August 2008

Yes it’s that time of the year again when the world stops turning and we all focus on the one thing that really matters. FOOD. Ramadan Kareem (Ramadan is generous) is a common phrase that we all say, hear and try to embody. Or so we think. Now before I go off on my rant and rave about the holy month I need to make a couple of disclaimers: one, if you are overly sensitive to the spirit of Ramadan this may offend you. What I say here has no bearing on the beauty of what Ramadan is or the respect due it, but rather a commentary on our modern interpretation of what our lifestyles have been like in this month.

Let me first start with the pre Ramadan craze and how that affects people. The weekend before Ramadan sees people lining up and standing in long queues to get their Ramadan supplies. It looks like they are constantly worried that there will be no food or toilet paper sold during Ramadan. I mean come on, why do you suddenly have the need to buy 19 cans of corn, 12 chickens, 5 boxes of milk, 3 bags of flour, 4 kilos of dates, 5 bags of noodles (you know the ones, (شعرية …etc all at one go? What is it about Ramadan that makes people need to buy in bulk? Prices are not cheaper, supplies are not going to run out, and how much storage space do you have in your house anyways? I truly think that the essence of Ramadan is to continue your life as normal, and just focus on the spirituality of the month rather than its gluttony.

Speaking of gluttony, how many times have we heard people talk about fasting being a cleansing of the body as well as the spirit? Well how do you manage that if at iftar you wolf down a 5 course meal? There is soup, salad, dates, pastries, main dish (if not two), and desert. How does your body cleanse itself if you let it run on empty then put ALL that stuff in one go? There is a saying in computers, garbage in, garbage out! Mix all those elements in and it’s a sure fire way to cause indigestion.

And can someone please explain to me how eating a 5 course meal, followed by a continuous stream of food all night is considered empathizing with the poor? A central theme of Ramadan is empathy with the poor. Yet we over eat, over spend, work less, and complain about it! If we really want to feel with the poor, shouldn’t we keep to our regular lifestyles, cook simply, work a same amount and really get in touch with the less privileged?

One of the things I really like about Ramadan is how we all suddenly find God and find our pockets. We all suddenly remember our prayer mats, the Koran, and don’t get me started on what we all stop doing! We do remember to give to charities, we do feed people, we do donate clothes and money though and that is wonderful. So wonderful that I would think that the beneficiaries of all this charity and giving would love to have some consistency throughout the year.

And please don’t get me started on the Ramadan tents and the TV shows. It’s like we are deprived of any entertainment throughout the year and we need to make up for it in 30 days!

I guess what I am trying to say is that what I see and experience in Ramadan these days is so far away from my understanding of Ramadan and what it stands for. I also have issues with people who consistently behave one way for 11 months and then for 1 month they change. If you believe in the ideals that Ramadan embodies, shouldn’t you strive to be that person throughout the year? God is around ALL the time not just in Ramadan! The poor are hungry and need clothes all the time not just in Ramadan and during Eid. The spirit needs to be tamed and we should be patient, understanding, polite, always not just in Ramadan.

I really don’t understand why we get crankier, ruder, louder, more gluttonous (and yes I know all about nicotine and caffeine withdrawal), when Ramadan is a time to get quieter, calmer, more focused, more spiritual. It is a time of rituals and traditions both cultural and religious. It is a time for families to come together, to share between themselves and others. It’s a time to feel with the less privileged. It’s a time to respect and understand our own privileges.

Alas I feel that these lessons are lost. You don’t have to fast to understand or learn these lessons. But I think you should respect them and give space to understand them and be given the space to practice the rituals of Ramadan or not. So next time you say or hear the phrase Ramadan Kareem think about what it means to you and how you will embody that phrase. I know I have already started my journey into the Ramadan Spirit.

I am up in the middle of the night trying to sleep … exhausted and afraid of the big bad cough monster that won’t let me lie down. I have to remain upright to breathe when all I want to do is sleep… sweet dark quiet sleep that is elusive. My eyes, by back, my body all want to rest, my lungs demand that they remain awake, alert and alive. The mini death that comes with sleep is not desired and I in fact fear it. Every time I lay to rest it is a complete state of unrest. And so instead I write … I write long rambles, streams of consciousness that make no sense, because all they desire is a stream of unconsciousness in the form of sleep.

