Thursday, April 7, 2011

Preserving Honor


Hi. Another rant coming. The title might tip you off.

A word of advice: Form your own opinion about this issue. A situation can change depending on the words you use. I'm going to use strong words that will convey MY opinion and how I view this issue.

Yesterday we talked with someone. We went somewhere. We learned, spent money on taxis, went about our lives. But someone didn't because, "there was another honor killing yesterday (and by yesterday, I mean the day before yesterday--I'm quoting)." Yesterday I learned a little more about how women are treated, and I learned this from a reliable source, I promise. We went to talk with a woman about honor killings yesterday. Murder. Women are murdered by a family member, sometimes based on suspicion. It's an act commited when a family member feels that a female member of the family might be committing aldultery. It's a way for a family to uphold and preserve its honor, but it's still murder. Of a family member.

Anyway, as I was thinking about preserving honor, there seemed to be a lot of backward ways that people and state actors have been trying to preserve their own honor. Honor killings and crimes happen all over the world, which is a shame, but I'll just be talking about Jordan for a little while. I've heard different numbers for the amount of women that are killed to save a family's honor, but it's somewhere around the 20s. Other countries have different numbers, some larger than others. Regardless, women are dying because someone interprets the Qur'an that way. In the Qur'an, there is a passage about adultery. It says that 4 pure people (who have never even stolen a piece of gum or told a lie) have to witness the adultery happening. Who's gonna let ONE person watch if you're committing adultery? Even if these four pure people witness it, the Qur'an never states that a woman should be killed. Never. Who interpreted it this way? Now, it's gotten worse. Women are sometimes killed even if they're not married. Sometimes they get killed for speaking, or looking (!), at a man.

However, there are wonderful organizations that work to protect women from being harmed by their families. They're doing good work with the limited resources they have. Civil Societies Organizations and NGOs are severely underfunded and undersupported. If a change is going to come, then we need to start funding the right people. But do you know how some women are protected? They're put in jail. Women who could be entirely innocent (or who cares, might not be innocent) are put in a jail, paid for through taxes, for their own protection from family members. How disgusting. Some women are in these prisons for years and years. Imagine being threatened by your family, a group of people supposed to create a safety net of love, trust and respect and get put in jail, locked up and alone. These women can't be let out until someone from the family releases them or the governor grants permission. Usually he wants to protect HIS honor, so he doesn't let the women out. If he did and the family killed her, it would be the governor's fault and his honor and prestige would be tarnished. Within the recent years, IGOs have targeted Jordan and discussed the women's prison situation. The government has encouraged NGOs to work with and free the women to preserve Jordan's honor. This culture of pride is constantly getting in the way of truly understanding the value and weight of a human being. What about a woman's honor? Are people thinking about this? What about HER pride?

I've noticed that people are really nosy here. Back in America, people may have the same questions, but it's not like they just blurt them out. I'm being super cynical right now because of this topic, but people get into each other's businesses all the time. I've had five (count it, FIVE) strangers ask me about the acne on my face. That's what children do. Children don't understand the context of situations, and excuse me, taxi driver, you don't need to know anything about it either. I want people to live freely. Who cares if a woman is chatting with a man on facebook? Who cares if a woman and a man look at pictures together? Who cares if a woman and a man start dating? Also, whose business is it, other than the parties directly involved, if someone is committing adultery? I'm really starting to feel sorry for celebrities. Personal lives are so wonderful to have.

So, sometimes women get out. Sometimes families come and reclaim their daughters, sisters, wives, neices, aunts and cousins and sometimes the NGOs working on a woman's protection gets them out. But, I'm left empty. I just can't understand. It's a cultural misunderstanding, and maybe I refuse to understand but... If a family could treat one of their own in such a spiteful, harmful and destructive way, why is it so hard for the girls to cut ties with them? How come people can defend the abuse? There is no excuse for the violence that happens, but the cultural reprocussions for a single woman to live on her own here is sometimes worse. How is it fair that a woman whose life is threatened is the one to become imprisoned or orstracized, or dead?

