people


I keep getting these invitations to join my “friends” on google +. I keep looking at these emails and I keep them marked in my inbox as unread. Why? Because I can’t decide if I want to join my “friends” in yet another online endeavor. After there is facebook, that I now use to play scrabble with random strangers on and just check notifications and maybe respond to the occasional message. There is twitter that I just keep being followed on despite very little activity. There is gchat that I usually don’t log on to. There is my yahoo mail (the only thing I do check religiously) and they keep threatening to upgrade me to the new and improved version. And skype which I never log into except from my work account. And of course there is my smart phone  that allows me to connect to all the above. And let’s not forget this blog too.

 

What’s funny is I am not an avid user of all that connectivity. None of it seems real to me, so why would I connect through one more thing and add to the list of accounts to manage and passwords to remember? I don’t know what google + is, so this isn’t about it or its functions, I know that I will eventually find out. But I think this weekend I will dedicate some time to old fashioned pen and paper and write some letters and head to the post office and get some stamps.

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I’ve been having a lot of different conversations or reading commentary on various things that have opinion and not fact as their argument.  Some of my comments have been heard and in others I am asked for the burden of proof, and other times people just dig their heels and stick to rumors and gossip. I am really tired of having arguments with people when there is no factual proof for them to argue from and they are using opinion as fact. Yes you have a right to your opinion but then make it clear that it is so… I will give an example of one such discussion I am having right now.

 

A couple of days ago Future DVD Store in Amman was attacked. A physical and violent assault on the owner, his son and their property (their new store) took place. On camera there is record of four men assaulting them with what looks like bats. A criminal investigation is still taking place. No official statement of who the attackers are and why this attack took place. Yet, boycott calls and allegations against one of their competition started immediately. It is are all over the social networks, on and offline.  I find this very disturbing. Gossiping and rumor spreading, and action to hurt another business are the first response when really there is nothing factual to back it up except broken glass.

 

I think that if you are going to make an allegation against any entity you have to have the proof to back it up. The burden of proof lies on you, not me. If it is opinion then say it is so and do not word is as fact. I like hard evidence- not opinion!

 

Going back to the Future DVD store. Boycotting the competition doesn’t help Future as much as supporting Future would. The owner is in need of both moral and financial support after the attack and so if you feel that you want to do something- do something positive. Go to the store, see Zaki, buy a DVD. And when the truth about the incident comes out… then take the appropriate action and back up what you say.

 

 

 

7iber organized a debate last night that could fall under many categories, social media, activism Jordanian reform, and/or revolutions. They all intersect and because they do a lively discussion was had. Like in any debate you have the people who discuss the topic at hand, the ones that go off on tangents, the ones that bridge the ideas together and the ones that have no clue. Yet everyone had something to say.

 

I was surprised, and happily, with what was said. People discussed the influence of social media tools on organizing and everyone was aware and quickly moved on that these are tools. Yet some of the more poignant questions were: Is social media taking the debate to the next level? Is social media raising the ceiling for traditional media? And Is social media going to spark the next revolution?

 

But discussion that really interested me was one that was about Jordanian reform and political activism. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about political youth movements that have been active since 2006 and the political activity of Jordan in the 1950 and 1960 which had died down after 1967. It was amazing to hear about our first parliament and the political diversity and opposition movements in Jordan of that era, that spoke of anti- monarchy and elected government ideas and such; Ideas that are not new today and have been in our history for over 50 years.  It was bluntly said that 1967 had killed us, put us in a coma. One person went on to say that he grew up in the 80s and 90s with two central ideas Making Jordan a better place and the Palestinian Cause and the two just get so messed up in one’s head after a while.

 

So what happened, other than 1967 and the loss of Palestine? Where did all that political engagement go? Why do we not know about it? It’s right there in our history books and the media archives if we cared to look. Why didn’t we care to look? Speaking to a friend today  about what transpired in the debate, she said  “I was politically disengaged because it so disheartening and defeatist”.  That may capture how people were feeling , alongside many factors such as state propaganda, educational systems that fed us rote memorization and glorification or the system, the lack of political parties, the emergency/ martial law we lived under until the end of the 80s and other factors deaden us to political engagement. The few that did voice their opinions were marginalized and ignored by the media and so nobody really heard of them. Like the Youth groups that staged many a protest since 2006, or the hundreds of strikes and protests that took place just last year in Jordan.

 

But things have changed, and I think that change, that shift goes back to the Gaza Massacres. When Israel was razing Gaza, people mobilized and went out and voiced themselves. This was mostly in the form of humanitarian assistance, volunteerism and vigils and protests. But something clicked in the psyche of the people.  They felt they had a voice, and somewhere to pour their energies outside the shisha bars and cafes, away from television and computer screens.  A lot of what we did see in the past two years is social activism; People wanting and working on social change within their communities. A lot of initiatives old, new and newer became more visible as more and more people found them and engaged with them and thus with the various communities around the country and especially in the capital. And once again regional events have resonated and continue to resonate in Jordan.

