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It’s that time again in Jordan when the streets are littered with those photoshoped pictures of middle aged men with mustaches peppered with the occasional female face and salted with the younger faces of men who have inherited the desire to run for a parliamentary seat. But what they all share are the tired old slogans that include nationalism, Palestine, freedom and some sort of economic mumbo jumbo.  What irks me the most is the complete lack of respect for the voters’ intellect and our ability to see right through these slogans.

 

 

For example you have a slogan that reads “نعم, الوطن لجميع’ this translates into “Yes, the homeland is for all”. So what does that really mean? Does that mean as a Jordanian woman I can pass on my nationality to anyone even my Palestinian kids? Does that mean a Jordanian with Palestinian ID no longer has to worry about the arbitrary withdrawal of Jordanian nationality and citizenship? Does that mean a migrant that has been in Jordan for over 20 years, has paid taxes and become part of the Jordanian fabric they can now become a Jordanian citizen and actually vote? What does a homeland for all mean, really mean, on practical terms?

 

 

 

OK let’s move on to another slogan that is about إصلاح or in English reform. Hmmm this guy among others does not say much else on the issue of reform. So my question is with the government already reforming and privatizing so much of its institutions what reform is he talking about? Political reform? I mean some of our biggest problems stem from the fact that as people we do not have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and don’t get me started on the freedom to associate and the new Associations’ Law. Does he want to tackle these issues or is this not reform worth working for?

 
What about the one that calls for a “فلسطين حرة” a free Palestine. Seriously, how will you as an MP work to free Palestine? Will you call for a state boycott on Israeli goods? Will you work to revoke and amend the “negotiated” Peace treaty and create more just and more equitable terms for Jordanians and Palestinians? Or will we wage war? What will you do as an elected MP to Free Palestine?

 

 

 

Another slogan that is interesting and at some level honest “بلا شعارات”  translates into “Without Slogans”. At least this candidate had the decency not to insult us with empty slogans and lofty statements. But even a no slogans campaign is condescending and arrogant for it doesn’t convey the true essence of this candidate’s campaign. When discussing her background it turns out this candidate is a hard core capitalist with a history and track record of working for the Jordan Investment Board and the Chamber Of Commerce which to me are red flags. What agenda will the person who is promising no slogans be pushing and will it be one of social justice and engagement or an elitist, capitalist agenda that will be pushing Jordan further towards a “global economy” whatever that may be?

 

 

 

And don’t get me started on the slogan that drips with religiosity and how it is our religious duty to vote and vote for the right man otherwise condemnation and eternal hell await us!

 

 

 

We as voters need to look critically at these slogans and read, question, and critic the agendas and manifestos of these candidates if we truly want change. Voting for the same mustache, same slogan, and same tired old parliament will bring us nothing but the status quo.  And it is this status quo that got us to disband the parliament we last elected and has us come back to this same place again where we as a nation get to “choose” our representatives.

 

 

 

I would really like to find a candidate that has engaged with the street, the public, on a grassroots level. Someone who has not just intellectually masturbated in political salons about what this country “needs”. I would love to see the day come when I don’t have to try and sift through names I don’t know and read through empty slogans and agendas but engage with an MP that shares my politics, values and beliefs and is able to represent the people and what they desire rather than the will of the government masked as the “voice of the people”. I would love to find a candidate that has started working on issues for the people, is from the people way before election campaigns start. I want a candidate that has tried to instigate positive change within our communities and societies because it’s the right thing to do, and is a way of life for them, not because they aspire to be and Member of Parliament or Cabinet one day.

 

 

 

 

Until that day comes I will vote because it is my political right to vote. As engaged responsible citizens it is our duty to go and vote. Because I count, you count and you count and you count… we all count and when we are counted our voices can be heard. Members of Parliament are our representatives in government. They are the voice of the people. Today we have a choice to make, remain silent and take the day off come Election Day, or go to a polling station and vote. And when we vote we also make a choice we can either choose to make a difference and keep the status quo by voting for someone, anyone even if they don’t carry our message or ideals or desires for a society, a better Jordan, because they are the lesser of all evils present or we can choose change.  But how if we don’t choose a candidate you ask? By voting blank.

 

 
If change doesn’t manifest it’s self in the form of a candidate then you can choose change by voting blank. Write in NO CONFIDENCE, I DON’T WANT ANY OF YOU, Captain Majed from Abtal Al Mala3eb or your own name even, just make sure you have a ballot and you use it. That ballot may or may not be counted in the results but you as voter will be counted towards voter turnout and THAT is a significant message rather than the one of apathy sent by sipping a coffee from the comfort of your home or favorite café. It is a strong message of a politically engaged and aware citizenship that is tired of the same old crap over and over and over again. Because voting for the lesser of all evils is voting for the status quo, and the status quo just won’t do anymore.

 

Last night I was coming home from Hamra and passed through the Bshara Khoury intersection. What I saw was very disturbing. A police car was smashed up so badly, and not from a car accident. The proliferation of soldiers and police throughout the intersection was jarring to say the least and the smoke from burning tires was dissipating. What was more disturbing was past the intersection and before there was no such signs of violence or dissent.  Chatting with the service driver I found out it was a very strong objection by the people to the continued, arbitrary and chaotic electricity cuts in the city of Beirut.