Also, how can a religion be an excuse for violence and hate and completely hinder friendship, love, relationships, etc? Islam is a beautiful religion, and people can do wonderful things with it. I believe that there are people who harnass the good out of the religion. I don't believe that all Muslims are bad. Nor do I believe that Islam produces terrorists. That's just insane. But there are so many different ways that people interpret things. There are thousands of Christian sects that incite terrible and crazy fanatics to, for example, commit hate crimes like buring the Qur'an or disgracing someone at their funeral. Organized religion scares me, but I think it can be a good thing for people. But the thing is, religion is a personal thing. It's something that people can feel together, but it's really all about a single person trying to connect with a greater being (or many greater beings, who knows?). I could go on about this, but that'll be saved for another post.

Earlier this week I had a taxi driver look directly at me and say, "All women are stupid." Okkaayyyy... How am I supposed to react to that?? I did react, for all you curious readers out there. I indignantly said, with my limited Arabic in times of stress and emotion, "La'a!" and "Khallas!" (No!/Enough!) and got out of the taxi, without paying him. It bugged me all day long. Women aren't stupid. I don't believe that anyone is. Everyone has capacity to learn and to love and be worthy of respect. Even this taxi driver. So. With all this, rolling around in my head, I went for a walk and I saw a little boy drawing on the sidewalk. So cute. Then I got really sad. I remember thinking, "Ohhhh, pleasepleaseplease don't end up like that taxi driver. I want you to be taught differently." Now I'm at the whole Nature vs. Nurture argument. Oh boy, this is such a long post.

But basically, I'm just really tired of people being mean. There's a lot to care about in this world. Duh. I just wish that people would respect one another. You don't have to like everyone, but I believe respect is the fundamental part of an important relationship. Boy, oh boy, that would be nice, wouldn't it? Then maybe we could have a healthier planet (BP Oil), more peaceful discussions (Palestine/Israel), less tyranny and dictatorship (Gaddafi/Mubarak, etc, etc, etc)... Right now we're spending money on things that perpetuate violence and hate, globally. America funds wars and sends lives to areas outside of the country, for some supposed reason. Some businesses profit off of conflicts that not only harvest commodities like diamonds, coltan, bananas but also take advantage of cheap labor in dangerous situations. We all have the power to shape conflicts and make sure people stay safe. It's incredible how easy it is for people to perpetuate the violence and continue the hurt, just because it's what's going on now. Women can be horrible too. It's not just the men. It can be reciprocal. Blahhhhh, I'm so tired of people being mean.

But, I guess I'm just being close-minded to those who are closed-minded. How interesting!

Picture: Chestnuts (not on an open fire) at home.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Volunteer's Motive (Motif?)



I found an article while researching The Clinton School of Public Service, a graduate program I'm very interested in applying for and attending within the next couple years. I mentioned sometime a few posts ago, that I'm concerned with whether I'm helping anyone by being here, or whether I'm just doing it for myself. I pondered service, being abroad, alternative spring breaks, etc. Finding this article really helped me; not in getting anywhere closer to forming a substantial opinion, but to read about my questions from another source (other than my brain) was somehow comforting (to read the article provided by the Clinton School, go to: http://www.frankmagazine.org/delorenzo.asp).

Not comforting in the way that it makes me happy, but at least someone else is wondering it as well. I think it's an interesting article, in addition to the Illich article (To Hell With Good Intentions, I posted a link to it a few posts ago), because it discusses how people choose to serve outside their own communities. Maybe I'm biased because I've served my country (IN my country) through service, but I think that's weird. How come people spend thousands of dollars to do service in a foreign country for only a week or two? Why not just go as a tourist? At least you won't have to worry about the obligation of work on your vacation time.

However, when Obama made his "Call to Service," how many people actually responded? I was in AmeriCorps when he made the call, but how has it actually expanded? He increased the Education Award for the first time in sixteen years (founded 1993) from $4724 to $5350, but now the program is under threat of being completely cut from the government's budget. AmeriCorps' budget has always been under threat of getting less financial support from the government, but to my knowledge, it's only been under threat once with President Bush. Maybe I don't understand the American political system as well as I should, but it just doesn't make sense to me that Obama would expand the number of positions available, increase funding, only to have the House hope to cut funding. Doesn't he have some sort of veto power? I guess I don't really remember checks and balances anymore. I'll have to do some more research.

