November 2007

I walked into one of my favorite places in Amman only to find curtains put up. This is yet another step in their on going year long renovations. These were not opaque curtains but rather they were strings hug closely together and the other was a modern seventies shell curtain. I loved them. They created the visual divide between spaces, enclose them. They gave the illusion of privacy. 

Our lives are like that. We put up walls, close our doors, keep our secrets, but lets get really non of us have the privacy we desire or guard preciously. What we have is exactly what those curtains give: an illusion of privacy. 

Some may argue that we control our privacy and we choose not to be private. I beg to differ. Being raised Arab with three siblings and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins everyone knew everything about everything that went on in our lives. A secret was something only 5 or 6 people at least knew about. A private room was something spectacular, personal space is an alien concept and if you fight for any of those you are considered reclusive and that there is something wrong. 

The ideas of private and public do exist in the Arab world but the meanings are so different that the western constructs of privacy and personal in most cases do not apply here. You have no privacy in your public life, what does that mean? Anything about your work is public even your salary. Who you are friends with, where you go, what you do is all public domain and is watched over by nosey neighbors lurking around ever corner. How your closet is arranged is not your choice but your mother’s or your sister’s or whoever is in charge of that. 

Yet we are all individuals who believe we are private with private lives and some semblance of privacy. At close inspection most of our lives are out there in one form or another. I know mine is. This blog, facebook and my interactions with people on a daily basis are all testaments of how much of my life, at least, is not private no matter how hard I try to keep it otherwise. But I must say some things do remain private, that’s the way we live and that is the illusion of privacy we keep.

This week has been a whirlwind of activity, thought and of course the mundane. And so I have decided to review this past week, as my memory permits. I will work my way back as it is the easiest way to go. 

Yesterday was the day from hell… it started with no water, I was all over the city in heels and even outside the city too and I was informed there is a dead pigeon in my house! I had back to back functions and events starting at 5 pm and I ditched one only to end my night at 2:00 am. It was fun I must say. What I loved about yesterday was visiting all the community centers and seeing great work in local communities being done. I also liked seeing my friends, the children at Ruwwad, one more time. The day was exhausting but I must say it balanced out the good, the bad and the ugly with the balance being in the good.  Wednesday I got my ego stroked at Toastmasters. I am rejoining my club, and I was invited to speak at table topics (impromptu speaking) and I loved it. It truly is a positive environment that for me is a great ego boost. But it is more than that. It is a way to connect to people, learn and grow that is social and intellectually stimulating even. I had been inactive for 8 months before deciding to return. I am glad I made the decision.  

Also on Wednesday something striking did happen… I was out at night near the third circle and a swarm of bats was flying in the air from tree to tree. It seems they are migrating somewhere and it is so amazing to see them circle and move and play at night. 

Other mundane things that happened this week include my weekly visit to Ruwwad. I was working on the computer and there were three or four boys just standing around me watching me work. They asked questions about the internet and about computers, which I answered. I then asked them if they wanted to play and each one in turn got to use the computer for a little bit. This left an imprint because they come from and under served  under privileged area and yet they knew how to use a computer. Something unheard of a few years ago. They had the wonder and excitement of playing with a new toy but not the fear of technology that I had when I first started working with computers ions ago. I think that somewhere, somehow someone had done something right for these kids. There is still a long way to go but it seems we have the first few baby steps taken. 

This week also saw culture on my part, I attended not one but two of the EU film screenings that end today. They were fun to go to seeing the world through another cultural scope was illuminating and even funny in parts. The Dutch film had its juvenile moments yet was very funny in others and well worth the time. The Swedish film was very moving and poignant, highlighting the lives of three sisters and the relationships in the microorganism that is a small town. It was well done and engaging. However I must say I was bemused by the Swedish language and how it sounds. I still smile every time I think about it.

One other thing that sticks out from this past week are traffic patterns but I will write a whole other post about that. 