I’ve been in Beirut on and off for 9 months now and one thing that has been constant was the electricity rationing. In central Beirut we are lucky we only get one cut a day and it last 3 hours. There is a schedule, a cycle you can chart and follow. But what has been happening in the summer and due to the excessive heat additional rationing has been introduced; only it has no rhyme or reason. But, even with this erratic additional cutting we are still privileged. If you are not living in central Beirut this means you have electricity for four hours at a time and then it is cut for four hours and back again for four and off again.  GO farther afield and you get less and less electricity with longer periods of cuts that can go up to 12 hours.

Tourists don’t really have to deal with any of this, they may not even notice it, but for the people living here it can be a nightmare. You can’t store anything in a fridge. You can’t turn on a fan let alone an A/C, you sometimes have to deal with total darkness, electrical appliances sometime just frizz out and die, if you live or work in a tall building you are screwed. I am sure you can think of further horrors related to being without electricity.

A lot of people have found solutions around the electricity cuts, but not everyone can afford them and so, even though I was disturbed I was not surprised by the public display of anger. What did happen though, was that in my mind I thought of the water rationing and the shortages in Jordan and how if you don’t consume carefully your water ration will run out and you won’t be able to go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, bathe or more importantly drink and eat. Yet, Jordanians don’t go out and demand more water, burn tires and make very visible their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. And I wonder why is that?

We keep saying the next war in the region will be over water, yet we wait patiently for it. I wonder if it is because we are all aware that this resource is not “generated” but rather dependent on forces of nature (over simplification and totally ignoring water treaties here). Is it because even in the winter we are constantly told how much water we have in our dams, what our consumption is and we are all collectively responsible for the water (just think of all the complaints the water company gets if there is a burst pipe in a street)? Or is it because we take it lying down and are not used to vocalizing our displeasures in such visible and violent ways because a- we aren’t used to it, b- we are afraid of the consequences.

I don’t really have any answers here and it might be I am comparing apples to oranges. But the question in my mind is would I rather have water or electricity rationed and cut? I don’t know. I do many things that I normally wouldn’t when there is no electricity, but I don’t know how long I can handle it in this unbearable humid heat. I’ve also have learned to conserve water, take bucket showers and value water like the scarce commodity it is, but I like flushing toilets and running facets. So where do draw the line on tolerable and intolerable things we can live with and without?

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?

A wall is being built that separates, divides, and excludes. It takes a play area, a view point, a rendezvous site from it community, from all of us in Amman. This wall is going up on around the lands near the citadel. The site is being expanded to include refreshment stands, bathrooms and a public plaza for events and concerts. But all this is being walled in by a massive concrete wall that will be beautified by laying stone on top of it.

The wall stands about 3.5 meters high allowing for the complete sanitization of the experience for who ever is inside while excluding everyone outside. The wall discriminates indiscriminately; you are either inside – after paying a fee of course, or outside.

This wall takes away the Jabal Al Qalaa play area where little girls and boys head to for some space away from the tiered and clustered homes they live in. It is where they fly their kites or kick around their balls. It is where they sit and look out a beautiful city they call home.

GAM has responded to a community concern on the website Creative Jordan with a response that does nothing to answer the issue but merely tries to justify the situation and actually reproaches us for our agitated state of distress because we care for our city not to be gentrified and sanitized for visitors of privilege whether they be tourists or locals.

I urge you each one of you to read the discussion thread and make your voice heard. We all have voices and this affects each and every one of us in Amman, not just the Jabal Al Qalaa residents.  The discussion can be found  here.

Jabal Al Qalaa- the citadel is a place where each one of us has a memory, a story, an experience… don’t let them take that away from you by modernizing a piece of history. History should remain untouched for us to interpret and understand through our senses not to be sanitized and modernized and made something it is not.

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I was listening to a speech at the Toastmasters Division Contest this weekend entitled “In Her Shoes” by a young man. His speech was about women. He started with skits about women drivers, about wives that spend all their husbands’ money and women among other derogatory scenarios. He moves into the body of his speech by saying he wants to put himself in a woman’s shoes and even puts on a blond wig for this part.

Askar talks about how easy it for women to get by on their looks. He does a skit in which the woman at the office is not available because she has sneaked off to get her nails. How about the idea that women get better performance appraisals at the office because they are pretty and flick their hair at the boss! How about the wife that calls her husband asking him for more money because she once again maxed the two credit cards and she needs to shop some more for frivolous unnecessary things. He spoke about how women have it easy in marriage as they lay out their conditions and put a price on their dowry.

