo, and the status quo just won’t do anymore.

 

I love taxi rides and taxi drivers. Every time I get into a taxi it is an opportunity to learn more, interact more and get a pulse for what people are thinking, or even how they are thinking (some may argue it’s the other way round). But the thing I notice the most when in cabs, and this is symptomatic of a the majority of our society, is how we are always willing to shift responsibility and of course blame on the anonymous and magnanimous OTHER. The other can be the system, the government, women, men, youth and children, drivers, families, society…etc. The other depends on the topic of the conversation, and who we can blame for it. I will give you examples:

  • Littering: its bad, its dirty, “They should clean up the streets!”, as a tissue paper, cigarette butt, can, bag of junk food is being thrown out of the window of a car, even as we walk down the street.
  • Traffic: A sign that says do not turn, one way street, a place in which turning would be dangerous, etc… “Well they do it all the time!”
  • Price hikes: “They should do something about it”
  • Rainbow Street: “They ruined the street, they should complain and get it changed.”
  • Taxi driver status, benefits, needs: “They should give us health insurance/ social secutiry/ protect us…etc.”

The list goes on and on, what is common in all of them though is that there is never a language of “us”.

My response to most of these gripes is to ask “who are they?” or “where are you in the equation? Where is your voice?” or “ Why don’t you do anything about it?”. When I look back at my mother’s generation or the one after it there seems to have been a more vocal youth and a more vibrant society, but something (well many things) happened along the way which killed that voice, quelled that energy and just muted us. I don’t want to go into all those things right now because in a way it is irrelevant. We have inherited a muzzle. It’s up to us now how we choose to use that muzzle. How we give ourselves the excuses and convince ourselves of our impotence or NOT.

Each one of us is responsible for our lives, our community, our society and there is power in one as much as there is power in many. If we continue to toss the task on the infamous other, and expect things to be bright, and perfect then we deserve what we get. If I throw garbage out of my window, I shouldn’t expect a clean street or complain about it.  Extrapolate that to a larger bigger scale and even think government. If I don’t participate in elections, and then don’t hold my elected official accountable, why should I then expect this system to work for me?

I think it’s time we owned up to responsibilities as citizens since clearly leaving it to the other hasn’t worked for us. If we are unhappy at how we collectively behave towards something, about an attitude, about our street’s cleanliness then do something about it. There are many many many initiatives, programs, organization and even individuals out there doing this work. If you cant find them then start something yourself. I truly  believe that we have the power and the keys to  instigate positive change that starts at a small and local and scale. And slowly, it takes hold, it becomes the norm, and a few years later you turn around and something has changed. I am not saying its easy, I am saying is doable! If you are wondering what I am talking about then take a look a these initiatives and programs: Zikra, Ruwwad, Hamzet Wasel, Action Committee, Palestinian Action Network (PAN), Jabal Amman Residents’ Association (JARA), Gender Equality Movement, Urdun Mubdi3… and the list goes on. They all started as ideas and they have all become catalysts for change and voices for the communities and peoples they represent.  They are all very diverse in their ideas, approaches and goals, but they all share something, someone took responsibility and carried that frustration to the next level!

We continuously complain about issues, policies from government, and I want to flip that back at us, the people. There is a system, it may be defunct, but that is because we have made it so. When we elected our parliamentarians, there was a frenzy of slogans, rallies, and mustaches on the street what’s happened after that? We see the occasionally media frenzy, the storm in the tea cup, yet what do we do about it? Well, since we elected these MPs and we gave them the power to be our representatives, we also have the power to hold them accountable. Some of you are probably snickering at me right now, which I understand. However, let me ask you to do two things at this point: 1- Read this report that was issued by Al Quds Research Center, to understand how our current parliament works and what makes them tick. 2-Use their monitoring website Jordan Parliament Monitor (www.jpm.jo) that not only tells you who the MPs are and what committees they are on, but their voting track record even. From there you can get your representative to take on the issues you find important and need attention. If they don’t listen- well they don’t get your vote next time round, its that simple and that complicated at the same time.  When we use these tools, we become active participants in the debate, not just some frustrated ranting taxi drivers, and therein lies the difference.

I was at an Earth day festival in Washington DC this April, and there was a group, Zendik That were selling T-shirts with a slogan that I immediately fell in love with and adopted “Stop bitching start a revolution”. Pick up your trash, lobby your taxi driver friends or our parliamentarians, follow safety rules and start your revolutions, what are you waiting for?