My brain is still half asleep and this is as much of the week that I can remember. There is one request though I have of you my dear reader. After such a long hectic week, I would like to ask you to wish me luck. Its been a tough week and the more positive energy I can channel the better… so think it, say it or even write but if you can wish it.

Yesterday a dear friend of mine arrived from her travels abroad and while we were all sitting around one of us picked up a her laptop and it was contagious. All three of us were sitting in the living room playing laptops. 

While we were playing we interacting in monosyllables and barely conversed… Until we stared to chat online. We had a hilariously ridiculous time chatting, commenting, speaking, typing. It was quite pathetic, but we enjoyed it. In fact we had a blast. I don’t know why typing your words and responding online seems to add an element we lack, a courage, a silliness, an element of humor that we seem to lack in reality. 

While we were online I had a little fit, related to another virtual reality. A family member, my mother, is now online. My mother is not computer savvy or internet friendly. Finding a friend request on Facebook from her stopped me in my tracks and made my jaw drop. MY MOTHER IS ON FACEBOOK. The world is changing and the few vestiges that keep the generations apart are being torn down. My online world which is very separate from my family life is now being invaded. This is a part of me that yes is partially public but not something I perceive my family being active participants in. It’s weird. 

I think the way we interact with the people around us has changed drastically and that includes our family. Our public persons are those online as well as offline now. Our interactions are virtual as well as physical. I don’t know if I like those ideas. It’s a bit sad that sitting in a room we need the aid of computers to talk and that a family member will get to know parts of me through a virtual tool rather than through conversation; or is it? 

I don’t know, the jury is out on that, but I do know it is a different world than that of 5 years ago even and a drastically different world than 10 years ago. I wonder how the future generations will interact with each other 10 years from now? 

OK I guess I have to admit it. Its official with the rains and the bitter cold of this past week winter is here. But wait the sun is out and its beautiful and shiny and warm. No its cold and my fingers hurt and I am wearing gloves all the time. But I still get away with not wearing a jacket. This is my internal debate with the changing of the seasons. I am in denial about winter.

Its not that I hate winter, really I don’t. I just prefer the other seasons. If I were to rate them I would say spring, fall, summer and then winter. I don’t like the extremes of winter or summer. The summer heat that makes you sweat even when you are sitting or the stifling heat while sitting in a car with no A/C or the sweat stains … I am sure you get the picture.

But with winter, well I do like the light drizzles of rain every now and then. But I can’t stand walking up to a cold room in the morning. Or my fingers that just hurt  unless they are wrapped in woolen gloves. How about the bulky clothes that you hide? We all know what that means… your waist expands to no end, because even you can’t see it under the multitude of layers that is winter clothing. The layers… the under shirt to keep you warm, the shirt that you wear incase you take the sweater off, the sweater, the light jacket and the over coat; and that’s just the top half. On the bottom lets see… there are the stockings nice and thick, the socks, the skirt or pants, and of course the boots. Wow, it was a workout just typing all that up. And when you are armed with all those clothes on you end up at the office where the heat is blasting oven temperature air or a friend’s house with a fire place and you just shed the layers. I like the simplicity of spring with a shirt and a shawl, or even autumn with a light jacket at most. 

Right now I am so in denial it’s not even funny. I have not fully acknowledged the state of the weather and the change of seasons. What that means is I have two chests of clothes open and exploding with winter clothes, I am still wearing a lot of items from my summer wardrobe and it will remain that way until the last possible moment. Which is why I am miserably cold at the end of the day or overly warm at the start of it.

Call me stubborn, call me a fool, call me what you will, but until I can not see the sun for over a week I am still stuck in autumn my second favorite season of the year.

Last night I was out dancing. I had initially planned for a short night, which meant being in bed by 1 am. What happened was as usual unplanned, spontaneous and a lot of fun. And if you are wondering, I got home past 3:00 am and only got to bed at around 4:00 am. 

