August 2009

I had to share this!From National Geographic

From National Geographic

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This is a Cuban tree frog on a tree in my backyard in southern Florida. How and why he ate this light is a mystery. It should be noted that at the time I was taking this photo, I thought this frog was dead, having cooked himself from the inside. I’m happy to say I was wrong. After a few shots he adjusted his position. So after I was finished shooting him, I pulled the light out of his mouth and he was fine. Actually, I might be crazy but I don’t think he was very happy when I took his light away.

So I’ve been traveling for about four months now, right after the swine flu scare started in fact, and throughout my travels I have been to four continents, nine countries, nine airports, eight land borders/ terminals. Yes it’s been fun! But as I was traveling I was paying attention to how each airline, airport, government dealt with this scare. After going through these places and seeing how people are reacting its interesting to see how people have quickly forgotten how long the flu has been on earth and plaguing people and how it is contracted in exactly the same way since it reared its ugly head and how the precautions are exactly the same as that of the regular flu. Only difference is the poor pigs have got a bad rep now!

So without naming names or governments here are some the effective ways this virus has been tracked around the world.

The flight attendant announces on the plane that there are heat sensing cameras and medical staff awaiting us to screen us for Swine Flu. “This is for your safety and benefit” she says. So when we get off the plane and are bused to the terminal there is a bottleneck since only two or three of us can pass at a time. There are three persons in white lab coats, hair in those green shower-caps and of course masks on their faces all watching us and watching the monitor ready to pounce if someone goes by with a red aura instead of green. What happens after, I have no idea!

On another airplane we are handed health cards. These cards asked for our personal information, whether we were experiencing any symptoms and if we had been to any of these high risk countries (and it said to consult the list provided)- no list was provided! Upon arrival there was a very bored man waiting for us to collect our cards, and there was an unmanned heat sensing camera trained on us. Once again I passed without being flagged despite having been in high risk countries (I didn’t see the list but somehow I knew I had been in one high risk country at least).

In some countries they scan you as are waiting in line for immigration in others right after. In some countries they give you a card with your temperature on it, which without you can’t pass immigration, but because of the masses of people the system quickly became defunct.  One government requires you to fill out a form on the plane and has the flight attendants collect it for you.

In all land border crossings no one asked or scanned or bothered with the exception of one. They had a Ministry Of Health official come on to the bus (we were a captive audience with nowhere to go until our passports were returned to us). This official gave a five minute public awareness announcement about what the flu is, how it is contracted, how to protect yourself, and what you should do should symptoms arise. It was good solid advice given in under 10 minutes (great for ADD persons) and then a small handout was distributed with the same information and some contact information. The graphics of course included the mandatory pig with a big X over it. One country only cared about its nationals asking them to fill out a small paper – since I am not of that nationality they really didn’t care if I was healthy or not.

Finally there were the countries that upon arrival had a big massive sign about Swine Flu and assumed we were responsible for our own health. Other just didn’t give a damn!
What was amusing to me were the masses of people with masks covering their faces in airports and airplanes, scared of contracting the flu from other passengers. I even know a few people who have stopped any “unnecessary” physical contact with other people including hugs! What I want to say is that this is just another strain of flu, a disease people have been dying from before it was known to humanity. The best things we can do is pay attention to our mom’s age old advice: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and throw away your used tissues. Eat healthy, live healthy and now since pigs have flown we can all wait for hell to freeze over its only a matter of time with all this global warming!

How many times have you stood and waited for someone to show up for a meeting, or event of some sort? Or better yet, how many times have you started to set up a meeting only to be asked is that English time or Arab time (actually replace Arab with the appropriate nationality depending on ethnicity or location or both)? How many times have you been to some government or semi government facility and left cursing Arabs and their disorganization? What about raised voices and heated discussions that are symptomatic of our cultures and are considered uncivilized by some? Or, or, or … the number of incidents, scenarios, or what have yous that we seem to be unhappy with, and attribute dismissively to our backward Arabness are numerous and uncountable if you ask me. Yet every time I hear that excuse I start to boil!