My eyelids are heavy, my muscles, tired, my brain half asleep, and yet the minute I lie flat my lungs protest violently… bringing the rest of my awake and alert. My eyes tear from the exertion, my chest shakes, and my body curls into the fetal position. Get up shout my lungs, torturing the body and mind into submission. Till when this ache, till when this pain?

I long to be healthy. I long for a full night of sleep. I want to die a mini death and be resurrected in a refreshed state in the morning.  I want to take a deep breath and enjoy it. I want to be asleep instead of randomly writing emails and blog posts to pass the crazy time that is 2:45 am.

OK why is that whenever I go grocery shopping I can never find the same products. You get comfortable with a brand, a product, its texture, smell, feel, taste, usage, shelf life…etc and then when you go back from more its gone?! I am talking about deodorant, shampoo, cleaning supplies, pastas, hair products, cat litter, cat food, ice cream, bread even. And its not like its one place that doesn’t have the product its many.


I have been looking for a particular brand of deodorant that I found in one store. I went back and it was sold out, Now ever store I g o to I look for that particular brand/ type of deodorant and well two months later its still not to be found.


How about cat litter? If you have a cat you know how important this is for your cat and your sanity. I found the perfect brand that really is odorless but I have looked in pet store, big supermarkets, small supermarkets and it is nowhere to be found.


Bread, a staple, nothing frivolous right? I could not find brown bread in a bakery the other night!


There is no consistency or regularity in the products on the shelves of supermarkets here. They provide all products but not all brands. Or they have one brand one day and not the other. I don’t understand how this works for them. If I can not find what I want day in day out I wont go back! UI don’t want to buy what the procurement manager decides is a good brand of pasta, I want my favorite brand of pasta that I have tasted and tried.


This may seem like a silly post and we should make do with what we have and infact be thankful for a choice. But that is exactly it. I had a choice and when I’ve made my choice its taken away from me.


So in short if you find any adidas deodorant sticks – not the roll ons, not the sprays, the sticks let me know where they are and I’m buying a life time supply!

A few days ago I got an email from a friend. It contained an attachment. It was a poster that was part of an awareness campaign regarding HIV and AIDS. What pleasantly surprised me was that the campaign was from the Ministry of Health. However the poster evoked a lot of different feelings including amusement, surprise, happiness, and disappointment.

The mixed feelings come from different places and different reactions to the poster. First let me say I applaud the Ministry for taking this step. It is a good move towards opening the dialogue about STDs in general and HIV in particular. It has always been a taboo of a topic here. We are like ostriches with our heads in the sand, in denial about the magnitude of the problem that exists in Jordan; about the unsafe sexual practices, about sexual abuse, about STDs and about actual figures. So this is a good step, no, a great step forward

I am dismayed and disappointed in the campaign its self. Visually it leaves a lot to be desired, the poster reads like a brochure, detracting from the message. It would have been more effective to use less text for more impact redirecting people who are interested to brochures, website or the phone line they have.

The actual messages sent are both positive and yet frustrating. I have heard a lot of reactions to this campaign and the reoccurring theme is wow this is great, they will learn, and hmmm they have some misconceptions. My worry is that with misinformation we can do more harm than good. Also there is no advocacy for safe sex practices. In fact they have listed sex as dangerous as a whole, which will not deter people from having sex.

Ministry HIV Campaign

For those that don’t read Arabic the campaign is a series of questions, some highlights from the texts…

  • Do you have any sexual practices?
  • Do you have any “dangerous” sexual practices (girl and girl, guy and guy, guy and girl)?
  • Do you know that VERY beautiful girl may have AIDS?
  • Do you know that STRONG, BEAUTIFUL young man may have AIDS?
  • AIDS tests are private and confidential
  • AIDS testing is free in Jordan
  • There is no “quarantine” or reservations against AIDS patients in Jordan

I have heard that this campaign is using the internet and SMS to spread the word, a great way to target the younger generation. I hope there is a plan for wider reach and more mass media tools and techniques. We need to break through the silence and really have people become more aware of the dangers and how to prevent them.

This weekend me and a couple of friends decided to go to Damascus to see Ziad Rahabani in Concert. We unfortunately could not get any tickets so instead we made use of our time by walking through the old city and enjoying what old Damascus and its souqs had to offer. And I realize that when in Damascus there are things that I like to do, things that become ritualistic and others that are habits.

