culture


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?

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?

If you read the book you will know that this is a very satirical and personal account of Suad Al Amiry’s experiences in Palestine and more specifically in Ramallah under siege. The book is an easy read and as you go through it you learn more about Suad and her perspective and approach to living under occupation.

The play was my third encounter with Sharon and My Mother In Law. I had read the book, attended a reading by the Author and now this. The play takes this book and adapts it for the stage. In one hour they try to convey the emotion, the confusion, the resilience of not just this woman but rather this struggle and how people adapt and cope even under the most difficult of circumstances.

I thought that the play was well done. They adapted the book superbly and were able to make it a cohesive one hour work. The acting was good even from the back row. Considering they didn’t have much in terms of sound and depended on their voices I thought the actors did well. However Albalad Theater leaves much to be desired in terms of seating and sound. I love the place and what it does however as a venue I always dread going there for fear of being stuck in the back and missing much.

Being part of an audience that saw that adaptation, that laughed at the jokes and exaggerations I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings. Each one of us has their own Palestine and their own relationship with this Palestine. Laughing and making light of the trials and tribulations of this woman may be a coping strategy for her but it created within me a conflict. Laughing lightly, from the safety of my seat at what can only be a tragedy. The play confronts you in a way a reading whether by yourself or the author doesn’t. It dramatizes and brings to life the words such that they strike a completely different cord.

But if this is what this play achieved I am happy. Why because it gets people thinking or so I hope. If people’s emotions are conflicted then Palestine is not a distant memory. It gets them thinking of their own Palestine and how it is similar or different from Al Amiry’s.

There are numerous scenes that stand out in both the book and the play. Namely Suad’s mother in law and their fleeing of her house to live with Suad and her son. Suad persuading her to leave things behind and with one statement Um Salim drives home reality of the situation “That’s what we said in 48”. When reading the book and seeing the play my throat clamed up at that statement. We are losing the generation that saw 48 happen and it is in these small references that we can only begin to understand what this resistance and this struggle means. The other is Suad’s dogs freedom of movement and how animals seem to always get what humans cant .

I won’t say more read the book, attend the play, and see where your Palestine fits into all of this. My Palestine is a bittersweet place where all this happens and much more. We laugh at it, we adapt, we watch from afar, but the real heroes are the ones who live day in day out under occupation, trying to etch out a place for themselves and their children in a god forsaken land called home.

Bits and Pieces. A Short from Jordan

These past few weeks I have been helping a friend work on one of her projects. I really enjoy running around and doing the random things that culminate in a purposeful film. This one was directed at an American audience and is meant to extend a hand and send a message from Jordan, it has been submitted to a film festival in the US.

 http://current.com/items/89513881/bits_and_pieces_a_short_from_jordan.htm

I have had mixed responses from different friends who saw it. I know that I am interested in hearing what you have to say as is my friend… so leave a comment here or where ever you feel comfortable… I will write more later perhaps after you’ve seen it J

Enjoy :)

 

Have you been to the little hole in the wall of a restaurant called Pinoy at second circle? Its tiny little restaurant that serves Pilipino food and on the wall is a sign that says “we have hallo hallo”. Firstly, the name is just beautiful you want keep saying it halo hallo, hallo hallo, hallo it’s so much fun. Secondly, it’s a nice cold sweet drink that has chunks of fruit, jelly beans, and sweet corn. The drink is made by placing the chunky bits at the bottom, adding crushed ice to that and then filling the top with condensed milk. When you get it you have to stir it all up and then hallo hallo you have your drink to eat and sip all at the same time.

If you aren’t interested in the drink then try out some of their ethnic dishes. All of them are prepared by Pilipino women, so you know you are getting the real deal. And it seems that every day the menu changes because once you go in above the kitchen window is a little white board with “today’s menu” on it, each item written out neatly and its price tag next to it. Everything was freshly made that day, it all looked good and what we had tasted good.

Pinoy is place run by Pilipinos for their community, so sitting there you can observe the goings and comings of the customers. I was fascinated by all the women that were chattering and ordering and coming and going. I wanted to stay longer but the place filled up and I guess they needed the table since we were done. I highly recommend that you drop by the dinky hole in the wall for a good meal and a very different and casual dining experience.