I danced with a lot of friends. One of our friends is youngster, he is 21 years old. I mention this because the second DJ put on some 80’s music and the poor kid floundered. There is a whole generation out there in the clubs that is oblivious to the wonderful music of the 80’s. The old fogies like me were singing our hearts out and dancing like no one was watching. But trust me plenty were, and they were laughing, but we did not give a damn! We enjoyed the music, the lyrics and the energy. However, there were a whole lot of wallflowers, standing around not knowing what to do. 

I blame this on EDM, Electronic Dance Music. It uses so few lyrics and is a series of Bam Bam Bam. It deadens any sense of rhythm, beat and lyrics. It is monotonous and the current trend is to jump the night away and bob up and down. Mind you I do this too and I enjoy it. I do find it funny though when the young ones in the crowd come up to me and say teach me how to dance to this music. And mind you… I am not the best dancer out there. 

I think there should be more 80s music. It should come back and we should dance the night way, with complete and utter abandon, singing along and having the time of our life for we can’t dance without music.

I dance the night away, and every song is you
I sleep endless nights, and every waking dream is you
I live every distraction, and every moment is you

You are the shadow that follows, even in the dark
You are the seconds of time, that run away
You are the clouds the cover the winter sky, dark, heavy and wet

I smell the coffee every morning, but you are the summer Jasmine
I hear the bells of Sundays, but you are the morning lark
I see the reflection in the mirror but you are the picture hidden in the memory

You are the elusive near
You are the distant clear
You are the effervescent that disappears

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.

T’was the day of elections and the streets were buzzing. Well some of them at least. There were campaigners out trying to sway last voters in the last minute. People were crushing to get into at the polling station. And where was I? I was headed to a café to work, play and have breakfast.

I am abstaining. The decision to abstain is one I took a long time ago. I am making this decision based on two things. The first is I live in a district but am registered to vote in another. I tried to change the district with proof of residence however it seemed harder than you’d think. And so after much deliberation and effort I was unable to register to vote in MY district. So why should I bother? 

I should do my civic duty is the answer that comes to mind, to make a difference, to ensure that the right people with the right agendas get into parliament. Yeah well… no! I have not seen one campaign ad that has caught my attention, or made me stop I wont bore you with agenda or empty slogans the streets are full of them. But looking around I could not find a person in my district that could represent me, or even show that they knews what parliament is all about. 

And so the decision to abstain is the one I have made. The question is do I abstain passively or proactively. Being passive means not to go to my polling station. Proactive on the other hand is going and submitting a no one vote! I have till 7 pm to decide.

What is it that gives men the license to slowly follow a woman in their car and call out to her? Why do they think its attractive? Does it even produce results? I was walking in Rabia last night, and no it was not late, when this happened to me.As I was looking for a cab, in my baggie red pants carrying a big bag and a laptop, not one but two men in their cars circled round twice. Clearly I was not dressed as a working woman looking for a trick. Nor was I walking provocatively or even showing any skin. So, in theory, all the usual reasons for this to happen were absent, aside from the fact that I have boobs of course. In fact if anything I crossed over to the other side of the street and walked away from the cars when ever they came close to indicate that I want to be left alone. Yet the two men seemed to think my lack of interest a come on and just kept trying harder. I was very aggravated by this behavior. What to me is noteworthy is that this happens more in the affluent neighborhoods of Amman. I am more likely to be followed and harassed in Swefieh, Abdoun and Rabia than my favorite neighborhood Jabal Amman, where I have no qualms walking at 1 am in the morning.  These men have no problem following women around, calling out to them and they are protected by the law. Why? Well I called a friend who works in our PSD and asked him what I can do about this. His response was “Well, they didn’t break the law”. That in of its self aggravated me even more. The fact that I couldn’t do anything about it. I would love to have given them an earful about their behavior, but initiating any conversation with them would only have put me in a possibly dangerous situation.  Why cant a woman walk down a street in peace without being cat called at or followed. It is a simple act, a simple freedom. I wish for one day these same men are on the other side of this equation and are harassed, followed, molested, pinched and made to feel that they are nothing but a walking sex body, and perhaps they will then understand the effect of the “harmless” gawking they do.

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