There is funding…”

There is funding…”

The funding is there…”

There is funding…”

If I got a qirsh for every time I’ve heard this statement in the few years I would be rich by now. There is money being thrown at the MENA region left right and center and Jordan gets its fair share. Whatever the project may be, if it falls under a sexy topic, you will get the money. But I have issue with the idea of what is or isn’t sexy. I have issue with being pushed into working on a project because the funding is there. What is so urgent that it has to be done now? Who dictates that agenda?


I am working with a few groups of volunteers working to better the lives of their communities. Each group has its own working or fund raising model, these include membership fees, donations, sponsorship, or international funding or combinations and mixes of all the above.


With each one there are pros and cons of course. There are set structures, set fees, targets for fund raising or specific designated amounts that need to be spent. But in looking at these models the one I am most uncomfortable with is when money is designated with a preset agenda and the people working have to shift gears to meet that agenda.


This, to me, is a top down approach that disrupts the natural flow of growth, ideas, creativity and may or may not address the needs of whomever the carrot is dangled in front of as temptation or bait. I am not saying we need to shun all monies and development aid. But what I am saying is I am more comfortable with a bottom up approach. If it takes us an extra 6 months for us to come up with the same idea, so be it! Why the urgency?


Let us build the proposals and requests for funding, the learning process within that is so valuable. Just sitting down and thinking about what it is we need, want and then being able to verbalize it, formulate it and present it is integral to the success of any endeavor. But when we are told this is the project, this is the idea this is what we want done with them money then aren’t we just stooges?


If we just continue to be reactionary to the carrot and only see the carrot on the stick in front of us how can we steer our own course? How are we making decisions and choose which road to follow? If we want to even follow a road at that? I believe it is important for us, as recipients of aid, to think deeply about the strings that are attached to the aid that is thrown our way. No matter how well meaning it is and how endearing it is to us. We should also make sure that we are not selling ourselves short by reacting rather than being proactive about our needs. We should be putting the sex in sexy, in our own terms, in our definitions, at our own pace, without being pushed into directions that seem full of sex but may or not be sexy for us.


Let us work this process bottom up, and we can get creative about funding. Like I told a friend of mine the other night in reference to this mega project of his. He was dismayed as he spoke of his dream since it would cost phenomenal amounts of money to execute and build from scratch. “You don’t have to do it all from scratch, there are many ways to collaborate locally and make it happen.” We can be creative and find the resources around us if given the space and time to look at our needs bottom up utilizing what we have rather than what is being handed down to us in ready made projects that just need execution.

Just look at the Jabal Al Qalaa kids I work with, they are very resourceful in building and making their own toys and entertainment. What would happen if someone came and told them here is JD 5 and this is how and what you will spend it on when making your toys! I want to make my own toys and I don’t want to be told this is how and how much to spend, I want freedom to play… wanna play with me?

Kite Flying at Jabal Al Qalaa (Citadel)

Kite Flying at Jabal Al Qalaa (Citadel)

A couple of weekends ago I was lucky enough to be part of the start of a new initiative. The aim of the initiative is to bring the diverse people of the city together and find fun and meaningful ways to connect and learn from each other outside of the traditional. What that translated to was that a group of friends and myself headed to the citadel to learn how to make and fly kites.

Arriving in the morning and seeing all the old friends arrive with their kids, walking over and meeting the other kids in the neighborhood youth center built up the anticipation to what was to become an explosion of colors, string, wood, and a lot of smiles.

I never expected kite making to be such an intricate science, and the way these kids made them made seem so easy, but kite making is exact, delicate and time consuming. What amazed me is the kids didn’t once use a ruler or measuring tool, they instead measured with the string they were using against the sticks. They used staples to put things together if they couldn’t tie them securely. And then when they were done with the body of the kite with string they made a tail. I learned that without a tail a kite won’t fly.

The kids were so giving and so full of information. Some were amazing teacher others were fantastic kite makers. But whatever role the children took on they gave willingly and freely. My friends and their kids all had a great time watching and learning, but what really made the difference to me was the connections they made with the people from the neighborhood over a labor of love and joy.