On a completely different note, here's a list of the places I'd really like to spend time in within the next couple of years:

Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Israel, the Nordic countries (specifically Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland), Switzerland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Japan, Nova Scotia. My plan? The other Middle Eastern countries will be by the end of May. Nova Scotia is easy because I live in Maine. The European countries might be tackled in a visit to Europe, and I have no idea when Japan'll happen. I know things are crazy now with the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear stuff, but maybe someday it'll calm down. OR, it won't and I'll just have to deal!

Picture: Remember, remember. What though? I have a theory...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Bracelet of Dolphins


Thursday, March 17, 2011, I celebrated my 21st birthday. In Jordan. In the Middle East. Don't worry, it was filled with typical American debauchery (because I've passed the arbitrary age!), but let me tell you about my day... and how great it was.

Oh, actually, I should start out by saying that it was my host sister's 19th birthday on the 17th. It's so cute, I think they planned it (they=fates). We were going to go out for a lavish dinner at Hardee's, but that didn't end up happening because she was feeling ill. I went for a walk and came back to find them waiting to surprise me! They brought a cake and sang "Happy Birthday!" First in English then in Arabic. Then we went out to a movie (Unknown with Liam Neeson). It was really nice to get out and be with my host siblings. However, it was about the latest I'd been up (11:45). Needless to say, I was sleeeeepy at the start of my actual birthday. I got to work and there was more cake. There wasn't much work for me to do, which isn't unusual. Then I finally got to talk with my mom. Then I had class. Except it was at a restaurant, and we didn't do much learning. I tried to speak in Arabic the whole time, which was hard. I was trying to tell people about the movie I saw with my pseduo Arabic. It was really difficult, mainly because I don't have the vocabulary for it. Things are starting to fall into place, though, with Arabic. Or so it seems. I go through phases where I think I'm making progress (like when I get a 100% on my test), and other times where I just don't seem to make any sense to anyone else. Anyway, so I thought we were about to leave, but then the lights went out and a cake that literally had fireworks in it was brought out. I blushed. A lot. They sang "Happy Birthday!" in English and then in Arabic again. It was good cake, too. I had a fabulous birthday dinner with my teacher and the group.

But then! Most of us changed out of our everday wear and got all dressed up to go party at the Australian (!?) Embassy! They were having a St. Patrick's Day (/my birthday) themed party :) It was really fun! There was a live band who, again, sang "Happy Birthday!" to meeeee! There was dancing, live music, my friends, laughter, green beer (I know, I know), new friends, singing... basically, just all of my favorite things in one night! We even saw someone who looked like Ron Weasley. I had so much fun. My birthday made me feel just a little bit more special. It was a wonderful 21st.

And that's the story.
And then there was chicken. ALL over the place.
And THAT'S the story.

Picture: One stubborn camel.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Us AND Them


Truth. Justice. Mercy. Peace.

John Paul Lederach, a peace and conflict transformation professor from Notre Dame states, "The rub is that these four elements often contradict each other. For example, justice often involves punishment and violence, which is the opposite of mercy. Or, speaking the truth creates more conflict, which is the opposite of peace." Hmm. The key is balance, flexibility, patience and forgiveness. But the fact is, those four nouns take so much, well, balanceflexibilitypatienceforgiveness and TIME in order for people to start seeing results. I think that's the problem with what's going on; there's a quick fix for everything, which pacifies, but then the problem gets loose again and we end up losing our surface protection of ignorance. It's like a break up, a particularly drawn-out one. The initial problem is always around, though it may get glossed over from time to time. As my program always puts it, we’re only treating the symptoms, not curing the disease. We've all been there; don't even try to deny it.

I think it's really interesting how the causes of large-scale issues can be similar to smaller scale ones. The other day, I met up with someone who graduated from Earlham a few years ago (in Jordan... of all places), and, of course, we talked about the omnipresent conflict in the Middle East. We boiled the root down to a huge communication problem. Disclaimer: THE ROOT of the problem. The miscommunication or the denial of communication is just a propeller or stimulant, especially when communication is needed in the most desperate situation!