I hate it when people make these sweeping statements, Why? Because we perpetuate this stereotype simply by continuing to use it. I am punctual, I will stand in line and ask others to do so, I will try to apply some sort of organization to what it is I am doing. I hate raising my voice (despite being loud) and so I refuse to accept that this is how Arabs behave because I too am an Arab. And attributing this insult to me is not acceptable – even by other Arabs.

For too long we have been selling ourselves short by setting the bar for ourselves so low. When our expectations are all those negative attributes then that is where we stay and yet when we travel or are asked to maintain a different expectation (like “English Time”) we comply. I am a firm believer in setting high standards and expectations. Communicating those expectations and setting them early on means that most likely they will be met regardless of ethnicity and culture! Many people may disagreae. But you will be surprised how you can with persistence, consistency, clear communication and time how things may change.

If I make an appointment with someone then I make it clear that I will wait 15 minutes. Once those 15 minutes are up I am gone. My time is just as important as theirs. If I set a meeting to start and end at specific times then out of respect to everyone there then it should start and end on time and if it doesn’t then I will leave – just ask my mates at Toastmasters how many times I have left on time despite the meeting going on even if for another 5 minutes. If I expect everyone to line up then I tell them that and if they are out of line so to speak then they get asked to get back in line- this happened at the duty free at the airport a while back when this woman tried to jump the line at the cash register, she pretended not to notice the line and ignored it. She approached the desk from the other side despite the line that was forming with about 5 or 6 people in queue already, I was third in line. She very clearly ignored us all and very importantly tried to interrupt the already on going transaction. After observing her for a short while I decided to say something; and say something I did I was polite but assertive. She was very unhappy about being caught out and tried to say she had been there before and refused to move, she then turned away to ignore us further and placed her items on the counter as soon as the previous transaction was completed. The cashier then refused to take her purchases and asked her politely to join the queue that had formed. Everyone involved was Arab! So the excuse that we as Arabs are disorderly and unorganized is not true. There was a clear system and we all followed it.

When I talk to people about this and try to find out where this chaos, this lack of respect for time, these behaviors come from we theorize about many a different things. Mine view and I stand by it is colonization. We were considered inferior, heathen, uncivilized..what have you by the wonderful white man that came and tried to impose their views of what is better. What ensued was very complex and the residual effect of all of that can still be felt today; just think of how we view someone with a degree from white country vs a local degree, or better yet the views of someone living in the west with no degree vs a person with a degree here. And so with this inherit insecurity and inferiority complex we attribute bad time management to Arabness!

Well I dont know why this is a news flash to people but there are numerous Arabs were are timely, organized, soft spoken, unapologetic, set the bar really high for themselves and maintain it. And we should look to those Arabs and others and set our bars that way, find positive role models within our communities. We should communicate expectations and needs and respect them. We should not be afraid to do the work… we are not lazy brown people and we should not keep making the excuse or the complaints we are Arab! Instead we should look to find solutions.

I’d like to leave you with an example. The passport and civil status department in Jordan used to be the most chaotic and disorganized of bureaucratic offices. I had the pleasure of visiting that department more than once this year, and I do mean pleasure. There was a clear system, there was a help desk, there was a numbering electronic device and if people were lost they could ask. Instructions were constantly being given to people who needed them and people complied. This meant that you went to the window when your number was called, there was no crowding, shouting or shoving of papers from over your shoulder and there was plenty of room to sit and wait when needed. In each instance I was out in under an hour. That too is being Arab. I almost always end my posts with a question or two and here is my question for today: Where is your bar? Is it high enough? What’s your excuse?

A random thought occurred to me as I sat next to a window on the plane from Copenhagen to Istanbul. Does anyone clean planes? I’m not talking about the plane’s interior but rather the exterior of the plane’s, its windows, its wings, its nose, the body… the outside. I’ve never seen anyone take a bucket and a sponge to a plane, have you? I’ve never seen a planewash either. Do such things exist?

On the flip side of that I have never seen a dirty plane. No dusty, streaky, splotched planes at the airports I’ve been too. All of them have shined and glistened in the sunlight.

Could there be a secret plane cleaning industry we don’t know about, or is it just that high speeds at high altitudes in all weather conditions are self cleaning or super clean?

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?