September 2009


Yesterday I was walking downtown running various errands with a friend of mine. Throughout our walk we passed by the site of the fire, that burned in the souq, a few weeks back. I took out a camera and started to take pictures. I was impressed with the speed with which the souq had been fixed up and the work that was done.

It was obvious that there was a meeting with the shop owners going on so we quietly tip toed around them. We tried to find evidence of the fire and what had happened, but everything was white washed and new. Even the tiles on the floor were replaced. As we were taking pictures I heard a man asking “what newspaper are they with?” We ignored him as we were not addressed directly and as I was taking the last picture a gentleman in a suit asked “What newspaper are you with and did you ask for permission to take pictures?”

I was appalled by the question and enraged by the attitude and the tone. This was a public space, a souq I had frequented often. It was not a closed construction zone. And so I responded I am a concerned citizen taking pictures. He insisted I had to have permission to do so. Why? Why do I need permission to pictures of something so public and open? Was it a military zone I had stumbled upon? A matter of national security? Or better yet a foreign embassy? And who was he to ask permission from?

Too long have we been submissive when there is no need. I was not breaking any law, I was not doing anything unethical or strange. I merely brought out a camera and clicked away. But this mentality, that we have to ask permission, submit to someone of a higher authority at every turn and at every step is ridiculous. The idea that you have to represent a newspaper or an official body to take a picture of some public works was preposterous.

I stood my ground and in fact told the man, that I was exercising my constitutional right to express myself peacefully. He still insisted that I ask permission, he wanted to know who I represented. I told him I was taking a picture of the column, does he own the column? He said he did, “as do I, as a citizen of this country, as a resident of this city, it is my column too!” He wanted to know who I represented.“I represent myself. I represent my blog. I represent the citizens of this city. I am a Ammani.”

The exchange left a very bitter taste in my mouth after I was exalted about the efforts and the work done to restore this piece of downtown history. I got my pictures and I stood my ground. But why does everything have to be a power struggle? Why does such a simple thing have to become so contentious? This blog post was supposed to be about the history of the souq, and the efforts to bring it back to life after it was burned down. Instead it is now about a man from the municipality who thinks he owns this city!

Here are a couple of the contentious pictures from the restored souq downtown follow:

Downtown Banner at souq

A renewed store

A renewed store

So as a skeptic of Twitter and its crazy chatter I was surprised at myself for wanting to go, and thankful to Ali for taking me along, to the Amman Twestival. The Twestival that took place last night was not what I would call a festival but more of a seminar with four panelists and a lively audience discussion. As a blogger it was very interesting to hear the about the potential of Twitter as a leveraging tool and a means of outreach.

The discussion though focused on the corporate and the entrepreneurs was if not useful was definitely fascinating to follow with ideas, and responses from corporate, venture capitalists, start ups, and various web initiatives. The leveraging of social media and its use in what is being called social marketing and customer service was one of two topics that dominated the discussion. The other being digital content and how content is the driving force behind followers.

Present in the audience were bloggers and Tweeps (People who use twitter apparently are called tweeps- I am now a tweep). Being at the Twestival I felt something was missing, and that was the Tweep from the panel. But then I quickly realized that a Tweep didn’t need to be there on the panel they were in the room constantly twittering and in doing so they were contributing to the live digital discussion going on in parallel the to the one on the ground. At one point you could hear the people talk and the laptop keyboards and mobile phone keypads clicking away at the same time, and to keep up you had to keep an ear on the conversation and an eye on the main screen projecting the tweets. It seemed to me as if everyone was gossiping, talking, contributing, making fun and having fun at the same time.

The Twestival was a learning experience for sure, and the fact that Aman Fund (www.alamanfund.jo) benefited from it made me a happy camper thanks to Aramex’s gracious donation. The networking opportunity that took place afterwards over atayef and coffee was just as valuable if not more – taking the conversation to the next level and making personal, generating even more ideas and finally motivating me to go twitter. Now to get the hang of the tweets.

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?

I have a love hate relationship with Ramadan. I love it because throughout the year this is one month where I am guaranteed a home cooked meal around a dinner table with family. It’s also the  only time in the year I actually stay home and chill out. Me and my mom have iftar together every day I am not out doing random stuff in the community, and that’s actually nice. However, I hate how isolating that time of day is in Ramadan if you are on your own or without family. Everything goes quiet. The silence is so deafening after the magreb call to prayer. If you are alone during that time of day it is a piercing sense of isolation.

I love the atayef, and if you follow my facebook status then you will definitely notice the atayef mania. This year I have decided to come up with crazy combos- I’ll be posting the 30 days of atayef at the end of the month for those that missed any. But I really don’t like how we are wasteful, over indulgent and excessive in our foods. Why? We don’t eat like this on normal days, and this “reward” only means belly aches and increased waists. Cant we make do with simple meals. I personally like soup and salad and maybe a few hours later something more substantial or nothing at all. How can an empty stomach take so much.

But my biggest gripe with Ramadan is TV you have three types of programming in Ramadan: Religion, Food, and Entertainment. I love learning about religion, I’ve always been curious about Islam and how it is interpreted, yet you will never catch me watching one of these shows. I refuse to be abused by these TV Sheikhs who invariable have one of these techniques when talking about religion: They either scream and shout and try to scare you into submission; or they over dramatize, and want to cry and have this image of repentance and sorrow and faked humbleness that they get on your nerves. Why does religion have to be either be a wagging finger in your face or a tear rolling down your cheek? There really was one great religious orator who I loved to hear: Sharawi- he was witty, funny, entertaining and made his point! From a purely public speaking perspective, he was fantastic! I even use him as an example in my Public Speaking Trainings and everyone can relate.