The sexist comments and scenarios just kept coming and I couldn’t keep quiet. I called out bullshit a couple of times, and when I did it wasn’t just for me. It was for every woman who’s had to work twice or thrice as hard as the man sitting next to her, doing the same job and getting paid more than her. It was for every woman who has had a mate forced upon her by her father, brother, or uncle. It was for every woman denied education so her brother can go to school despite her being the better and smarter student. It was for every woman who has been slapped, punched, beaten, hit, or raped by a man because he could. It was for every woman who has been cat called, looked over, followed, touched, or objectified , for every woman sexually harassed on the street, in the office and in any public and private space. For every woman who stays at home because her father, brother, husband or son will not let her earn a living for herself and become independent. For every woman who toils in her house 24/7 making sure her family has a hot meal and clean safe home to come back to every day. For every woman on a diet trying to be that air brushed model in the magazine. This was and is for every woman and all women.

These women do not get by on their looks, or a flick of the hair. The speaker used stereotypes to get a laugh out of us. He pigeon-holed woman as objects of beauty and frivolity, bad drivers, and as lazy and unprofessional beings, that is what he saw when he put himself in a woman’s shoes! He then tried to turn his speech around not by negating any of what he said but by saying that women and men both have it hard and that both genders compliment and complete each other. To me this translated into him reinforcing these stereotypes, and saying they are OK because the men complete the other half of the equation. An argument I can NOT accept.

What angered me the most, and saddened me even, was that the women in his club, and area had said nothing when he presented his speech in these contests. Even the women in the room that day excused his misogyny because he said that one sentence at the end or because it was a humorous speech and therefore not a serious speech that warrants such a reaction from me. I was even chastised publicly, and officially complained against because I spoke out and up against this sexism.

Speaking up and against an injustice is never easy. It isn’t popular, it isn’t polite even. But it is the right thing to do. Women have been silent and silenced too long. We are forced to be submissive by culture, upbringing, guilt, shame and even coercion. Discrimination, misogyny, and sexism should not be tolerated, even in jest and in fact should be opposed.

I am sick of being shushed because it is not polite to speak up. I am tired of being told its OK because it is funny. I am exasperated by the people that tell me to look around me, it’s true – to them I tell them to look farther afield than their immediate circle of privilege and prejudice. I don’t see why I have to take this abuse quietly, do you?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” I will not be oppressed or an oppressor, and I did not appreciate the neutrality in that room that day, because with it came the tacit approval of our silence.

Kite Flying at Jabal Al Qalaa (Citadel)

Kite Flying at Jabal Al Qalaa (Citadel)

A couple of weekends ago I was lucky enough to be part of the start of a new initiative. The aim of the initiative is to bring the diverse people of the city together and find fun and meaningful ways to connect and learn from each other outside of the traditional. What that translated to was that a group of friends and myself headed to the citadel to learn how to make and fly kites.

Arriving in the morning and seeing all the old friends arrive with their kids, walking over and meeting the other kids in the neighborhood youth center built up the anticipation to what was to become an explosion of colors, string, wood, and a lot of smiles.

I never expected kite making to be such an intricate science, and the way these kids made them made seem so easy, but kite making is exact, delicate and time consuming. What amazed me is the kids didn’t once use a ruler or measuring tool, they instead measured with the string they were using against the sticks. They used staples to put things together if they couldn’t tie them securely. And then when they were done with the body of the kite with string they made a tail. I learned that without a tail a kite won’t fly.

The kids were so giving and so full of information. Some were amazing teacher others were fantastic kite makers. But whatever role the children took on they gave willingly and freely. My friends and their kids all had a great time watching and learning, but what really made the difference to me was the connections they made with the people from the neighborhood over a labor of love and joy.

When we went to fly the kites everyone’s face was turned upwards watching their kites fly. Collectively they took pride in their efforts but everyone was overjoyed that they flew – the winds were not favorable that day. But despite the poor wind the kites fly high like the aspirations of everyone on that hill. I remember two women coming up to me and what they said “This is better than playstation” to her I say YES AKEED. The other woman said “my daughter has nevr been so happy”. Thank you to everyone for making it a great day.

But here is where I want to do a plug in about the neighborhood and the hill where we played. This is a small flat area, free of artifacts and ruins, it is not the best but it is the only place the kids of the neighborhood can play. Currently it is used a parking lot for the citadel and for RVs. If you want to help make the space free for all to play in and maybe even made into a community park then please contact Raghda Butros (raghda@gmail.com) an Urban Activist.

We each can make a difference go visit the space, understand the dynamics of the location, meet the people, and contact Raghda. Our children need to be outdoors need to play, need to grow. They have a right to all of that, help preserve those precious spaces today.

Flying kites is a thing I have never really done. I don’t know how to fly a kite let alone make one. This weekend I have the opportunity to do both in a community event in Jabal Al Qala’a made possible by Adraaj Amman. So if you want participate in kite making and flying free up your Friday morning. Places are limited so do confirm your attendance.

 

Date: April 10, 2009

Day: Friday

Time:10:30 am 

Location:  Jabal Al Qala’a

Meeting point: Citadel Entrance

Cost: JD 5- 10 (you will participate in buying materials for both yourself and for a child from the Local Jabal Al Qala’a Community.

 

Contact info: Raghda Butros raghda@gmail.com 079-6637377

Confirm by: Thursday 3 pm

Note: Children welcome

 

See you all there and get read to see your creations, and those of the kids’, soar in a beautiful spring sky.

 

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