 

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have meant that the social has become political in the Jordanian context. It has sparked a different kind of debate and people have raised the ceiling and are talking about things that they would not have before without their eyes shifting and looking over their shoulders. I think the timing has a huge effect, now after two years of social activism and social work people know they have a voice, know they can make a difference, have seen people in action and are ready to go to the next level. This is where all the reform talk is coming from and this is where our energies need to be spent.

 

The #hashtag debates  are a great way to take the discussion offline and start bringing people who were invisible before into the discussion sphere and make us more aware. It is also time for more opposition voices and reform voices to come online and garner support to their demands online. The #hashtag is one of many things that need to happen.  I am optimistic about the process as we are talking and we are not afraid to speak and point the light at our issues and shortcomings and problems. We are crossing the first of our hurdles and that is the ostrich pose, our denial. What happens next is yet to be seen, and as always I am optimistic.

 

With everything that is going on around us it is hard for me to stick to my resolution of writing positively. There is so much anger around us. Justified anger, and with it has come violence in a lot of instances.

 

Today in Jordan demonstrations of Anger were reportedly peaceful. To me that is a big and pleasant surprise. Reports of olive branches being given to security forces by demonstrators put a big smile on my face and reminded me of images of flowers in the muzzles of guns in anti war demonstrations. I am happy to see the voices of the people rise. I am happy to see them assemble and march. But I wonder how much change will be affected by this? It is no secret that the marches would not be possible without a security clearance and the government’s approval. So we were “allowed” this freedom of speech today. We were “given” the space and “permission” to march, to chant and to express ourselves about inflation, prices and economy.  I wonder if it would be the same had the issues being protested different.

 

Last night whilst talking with a bunch of friends we said Tunisia is burning, and quickly others replied with and so is Egypt, and Sudan is disintegrating, Lebanon has no government, Jordan is angry and the list is growing. There is a lot of dissatisfaction all around, and with it has come dissidence. The winds of change are here. They are raging storms in some countries and gentle breezes in others. But the wind is gaining speed. You can hear it in people’s conversations and rhetoric and it is about time.

 

 

 

Since I’ve moved to Beirut not a week goes by without someone telling me they hate Amman. It invariably happens when I first meet someone new and within seconds of them knowing I am from Jordan.  And I don’t know why they have to make that definitive statement. It is not endearing in any way, shape or form. I don’t want to know how bored you were in Amman, how hostile you found it, how bland you think the buildings are, how unsmiling the Jordanians are or how much you hate the food. That is your experience and if you hate it so much, just don’t go back. And if you hate it and are still there then leave. But what I really don’t want is a 15 minute tirade about how you found Amman to suck and why you think it is so.

There are many reasons I don’t like being put in this situation and one of them is I am not sure how to respond to these statements. Am I supposed to agree when I don’t? Am I supposed to offer advice and tips on enjoying the city, when clearly this person has made up their mind? Do I go into attack mode and tell them why they are wrong? Or do I tell them what I really think about Beirut and enumerate all the things I hate about it and make it a pissing contest? I’ve tried all the above strategies, and because of them I have been asked why I take it so personally, why am I so defensive. I guess the appropriate response is to smile, shrug and if possible walk away?

I’m really tired of hearing people crap on a city I love and miss and it gets more tiresome when you are trying really hard to integrate and live in a city you don’t.  I’ve been accused of romanticizing Amman and painting such a glowing picture of it. Well, guess what, yes I confess I love that city, and I loved my life there. I had numerous wonderful experiences and I was part of a movement that was involved and engaged in making that city and that life better. It’s not that I am blind to Amman’s shortcomings and its problems but rather I was able to do something about it, and that has made all the difference!

I think it is completely insensitive and rude to tell someone their home is ugly, boring, retarded…etc. especially to someone you barely know. And at this point I would like to remind everyone of the sage old advice handed down over generations “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything.” Because really I didn’t ask you if you love or hate Amman, so spare me. We will not bond over Amman hate. And please don’t get me wrong, Amman is not an easy city to navigate as a stranger, it took me years to become a part of the city and understand it, and everyone has a right to their opinion and a right to hate the city.  This is their personal experience. But what I am saying is if you meet someone from a place you hate, and they don’t ask you, there is no need whatsoever to tell them their home sucks. It’s their home.

I used to belong to the smokers club. I carried my own pack and worried about where my lighter went. I sucked on the stick and hung out in the herd of other smokers. But I stopped 11 years ago. And in those 11 years I have not only cleaned my system from that toxin, but my lungs became so sensitive to the smoke that hung in the air that I would spend nights hacking away and coughing up all that second hand smoke when I was exposed to it.  And so my home is a smoke free place, as is my work space. But what that has meant is that I have committed social suicide to some extent. I have definitely died socially when I get stubborn about attending or being present in social gatherings with smoke.



