April 2008


I am in Palestine. My ancestral home. I breathe its air, I walk on its dirt, I hear its voices. I have returned after being away for eight years. It is a strange journey. Strange in the feelings it stirs. Strange that it is familiar and not, welcoming and not, free and not, normal and not. It is a land that stirs up feelings of repression, oppression, security and occupation, happiness and suffering, hope and hopelessness. It is a land of walls and open skies. It is Palestine.


I came here to learn, to explore, to understand. I also came here to explain, present, communicate, and connect. I’m a participant in a workshop that brings together some 30 participants from eight countries. We are trying to learn and exchange thoughts, ideas, experiences, feelings, and cultures under the umbrella of diversity, discrimination and building understanding. These are areas I believe strongly in and love to learn more about them all the time. I am also representing Jordan, and you all know I love being Jordanian J. I also love exchanges, you learn so much. You learn about other people, other cultures, you encounter new ways of doing the same things. But most of all you learn about yourself.


I am in Palestine, I am at odds with myself for being here and having a fabulous time. But I am open to learning, open to seeing, open to living, open to being here. I know these feelings will be resolved when I return home. Reflecting back on the day I told one of the participants “to be present”. And so for now I am here. I am in Palestine.

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Yesterday in the afternoon we were divided into groups and sent on a treasure hunt in the city. What I learnt walking around the city is that Ramallah is a city that breathes, laughs, cries and lives.  I was at odds with how normal life here is for everyone, despite the lack of normalcy.

 

 

This is an occupied land. Yet its people are free. Free in spirit, thought and expression. The walls are lined with graffiti, the streets have people laughing on them. People go about their daily lives, buying bread, paying bills, and such. It is just another day. There are people who sell flowers, there are many barbers and hair dressers, the cafes, bars, and restaurants are plentiful. These are all things that when occupied you forget. But being under siege for 60 years makes you adapt, acclimate and therein lies the difference.


I was asked today what is the difference between you as a Jordanian Palestinian and a Palestinian? And the biggest difference I could see was how I take my freedoms for granted. The pressures and the restrictions that people live under in this god forsaken land is enormous. Throughout this they persevere, the laugh, they welcome, they live. I take salute them all and thank the organizing this program for giving me a Jordanian Palestinian the opportunity to live a part of their lives in these 10 days I am here.

Today I crossed the bridge. I am in Palestine. It is the first time I am back here in eight years. I was both anxious and excited. So far I have not seen much and from what I have seen not much has changed.

The bridge crossing is still an experience of patience and passive aggressive behavior. Jericho is still beautiful Jericho, with its heady smells and warm weather. The Taxi drivers are chatty and still know where everyone lives. The check points are plentiful and intimidating. The hills are rolling and green.

 

Later today will be my first true experience with Ramallah. I look forward to getting to know this city more intimately. I am also fearful of that experience. Not knowing whether this will be good or bad. Rewarding or demoralizing. I am not entirely sure what to expect and so I am prepared for the worst, hoping for the best.


This country will always be one of conflict for me. An internal conflict that comes from seeing, feeling things and wanting for this land what I know is not possible, at least in the present time. I am here for 10 days. In these 10 days I know my relationship with Palestine will change, grow and deepen. It will evolve through my interactions with its realities in ways I don’t know just yet. I hope I am up to the challenge of seeing this reality up close and personal.

Today I walked around the Raddison SAS wall in Amman and I saw an artist busy painting on a pristine white wall all sorts of colors and patterns. Another piece of street art is some graffiti and such in Jabal Amman. I loved what I saw and I loved that the art is going street. I may not like the pieces but the fact that we are introducing color and pattern to a beautifully beige color scheme is fun, and we need more fun in our lives…

 

I look forward to going back and taking pictures for all to see.

 

Life teaches us a lot of lessons from the day we open our eyes and scream out our first cry till the day we die. Being open to life’s lessons and learning is a quality I like to think I possess. Reflecting back over my life in the past 30 years I think I have learned a few things and here are some of them:

1-      Life is tough, but the human spirit is tougher.

2-      There is always a silver lining; you just have to look very hard.

3-      Finding out who you are is a continuous journey into oneself, and it is the hardest journey one can take.

4-       Being directionless is a direction that lets you go places you would have otherwise ignored.

5-      Love does exist, and it hits you when you least expect it (thanks cupid!).

6-      Being true to yourself and who you are makes you sleep a lot better at night then awaking up to living a life that isn’t yours.

7-      The world is a beautiful place waiting to be explored.