Horrible communication is often at the root of the conflict that can only involve two people. Actually, this past semester, I had a few situations like this, which was why it was so exhausting. Communication was waaaaay off, and we tried in vain to fix the overall relationship, but it just didn’t work because we weren’t addressing the underlying issue of our poor communication. Alas, after a whole lot of grief and stress, the dwindling relationship crashed down. Now I’m in an angsty and prolonged argument. However, this is better than no communication. We don’t want to be Palestine and Israel and completely avoid each other, do we? That’s just about as harmful as staying in the relationship and pretending there aren’t any problems.

Anyway, I'm looking for different outlets of communication. It's easy to say that we all need to communicate better, but when there's a communication breakdown in my own life, I turn into a hypocrite. I'm not actually emulating the world I want to see based on my actions. Gotta start now. Gotta go tell my boss that I'm heading out. Gotta take care of a different situation. Gotta get back in touch with those I've had trouble with. I'm searching for the real, long-term solution. It's a big deal. That's why I gotta go, and in two days I'll take a break from my hard work because it'll be my birthdayyyyy!!!!

Picture: a UFO in Wadi Rum.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Second Part of the Situation


The other day the group went to speak with a woman who works at UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency I mentioned two posts before) and I learned a little bit more about the refugee crisis and I've been able to think more about immigration and the refugee situation throughout the region. The meeting was pretty cool the whole way through--it was my first visit to UN property. We had to give them our passports, get our bags searched and had the wand waved over our bodies. The sign out front said, "No weapons allowed on the premises." Duh, but there was a guard out front holding a gun. I guess he wasn't inside the gate, but whatever, I'll get to that irony some other time...

Anyway, so in this meeting, we talked with a woman named Beth and she answered some of my questions. I don't know whether or not I was beguiled by her swanky confidence with the organization, but as a result, I became much more confident with the UN. I still haven't seen a camp, so I may be getting fed information that doesn't follow through... still, here is what I found out:

UNRWA is a humanitarian aid organization and is responsible for humanitarian aid within the camps. It is NOT a political organization concerned with any particular side. It exists only to serve and empower the underprivileged and vulnerable Palestinian refugees. However, the organization speaks truth, which can expose certain aspects of an occupier or unlock some hidden secrets that people may not have wanted to come out. This may not be exaaaactly the free-of-politics case, as can be seen with the resignation of John Ging, the director of UNRWA's Gaza program, and the camps may not be livable, but UNRWA's doing its best.

What I found really super interesting is, according to international law from the Fourth 1949 Geneva Convention, if UNRWA didn't exist, got defunded, lost its funding sources, didn't meet the quota, etc. the occupying power (Israel) would be required to take over responsibility of the work UNRWA does. Article 29 of Part III of the Convention states, "The Party to the conflict in whose hands protected persons may be, is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents, irrespective of any individual responsibility which may be incurred1." And, oh! look! Israel signed the treaty the very day it was finished and officially ratified2. Good thing there's an UNRWA cushion. Israel really dodged a bullet there.

Something about all this still makes me wonder how useful UNRWA is in the long run; it's nice to have a humanitarian agency in place for the short-term solutions, but how much is it actually helping the underlying refugee problem? Could it be further prolonging the situation in some capacity? There are about 4.6 million registered-with-UNRWA Palestinian refugees throughout the region, and 2 million of them live in Jordan. My host family is unregistered with UNRWA, but the folks who have registered are forever branded with a refugee status. Their children become refugees, even though they can't even cross the border into Palestine. Most people I meet have never seen the land they come from--it's generations behind them. Yet, they're directly considered refugees of actions that are distantly behind them (the war, not the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict). Something about this seems peculiar to me.

On a different note, after choir (pun intended) last Monday, I got a ride home with someone who asked what I'm doing here. I rambled off the usual, "uhhhhhhh,studyarabic,seetheregion,neverbeenoutsidetheunitedstates,mymajor,understandtheculture,ihavefriendsfromhereblahblahblah..." and I guess he was impressed with my jumbled answer because he said, "Oh, awesome, I think traveling makes you richer inside..." Cool. Does it? Am I traveling selfishly? Oh jeez. Here we go...