When we went to fly the kites everyone’s face was turned upwards watching their kites fly. Collectively they took pride in their efforts but everyone was overjoyed that they flew – the winds were not favorable that day. But despite the poor wind the kites fly high like the aspirations of everyone on that hill. I remember two women coming up to me and what they said “This is better than playstation” to her I say YES AKEED. The other woman said “my daughter has nevr been so happy”. Thank you to everyone for making it a great day.

But here is where I want to do a plug in about the neighborhood and the hill where we played. This is a small flat area, free of artifacts and ruins, it is not the best but it is the only place the kids of the neighborhood can play. Currently it is used a parking lot for the citadel and for RVs. If you want to help make the space free for all to play in and maybe even made into a community park then please contact Raghda Butros (raghda@gmail.com) an Urban Activist.

We each can make a difference go visit the space, understand the dynamics of the location, meet the people, and contact Raghda. Our children need to be outdoors need to play, need to grow. They have a right to all of that, help preserve those precious spaces today.

The idea has caught on and The Palestinian Cultural Center (PCC), a centre that works to raise funds and send to Palestine, is having a souq. The souq is similar in style to the AID Gaza Souq that ran a couple of weekends ago (or was it last weekend?). The will be selling various items from food to table cloths, runners, cushions, ornaments, accessories… etc. They will also sell items donated by you the public in a garage sale.

 

So if you have anything around the house you don’t need, don’t want, or can spare and it is in good condition then donate to them. All donations and proceeds will go to Aiding Gaza in its huge reconstruction efforts.

 

When: February 3rd but please send your donations before then.

Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Where: The PCC in Rabieh

Contact info: 06 551 47 51

 

The struggle is not over and emergency relief is only part of the battle. Help Gaza today donate your items and go shop at the souq. Make a difference in someone else’s life!

On Saturday January 17 2009 a community got together and donated time, effort and goods to Gaza. When I arrived I expected to see a few stalls and a few people instead I saw every possible space at the YWCA filled with stalls goods and people.

 

Young and old had volunteered to do various roles from setting up the shoe throwing game, to selling raffle tickets, young musicians had volunteered their voices for a concert and the stalls were filled with various wares from used books to handmade jewelry and such. Stall proceeds were pledged to the cause and they ranged from 100% to 10% of profits and proceeds going to Gaza. The goal was to raise JD 1000 to use for medical supplies and goods.

 

After seven hours of giving and taking, after a lot of running around, people started to tidy up and put away their wares. Happily tired volunteers were packing what little was left of the donations that came through for sale. And as the money was being counted we quickly realized we had exceeded our expectations of JD 1000. Slowly we counted 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, and 5555 Jordanian Dinars (USD7845) in sales, proceeds, and donations ALL GOING TO GAZA.

 

Well done, one and all! Well done to every one that pitched in, to everyone that brought or made something to sell and to everyone that brought their wallets and emptied them out.  I would also like to thank the women behind this event (this event was initiated and run and 90% manned by women from the community).

 

In my opinion, what we saw that day was amazing and worth much more in human spirit and generosity. The community came together and it didn’t matter where they were from, what religion they were, what color or creed, what nationality. That day we were all humans out to help other humans in need. Thank you for reaffirming to me that humanity still exists in this ever growing and alienating city.

I got this in my inbox recently and I thought it will be helpful to those in Jordan. I do not have contact info so try the website in the poster or go to the event on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=54389778063

 

 

Souq Gaza on Sat 17th from 10am – 3pm.

Souq for Gaza: People have been calling and asking

How they can help and what they can donate?

So here’s an initial response

 

First, it’s easiest to start with what will NOT sell  

Please do NOT donate clothes / shoes  / blankets etc we cannot handle it at the souq

 

What will sell, what should you donate?

The best GUIDELINE is: Would YOU buy it?  Would someone you know buy it?

 

After discussions here’s a list of things we think might sell and that YOU might donate  We will group them to sell:

·         Unwanted gifts / Handcrafts  (JD5 upwards)

·         Books:  recent, interesting (JD2 upwards)

·         Movies / Music CDs DVDs ¡V but NOT pirated please  

·         Food:  Bottles / tins  /jars / packets  (eg local olive oil)  (JD3 upwards )

·         Cakes, cookies ¡V homemade for our coffee shop

·         Household goods / used but still desirable: pots, dishes, pans, vases, framed pictures, lamps

 

We will try to get the most money possible for your item. So give us a guideline price. At the end of the day, whatever is not sold, we will sort and decide: what to keep for the next sale (there will be a re-launch of souq soon we hope) and what to hand over to Entity Green Training for recycling.