My friends are all very considerate when it comes to smoking around me, they remove themselves or are very conscious about which hand the cigarette is in, or make sure to blow out their fumes away from me. When I would throw a party everyone respects the rules and goes outside. I also had a group of non smoking friends who would also love the nonsmoking policy around me.  But these days I am finding myself more and more in the minority. Sometimes even a minority of one. Let me put it in context from my perspective. Beirut is a night time city, social life revolves around bars, restaurants, clubs. Eighty to ninety percent of people (conservative estimate) who frequent these establishments are smokers, ventilation systems and air conditioners are plentiful but I dread the thought of looking at their filters and find them ineffectual when these places are full beyond capacity and every nook and cranny has a lit cigarette with a passionate sucker on its end.  So unless you have a gas mask on you are going to inevitably inhale all that fabulous second hand smoke, your hair is going to stink and you clothes are going in the wash immediately, even your underwear. And this is not unique to Beirut, Amman has its fair share of smoky entertainment venues.


And it’s not just when you are out and about. Visiting with friends zis a nightmare for me because not only am I slowly forming these relationships and so am still a guest rather than an “insider”, but again I am a minority so I don’t feel I have the social space to say “please stop smoking”. And so, through peer pressure, and because I want social inclusion I am forced to deal with the smoke or be excluded. Even in their consideration, smokers fail to realize how isolating and exclusionary it is when there is one nonsmoker and they all go out to the balcony or kitchen to smoke. And since they are all hanging out there what is originally a 3 minute smoke easily turns into a balcony party without thought to the person left behind. Its as if there is this expectations that as a nonsmoker I have to deal with this, it’s my problem and so my options are to open a window, or stay and breathe the smoke,  or sit apart from the group, or not attend in the first place, or be the asshole that says no to smoking.


I am pissed off at how inconsiderate smokers are, even when they are trying to be “considerate”. I am sad that I am always sitting on the edge, outside the group so I can breathe some clean or less polluted air. I am tired of being left out or behind or not even considered. Your considerations are isolating, exclusionary and antisocial; and this binary of either join the club at the expense of my health or be on the social fringe is unfair. I really don’t understand this sense of entitlement smokers have about their “right” to pollute the air.


So dear smokers, your body is yours to do what you wish with it, but to think that you can spew poison out for all to breathe and then say to me either breathe my smoke or be left out is to me one of the most isolating things you can do, its is selfish and inconsiderate. And as a people person who likes to be in the middle of the dance floor I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this majority who enforces upon the minority its exclusionary practices especially within circles of so-called inclusion.

So throughout my life as a child and as an adult I have been asked the question in numerous forms and shapes and ways: Who is your role model? This question has always made me anxious, always. Why? I never had an answer and yet people expect you to say something, or actually name someone. And if you don’t have someone to idolize it must be a parent, since we rever them in our culture and they are somewhat sacred!

But you know what, my mother is not my role model.  I do acknowledge and appreciate that she did many great things and sacrificed a lot for us, but I disagree with a lot of things she did namely how we were raised in to be sexists and conformists. My father, well I was 12 when we lost my father so I don’t really know how he could be a role model in his absence. So there go the parents as people to emulate.

As for leaders in our times, well I hardly wanted to be a pop star, actor, sports star or any of those things. And looking around me I liked a few people who were “authority” figures but, seriously, I didn’t want to be a teacher, a professor or a manager. Even TV and movies did not present any role models that I thought OK this is who I want to be like. All the characters presented on TV we perpetuating the ideals of a “moral, conformist, sexist and patriarchal” society that didn’t resemble my life or what I wanted to grow up into (remember we only had 2 channels and  limited choice in what we saw). So I grew up without a figure to look up to or aspire to be like.

I started to read biographies, looking at the lives of people’s who were dead or outside the realm of my daily realities. I tried to look at the role models of others and learn about them. There I found things I liked and things I didn’t like. I tried to understand the cult of Che for example , when I was done I knew he was someone I respect, but  who’s approach I strongly disagree with. I’ve read the biography of many others too: Mandela, Rasputin, Queen Noor, Orwell, Mohammed…etc. And though it was interesting to learn about their lives, they were theirs to live.

So 33 years later and still no role model, where does that leave me? I’ll tell you. It left me with a lot of people to appreciate for the things they bring into the world. Things I admire and love and these are the things I want in my life. Things like passion, belief, joy, life, values, character, strength, love, serenity, intellect. I don’t want to be like any of them, but I want a life full of those things and so from different people I have learned different things; without having one role model or many. I don’t want to live their lives, I want to live mine.

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