government


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?

Yesterday while heading to a meeting early in the morning I saw wonderful men in orange taking down the propaganda that was put up for elections. What a joyous sight finally the ugly unruly beard of Amman is being shaved and the moustaches are being taken down. 

Looking back at the whole upheaval that was the elections I can safely say that the campaigns were ineffective, the voter turn out expected and the result not very surprising. I know I participated actively in the decision making process, however I feel we are still a long ways away from being able to make our participation meaningful. We still vote for our neighbor, relative or whomever the men in the family are voting for. We do not take agendas or track records into account, and I think that we do not really act as responsible citizens who hold their MPs accountable. When we start participating in political life effectively then maybe the debacle that was the elections will be more meaningful and the results positively surprising. 

Until that time comes I am very happy the men in orange are out there returning my city to its former quietness.

Ok if you read my previous post you will know how stupid I feel. I was checking online to see where my polling stations are only to find out that I am actually registered in my district. After that hideously blonde moment (or blond couple of months), I decided to be proactive and go the nearest polling station. 

The station was around the corner and as I walked through the throngs of the campaigners, who left me alone because I looked like a foreigner, I stepped into the school. The men and women voted separately and so I followed the signs and went up to the polling rooms. There were several rooms dedicated to the voting. I was directed into one and there I presented my ID was identified as eligible to vote in that district, handed my ballot, shown the booth and then the box. My ID stamped and cut I was ready to leave. The whole process took less than 5 minutes. I was happy to see that the polling station was calm, organized, and the process smooth and uneventful in a momentously eventful way. 

I felt very happy with myself for actually contributing to the political climate in my country. I wonder if my vote will make a difference and if that difference will be worth my 5 minutes. I wonder if the parliament we elect will be more proactive reflecting the proactiveness of the youth at the polling stations.

I am very curious to hear the statistics and breakdown of the voters and the results tomorrow. It will be an interesting day. I also look forward to the mustaches in the streets being taken down and the city return back to normal with out all the faces smiling insincerely back at me.

Last week I started and ended the week at the airport, but alas I went nowhere. I was however treated to the best of government runarounds and boy were they great trips. 

My first destination was customs. I had a shipment come in and I had to go get it. We started downstairs and then went upstairs back down a different set of stairs to another location, up stairs again to two different offices and finally back downstairs to collect the shipment and exit from another door. Are you dizzy yet?

The funny thing is even with all the running around we did, I am still unable to define the process or describe it. One reason for that is the help of a wonderful friend and his college whom we met randomly in the customs holding area. After running into him, he took our papers and there we were no longer headless chickens looking for the next step but rather harmless sheep following where we were led. Quite laughable in retrospect. In the end what would have taken three hours was an hour and a half ordeal. What would have been painful became effortless and successful with minimum damage.

Little did I know that later that week I would be back for yet another trip down government lane. This time it was at the ministry of interior and putting the stairs aside, it took me four hours, six signatures, three memos and fax to get nowhere.  I did get a case number and armed with that I headed to the airport for my mission which was to get the approval from the ministry to let someone who had been detained overnight into the country. Upon arrival at the airport it took me 30 minutes to find someone to talk to me, over the phone, because you know God forbid you actually see someone and interact with them face to face. After the phone runaround it was evident that the mission was not going to succeed and our dear friend was to be deported on the next plane out back to where he came from!

In both instances I was struck by how unclear, unstreamlined and unfriendly the process is, and this is after all the “improvements” undertaken by the government to help us with the processes. Please don’t get me wrong, there is an improvement, what I did in one day would have taken a week a few years ago, and there is a system, it is not an arbitrary process. However, I was never able to understand what the whole process was, where I was supposed to go when and what the end result is (other than what I desired that is). The next step was always provided at the end of the current one, no one gives you the full picture. Communication with the public and information dissemination is at best dismal. The other observation I had was what a man’s world it is. At customs my friend and I were the only women in the whole area. At the ministry any women I saw were either there to get paperwork done or were stuck in back offices away from the public and behind the scenes. 

I can honestly say it was not the best way to start or end a week. The days in between were only slightly better. I am happy that that week is over and a new one is starting. Hopefully I wont have to deal with any bureaucracy then.  

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