On my last trip I was introduced to a lovely popular restaurant called Abu Al Ezz (أبو العز) which serves the best meat pies or pastries, sfei7a. They come in a yogurt sauce or a tomato sauce. Both are delicious and well worth the walk down the alleyway past the throngs of people. When you walk into this place, you see an oven and three men continuously making the delicacy. But walk up a short flight of steps and you walking into a restaurant of three levels that can seat around 400 people if not more.

I love this little place at the end of Hamidieh. Its on your right just as you walk out to the square in front of the Umayyad Mosque. Here you walk up windy old basalt steps lined with all sorts of handicrafts and antiques. At the top of the stairs is a little deck that is also littered with goods and in the center, beautiful old chairs that you can sit on and look out to the square and the mosque from. I like this shop and it is a ritual of mine to visit it whenever I am in Damascus. I like to look around and walk through and try and see if there is anything I like. Unfortunately this time there wasn’t. anything that caught my fancy, but I still enjoyed the view from the top.

The Nawfara coffee shop and its story teller Abu Shadi are staples in my visits. I can never really tell what he is saying but for half an hour I am back in my childhood listening to a theatrical voice, tell a story of some hero or other fighting battles, reciting poetry and wooing women. I keep saying this, storytelling is a dying art that needs to be revived and this man may not be the best but he is one of a few, and infact the only one I know of who does this on a regular basis and can be counted on to present everyday at the same time and the same place, without fail.

Do you know Mahmoud Shahin? An artist and a writer who has a little shop where he sits every afternoon painting away as times goes by? I stop at his shop every time to say hello and chat for a few minutes. This is a wonderfully old man who has a lot to say in his own way about how the world works in words and in colors.

On this trip I also did something new. We all went to the National Museum. This is a huge complex made up of about 30 large halls full of all sorts of artifacts from different eras and civilizations. Walking through I was reminded of the museum in Cairo and of the artifacts in Jordan. And just as I thought oh boy not another stone I walked into the last two halls, where I perked up with joy at seeing beautiful old books, and scriptures. On them was writing in all sorts of Arabic scripts and illuminated in the most beautiful of ways. I enjoyed pouring over every page laid out. And just when I was done with that I walked into the woodwork room to see some beautiful old workmanship. So exquisite, so detailed, so beautiful, I love every piece of craftsmanship in that hall and if I could I would have taken them home with me. We were also lucky to see the art exhibition that was up for the month. Six halls full of Syrian Art some of it old from the 1920’s and 30’s and some of it new. The museum which at first I thought was going to b e a letdown, turned out to be a wonderful way to spend the morning.

Damascus is an interesting place. I don’t know much of it outside the old city walls. And I am quite content to keep it that way. But I did make it out and got to see a different Damascus. One that is new, modern, and glitzy. I kept thinking I was in a different world, and was very happy to return to the old part of town. It never ceases to amazes me how there are different worlds, side by side. Old and new, affluent and poor, modern and traditional all in one small space. I like being able to move between them, but my heart is an old one that likes worn stone and wood, old cobbled streets, and history etched in the atmosphere and peoples bones.

Downtown Amman never ceases to surprise me. I was there last weekend button shopping at my favorite button store. Abu Illyas is a wonderful man who actually remembers me each time and we have nice conversations about nothing. He gives his time, experience and smiles as I fussily try to match buttons to fabric. I love the store with its colors, shapes, sizes and textures.


When we were done we crossed over so my friend could get some old pictures and postcards of Amman from a Kiosk on the corner. Oh what a learning experience that was. Hisham the owner of the Khaznet Al Gaheth bookstore/ kiosk opened up a whole other world to us. He took us to a tiny store under a staircase where he showed us pieces of history that have been in his family for years. Literary and religious texts so old, in ancient scripts, on yellowed paper, bound in faded leather were brought out and displayed in front of us. Old ink bottles from the time his family, a family of copiers and printers used to reproduce texts were also exhibited as he spoke about the profession of Al warakeen (الوراقين). He spoke of his family and their history in the region and in Amman. He spoke of the trials and tribulations of his old, little bookstore. I asked him if his children will continue his and fis forefathers’ tradition. To that he answered with a shrug only if they want to.