 

Tasks you can take on

  • Walking round the souq collecting money in buckets
  • Running the raffle / tombola
  • Helping us pack up the souq at the end of the day (3:00- 4.30)
  • Organizing your friends and YOU run a stall

 

Institutions

If you work for an institution, then please mobilize ¡V you have huge networks of influence. Get you staff to run a stall: treat it as a team-building, management training exercise.


“How you spend your money is how you vote on what exists in the world.”

 

 

 

aid-gaza-performance

My body aches for Gaza and in a good way. Last night I was one of the lucky few who went to the ARAMEX warehouse in Qastal to help with the donations campaign for Gaza. There were nearly a hundred volunteers working last night. We prepared packages of food for our brethren in Gaza.

What amazes me is how tirelessly everyone worked pitching in with a smile working as a team. Many of us came as strangers and we left as strangers, but throughout we worked as one family… a team. Helping each other, working together, knowing that at the end of this day we have helped many.

Last night when I spoke to organizers of the group we had unloaded between 12-15 truckloads of donations and packed upwards of 900 boxes of aid, and yet we were a handful of volunteers.

The warehouse is massive to say the least, it is full with donations ranging from medical supplies, food, hygiene products, clothing, blankets and tents and every other random item you can think of. Children, youth and adults, men and women were all there. No one is too young or too old to help. Everyone can make a difference. There is so much work to do that I am calling out again to each and every one I know and don’t know.

If you have to go to the gym, this is defiantly a work out. If you want meet friends, then bring them here for an hour or two. If you have a family engagement then ask them to donate too. That argileh can wait, that meal, that coffee wont miss you as much as the children will miss warmth, and food.

Each one of us makes choices everyday on what to do, where to go, what to eat… we are privileged. Use that privilege; make that choice come help us sort out donations today, tomorrow, and everyday until we are done. Does Palestine, does Gaza not deserve two or three hours of your time? Come and let your body ache too and in a good way!

For more information go to 7iber.com where you can see pictures, videos and get directions of all the good work we are doing.

Last week I blogged about a civil societies open day and sure enough I went. The announcement said three and I show up at 3:30 pm to a scene of organized chaos. The organizations were still showing up and setting up, but it was all well laid out and set up in a way that it was a bee hive of activity. So I took a stroll and came back and sat across from them watching the scene unfold with fascination.

While I was waiting I observed the Gender equality campaign in action and was quiet surprised by their operating style and the way they were going about it. I am a staunch equalist, and I think their aim is fantastic, their implementation leaves a little bit to be desired. I must say though I did get one of their buttons and sport it proudly on my bag.

But that is not the focus of my blog, so back to the open day. When I saw that most of the stalls were up and functional I decided to walk around. I enjoyed looking at the wares of these organizations and their brochures but I could not really grasp what it was they were there to do. Was it networking? The setup did not allow for that. Was it PR, there was some of that. Was it awareness and advocacy, some but not a lot of that. I was there representing my curiosity as well as my organization. I was very excited to go see these organizations, talk to them and interact on a professional level; which is what I thought was the objective. But in reality it was a mini bazaar, which is not a bad thing since it was in a public forum and they were interacting with the public, and in that sense it was a success.

I guess my expectations and how I understood this event and its reality were two different things. But I do want to give credit where credit is due. This is a great initiative that Tatawoor and the Municipality of Greater Amman collaborated on to pull off. Well done and more of these events are needed. Maybe next time we can have a two prong approach one for the public and one for the professionals working within the civil society and development arena.

This Wedenesday the 30th of July, there is an open day for the Civil Society Organizations. It will take place in Al-Wakalat Street / Sweifieh at 3:00 pm; this open day is for people to meet the civil society organizations and gives people the chance to get to know what do these organizations do and it gives a chance to the organizations to network with other organizations as well.

This was a message sent to me by one of the groups I have joined. I read that and I think it is a fabulous idea. They are transforming a public space, a pedestrian shopping area nonetheless, into a public forum for people and organizations to network and promote their work. I would love to see how it works out and to find out more by actually going. Anyone care to join?

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