Moving on to the food shows, my mother is a great fan and over the years I have seen some fantastic recipes gone bad by modern intervention. I am a traditionalist in very few things, and food is one of them. Don’t mess with my grandmother’s recipes. Every time my mother or aunt tries to pull on over on me and say this is a new way to make an age old dish I ask “Is this how my teta would have made it?” If the answer is no then they know what I think already. This doesn’t mean I wont try new dishes- just don’t mess with my Magloubeh! And all these shows do is pass on the “new” way to make these dishes. I’ve seen wheat instead of rice in some, I’ve seen lemon replaced with onion and vinegar, I’ve seen short cuts and replacements to key ingredients and condiments and I say enough. TV food has made my mothers kitchen go 21st century and I hate it! So you can imagine my anxiety every time my mother writes down the recipe to some weird connotation been conjoured up on TV during Ramadan. Ramadan is about tradition as much as religion so please leave the funk till after Ramadan. (Yes, yes I know I am doing the same with atayef… but you will always find atayef biljibneh right next to them).

And finally the entertainment. I remember when I was a child there was one channel with one set of Fawazir which you had to mail in and find out if you won after Ramadan, there was one or two shows everyone watched and that was it! Today you have all these silly call in shows that offer nothing really but big prizes, you have some other silly show full of bad comedy that is supposed to fill the time between Iftar and digestion and then the marathon of TV shows begins. One after the other, after the other, after the other… I am sure you get the picture. And even if you try to escape and go out for the evening you are bombarded with the shows in all the cafes and they turn up the volume and everyone is glued to the show and their argileh! If you really don’t want to miss it- stay at home! I guess you’ve guess I am not a fan of the TV in general, let alone during this month.

However despite all these gripes after more than three decades of dealing with this month. I have come to terms with all these things and others. I respect what it is and what it means to people, whether it is about religion, tradition or spirituality or none of these even. I tolerate the crazy traffic and bad tantrums or just avoid them. I enjoy the food and tune out the TV. And say to everyone Ramadan Kareem- after all its only a month and we are more than half way done!

I have hit rock bottom on numerous occasions. There was the professional funk, the financial insolvency, emotional turmoil, dead end relationships that resulted in a broken heart, and of course the dreaded depression. But the thing I have learned consistently and with ever bedrock I hit was that the only way is up.

No matter how hard you hit, for how long, whether this is hope or not, whenever I was at my worst something deep inside always said it just can’t get worse. And believing that and knowing it meant that things could only pick up and move forward and upwards.

I remember in 2003 when professionally, in one year I was fired, then resigned, then laid off, then out of work for the longest time. It seemed like my professional life came to a complete standstill, and slowly I was running out of what little savings I had. I went from interview to interview and the jobs I wanted either didn’t transpire or the jobs that wanted me were shoot me boring. So towards the end of the year I was penniless and without prospects of any financial security. But what happened was the spurred me on to become a freelancer. I was and still am a “Jane of all trades”, resourceful, with a good head on my shoulders. This meant that I could do anything I wanted to and it didn’t have to be in the framework of a 9-5 position. And so after hitting rock bottom, I thrived. I learned that I could aspire to be anything I wanted to be and have fun doing it! I became a story teller, a trainer, a proposal writer, a project coordinator; I learned all about cross cultural education and managed programs in informal learning. I’ve dabbled in community organizing, activism, volunteerism and I’ve thrived. The past six years have been so robust and alive and I’ve enjoyed the bigger chunk of them. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t challenging or trying, there were moments of extreme boredom and frustration. But that only meant I had to evaluate what it was I was doing and have the guts to change it. Getting the guts, taking the leap – well that’s another story for another time.

In 2005, I found myself facing a different set of challenges. Ones that were related to family and home. It’s a scary thing realizing that though we may be related by blood, our nearest are not our dearest. Learning to deal with that concept and evaluating a home built around misogyny, selfishness pitted directly against sacrifice, emotional guilt tricks, stunted growth and potential withheld by tradition, religion, and culture that transgressed into ones physical and emotional self. Suddenly waking up to all this and seeing it clearly left me more resentful than happy. I hit family rock bottom. So what did I do? I made changes that had very negative effects in the short term including a depression. That rock bottom was not bedrock! But four years after taking the steps to assert my needs, stop the guilt trips, put an end to the transgression, saying no to misogyny and taking responsibility for myself as an individual, my relationship with my family has improved dramatically. There is respect for my privacy, my needs, and myself. Its not always rosy and bright mind you, but we have all come to know our boundaries and limitations in the most positive of ways today. My relationship with my mother has never been better!

Oh but two years after that crazy family journey came the big whopper. In May 2007 I fell in love and subsequently got my heart trampled all over it. It was a secret love affair; some may even say it was one-sided. I won’t go into the heartbreak for it left me jaded, distrustful, and more a commitment phobe than before. But it did result in some beautiful things. I learned that I had the capacity to feel at a very deep level. I learned that I could let people in and share parts of my life without it leaving me feeling vulnerable and weak (including starting this blog). Towards the end it taught me how to regain myself after being lost in someone completely. And I am not as jaded or distrustful as I was back then. The commitment issues I am working on ;).

If I were to chart my life it would have a lot of dips and a lot of highs. But one thing that screams out at me when I look at this chart is that I climbed to the highest peaks after each dip; the deeper the pit, the higher the climb was. And so I have learned to succeed from my failures, and truly appreciate what it means to be accomplished. Today I am surrounded by my accomplishments and I am very proud of every abyss I fell through as much as I am every triumph of spirit and soul.