I was reeling with joy at what I had seen and what a privilege it was to glimpse into the past like that. But I was left wondering if this piece of Ammani history will stand the test of modernization, change, globalization and I think its biggest threat the new generation?


Thinking of these things I pass a window full of wigs and I leave the unanswered questions in my head to mess with the hair on top of my head. Wigs of all colors, and cuts were on display. I got to experience long hair, blond hair, short hair, black hair… and it was so much fun. What a great way to change you r look without any commitment. I am defiantly a wig fan and will be back to buy some up. But on a more serious note when speaking with this shop keeper about his clientele he was very discreet and respectful when he mentioned cancer patients and I found that empathy so touching. The industry of beauty is rarely a humane one and to find this spirit here in its purest form was refreshing.


I love downtown, and not just for its bootleg DVDs, which was my last stop before getting a refreshing drink at Jafra. I love if for its diversity, for its color, for its life, for its dirtiness, for its beautiful ugliness, for its history, for its chaos. For all that it is. It’s a touch of pure humanity struggling to survive in a modern world. It is where you can meet the reality of today, undressed, simple, and in your face.


I just recieved a link to a quest on Questler that has infurated me! I am not sure where to start on this. Check it here:

How many times have you shied away from doing something because you were afraid of the outcome? You were afraid to take a chance? What about the other extreme of that, how many times have you jumped, feet first, into things without thought to the consequences? Which one of these types are you?


As for myself I am somewhere in the middle. There are things that I jump into very quickly and take the risks. In those I have lost and I have won. In all cases I have learned and moved forward. Its funny, I am not afraid to tell someone I like them, ask them out on a date, or go out on that limb where you never know if the branch will fall from under you or not. I am not ashamed or embarrassed about making a fool of myself in public (think karaoke). I am not afraid to ask people personal questions, and I fully expect to be told its none of my business. And some of my most rewarding and biggest learning experiences have been because of these jumps


In other areas of my life I have been so hesitant even paralyzed with inaction. Is the comfort zone we don’t want to leave? Is the fear of the unknown? Or is it pure laziness? I think its all the above and then some.


We are fearful and fearless creatures rolled into one. I have seen myself perform in the most difficult situations and rise. I have seen myself take personal risks that make me vulnerable and prevail. I have seen myself laugh at myself and enjoy it. Being brave in these things have meant that I got to explore things I would have otherwise just wondered about. I have been able to move beyond the thought to action. And it is such a freeing experience, even if the outcome is not as positive as one would like.


The other side of that is the one in me that is constantly questioning and stalling in a zone that is wonderfully comfortable. One where I late fate take over instead of being in control of my fate; that way at least I can shrug my shoulders and blame it on the cosmos. I don’t like this side of me. I have started to change that slowly this year. Standing up to myself proves to be the toughest stance I have ever had to take. Getting out of my compliance and moving forward from laziness, comfort, insecurity, inaction, fear is one of my biggest challenges. I have to over come these hurdles and who knows where I will end up.


This takes guts, discipline, action, and support. I want to be able to jump in all areas of my life. I know that there are some jumps that will require some planning, others that I will do with a quick look over the ledge and others still that I will dive into. In all cases whether I land on my feet, my hear or my ass, I want to be able to look back at my life and see that when I needed to, I had the guts to plunge, and you can keep the glory, that’s not why I am jumping!


So if you read the Elastic List you will know that one of the things I want to do is to learn to ride a bike. Yesterday I took the first step to making that happen, I took my first bike ride. YAY! It was at the sports city, two friends came with me for moral support only to be told I don’t do well in front of audiences, so off they went on their bikes and I stayed behind with my instructor.

I learned what I had to do to peddle off and after getting my feet off the ground, I was very quick to put them back down. And so 20 minutes into this I was still learning how to take off. It was frustrating because just when I thought I had it, I would lose my balance. But after a while and with the help of the trainer I was able to ride, for a couple of minutes, but I was able to ride. Oh what fun it was.

An hour later I was kind of riding, still learning to balance and how to break, still not getting the start right, but you know what ,I was on a bike and trying. I was making my dream come true. I was on a bike! It was fun, and frustrating, it was scary and exhilarating, it was funny and fun. But I proved to myself I can do this and I will. So hopefully and soon I will write about driving a bike down the streets of Amman and then you will know I did it. I would have crossed out the learning to bike again off my list and will start something new after that.

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.