8-      You can make a difference one person and one step at a time.

9-      I am not a superhero and its OK J

10-   We are all weird and I love it.

 

I wonder what you have learned in your life journey? I would love to talk to you about it and share your ideas and thoughts on life, learning and living.  

 

I have a couple of friends who are confined to their home for various reasons and its seems cabin fever gets to you after a while. To some it comes faster than others. But it got me thinking about confinement and what it means. And the thought that keeps reoccurring is that you may confine a body but not the mind. This statement is easier said than practiced. Looking at our lives today and how fast paced and moving they are we can not be still for even a second it seems.  

 

I look at my life and I know that I have to be out in the daylight, out with people, out on the go constantly. When I do sit still and in one place I am usually outdoors and outside looking at nothing and letting my mind go. So what would I do if I were confined to my home for a prolonged period of time? 

 

I think at first there would be restlessness. I know that I would want to go out and do things. But after settling down and watching all the DVDs I have and reading my books and playing sudoku. I think I would attack my domestic chores and nest. Basically going towards creating an environment that I would want to stay in and be in a state of equilibrium in. After nesting I would think that I would have to start stilling my mind and allowing it to focus on being outside the space without leaving it. Whether it is through an expression of words, color, arts, music or what have you.


I think that combating cabin fever and dealing with confinement of any sort requires a lot of discipline, as well as an ability to be by oneself for long periods of time. These two qualities are hard to come by these days. Our world today is one of instant satisfaction and constant stimulation. We want to call someone and reach them now. We want to watch a show and we want to watch it now. We want to order something and we want it now… think cell phones, internet, DVDs, drive thru fast food…etc. And let’s not forget the constant beeping, buzzing, moving, or happening all the time. Will we ever be able to pass one day in stillness anymore?

I live in many worlds, and so I interact with people of all sorts of color, creed, socio-economic status, privilege, nationality, and sexuality even. I have traveled enough places to know who I am, but to also appreciate others and respect the differences between us. And mind you, I am not infallible; I have my moments of judgment and prejudice. But it seems the more I look around me I see more tolerance and more intolerance. Our society is at odds with what it wants to appear like and what it really thinks. Let me explain…

 

I work with underserved, underprivileged communities, more specifically with kids in these communities. I find the experience very rewarding and very enriching. These kids may not have the same opportunities as west Ammanis, dress in the same way, speak a coarser tongue or what have you. But they have the same ambitions, dreams, hopes as you or me. I love engaging with them because they are more real and genuine in their expressions of who they are. Yet these same kids are discriminated against, marginalized and sometimes disenfranchised because of their socio-economic backgrounds.

 

Look around at the domestic and manual laborers we have in the country and how we immediately discriminate against anyone from the same nationality or ethnicity is something I abhor. Not everyone who is Egyptian in the country is a laborer, not everyone in the country who is Pilipino is a domestic worker. And don’t get me started on how we treat them when they do these jobs. We as Jordanians are no better than any of them. It doesn’t matter if we have blue collar or white collar jobs we all work to make a living and if some of us work with our hands and other with our minds then that is how it is. It doesn’t make you less of a person because you clean toilets or carry cement. I think all these professions and the people that carry them out are worthy of respect since we are trying to make an honest buck.  
 

 

Take out the profession from the equation and you will also find that Jordanians are racists! Yes I know this is a very strong and serious generalization, but you are more than welcome to prove me wrong. Just look at the reaction of Jordanians towards a western looking blonde and a dark African looking person, or an Asian person. We are always quick to ask “where are you from?” and that question then leads to pigeon holing a person into our social status hierarchy where the western blonde ranks very high and Asians and Africans rank very low depending on the country they are from and what the stereotype for people from there is.  We are all guilty of it… even myself.

 

And when it comes to sexuality the amount of people are homo-phobes, hetero-phobes, bi-phobes that are out there is annoying. Each wants to be accepted within their own group and is not accepting of others. Straight people are afraid of gay people and have no understanding of what gay is. Gay people don’t really like straight people and will most likely try to stay in herds of their own kind. What difference does it make who you take to bed?

Once again I realize that these are all gross generalizations. And not everyone is a racist, or a phobe of some sort, or a classist. But I constantly see people talking about acceptance and tolerance of themselves for being something or other. Yet when you look at their behaviors you realize that they too discriminate against one group or another, for some reason or another. I really think that if we focus on our accepting, respecting each of our differences instead of focusing on our sameness the world would be a happier place.

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