The Middle East is known for its aversion to feet. We find them filthy, disgusting, and dirty and we hate them. Because of this I know that a lot of us are fascinated with them. We look at them all the time, especially in the summer when sandals, flip-flops and bare feet are all over the place. I personally always sneak a look and stare at feet. On the flip side of that I try to keep my feet clean and my toes well manicured. My feet aren’t the prettiest but I have come to respect them, love them and be comfortable with them.

So why am I talking about feet? If you read any guide book or etiquette book about the region one of the things you can count on being there is feet and how you should never put them in someone’s face when you cross your feet, or put them up. Also in there is how you should keep them clean at all times and wear slippers in the house and such. But with prolonged exposure to other cultures my attitude towards feet, especially my own, has changed. I no longer get annoyed if bare or covered feet are in my face, if someone is walking around barefoot (I enjoy that from time to time). I don’t mind putting my feet up either. I still keep my soles away from peoples’ face, but I no longer shy away from sitting comfortably with my feet poking out, instead of tucked away neatly and away from the public sphere. So today when a gentleman tried to joke about smelly feet, trying to get me to conform to social norms of feet tucked away I just smiled sweetly and thought “I love my feet and it’s your problem not mine that you can’t deal with there being some red toes showing!”

Feet are feet, it doesn’t matter who they belong to. We would be off balance with just a toe missing so can you imagine if you took a whole foot away. Respect them, enjoy them, look at them, play with them, massage them and celebrate them. You’ll have a hard time walking without them!

Last night I had a wonderful evening of poetry, music and art. It was a very rich evening each event was eloquent in its own right. The first event was held at Cup n Kilos as part of their cultural festival. It was a poetry reading accompanied by saxophone. The poet was Jumana Mustafa and she was accompanied Eyas Al Ghol who later played a selection of his own compositions. I then headed to the French Cultural Center to the opening of an art exhibition by Alma Khasawneh entitled “up close”.

It was a very enriching evening and I must say that I was lucky to be able to attend both in their entirety. Last summer I noticed that Amman has become very rich culturally with music, poetry, forums, plays, art, dance and much more. So rich that in the spring and summer we actually have choices and sometimes these choices are very difficult. Where one goes and what one chooses for enrichment is now much more varied and interesting with local, regional and international talents. Gone are the days when it was just the Jerash festival that we had to wait for every summer. Our thirst is now being quenched and it is such a sweet honeyed drink.

Selecting what to see and which events to participate in means that there is choice in personal development. Our tastes, which are varied and wide can now be accommodated rather than one or two being imposed. Amman is a city that is going through a cultural revival, and it shows. I hope my choices wont be too hard this summer as I want to do it all, like I did yesterday for I love to my soul.

Play poster

Friday night I saw a play being performed at the King Hussein Center. It revolved around two people and their confrontations with daily issues. It was in three acts. the play required a lot of concentration, which if you know me I lack after the sun goes down, especially if I am placed in a dark room in a comfortable chair. So I made sure I put the effort in to stay awake and focused, the result of which are the following impressions.


The play, to me, was a commentary on modern society and relationships at the very basic level. It was the give and take and confrontations of two lovers, a married couple. It was daring in a way I hadn’t seen before: in its interaction between the actors, the dialogue, the issues. They were everyday things that we never really talk about. I heard a friend say it was about couples and as single people we can’t relate. For in their portrayal they spoke of their neurosis and their issues, things we can all relate to. Even in their struggle between each other I could see the dichotomy that lies within each of us and how we struggle between two poles.


We are all part male and part female. We are all socially conditioned and predisposed to certain behaviors and opinions. We all adhere in one way or another to the socially acceptable ideas, norms and ethos. Yet at the same time we struggle against them. We struggle with our selves, our fears, our beliefs, our gender roles, equity among others. And it was all there, if you chose to see it. And like us and our lives, it was inconclusive.

 

I think the play was enjoyable with its satire, sarcasm and cynicism. The actors, while maintaining the conflict, were able to make us laugh on numerous occasions. They reflected us and when we laughed we laughed at ourselves too. I only wished I could concentrate more on what was being said, for both actors spoke at the same time most times. But that too is part of our communication style, internally our confused soul and its voices try to drown each other out. With others we just want to be heard and so we don’t listen, we just shout, talk, drown the other out. We only hear ourselves. This makes our lives, our issues, our strife inconclusive, despite there always being an outcome of sorts.



That evening was mentally stimulating and even taxing. I enjoyed it and it was worth the hour or so of my time. I look forward to more theater in our cultural scene.  

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