At school I'm part of the Bonner Scholars Program3, a program that gives scholarships to students from lower income families who have dedication to service. I have to log and complete 140 hours of service per semester, and the fact that I'm in Jordan doesn't really matter all that much; I'm still required to complete these hours, which is fine because my program has an internship component and I work with an NGO. So, I'm living here in Jordan, I'm learning the language, I'm studying, I'm working here, wouldn't it make sense that I'm becoming "richer inside," as Karam said? Because I have a habit of second guessing myself or over interpreting the meanings behind what people say or do, I wonder if I'm really doing any good. Also, I might be super sensitive to this subject because I'm constantly trying not to impose, which is hard to do because I'm not the most comfortable with the language and people are forced to accommodate my shitty language "skills." Anyway, through Bonner I have to complete two summers of service (where I work with Seeds of Peace, the real reason I'm here--but that's too difficult to explain to someone giving me a ride home) and I got an email from my coordinator a list of volunteer opportunities for the summer and a bunch of different databases for volunteering abroad. I was like, cool, I know what I'm doing this summer, but I'll check this stuff out anyway. I went to a bunch of different sites and found lots of cool information, but a lot of it was really expensive and the programs only seemed to last for a week or two. At that point though, is it about the underprivileged group you're supposed to be helping or is it about yourself? I don't think that for-profit volunteer groups are the way to do things. For more information about how others feel about the alternative spring break work, check out what Ivan Illich says4.

There are many things to think about. The most pressing one is that I have an exam tomorrow. In Arabic. Here we go.


footnotes

1. http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/385ec082b509e76c41256739003e636d/6756482d86146898c125641e004aa3c5

2. http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebSign?ReadForm&id=375&ps=P

3. www.bonner.org

4. http://www.swaraj.org/illich_hell.htm

Picture: A regular ol' sunset in Wadi Rum

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How It'll Be...


I wonder how it'll be when I go home. It's a few months away, but I'm curious what kinds of Middle Eastern trends I'll have picked up. When I get home will I accidently say "shukran" instead of "thanks (شكرا)," "laa (لا)" instead of "no"? Will I forget what it's like to shake a man's hand? Will I actually find a way to miss the traffic, smog, horn honking or staring (mmm, probably not)? I dunno, there are lots of differences between Amman and where I live in Maine. Obviously. I wonder how it'll be when I go home though, what will I miss? What will I act? How will it all work when I go home? I never really traveled internationally before I came to Jordan, so I'm unfamiliar with long distance jet-lag and super intense culture shock. I've done a bit of traveling within the United States, and that's certainly a big country with lots of different areas, but it's immensely different here. It's the language, it's the people, it's the phone coverage, it's the government, it's the religion, it's different.

Do people ever talk about culture shock when they go home? I don't think I've ever thought about it. I've only ever heard about culture shock when you go into a new area, but what's it like when you go back home with all the experiences you've had, the lessons you've learned and the new realtionships you've formed? I bet it's even worse when you get back because literally no one around you will have experienced a single thing you did. How'll you be able to initially relate? I guess I've experienced this, but I never realized that it might be culture shock. I guess that shows my ignorance with travel. Culture shock is a pretty freaky thing. I'm pretty glad that I'm not in a long distance relationship right now (for various reasons) because I feel like it would be impossible for me to relate to him after coming home, regardless of how this semester would go with communication. I just wonder what it'll be like, how my opinions have been reformulated or how different I'll look. You don't notice day-to-day changes, but the long term changes will be very apparent when I look back on my time here (or look at pictures and see how much weight I've gained from all the Jordanian food I get forced into eating...eeek), my hair will be longer, I'll have more freckles, but I'll probably also hold myself in a different way (hopefully not from the heavy backpack I carry around all the time) or something. We'll see.

Only time...

Picture: a water droplet on a clover at a Roman ruin in Madaba.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Situation



At the JCLA I've had a research project where I've been looking up the status of Palestinian refugees residing in refugee camps throughout Jordan. I've been It's actually been a really great opportunity because it's helped me learn a lot more about the current situation (through objective sources, I haven't really heard anything from actual Palestinian refugees living in the refugee camps--which might be the next step)... sorta. With every site I opened and every picture I looked at, I gain entry into another opinion and am able to comprehend a little more insight to what it takes to be a resident here.

I don't want to claim that I know at all what it means to be a refugee or that I completely understand the situation. I don't. But, I do have some sort of idea of what the deal is by living with my family and by looking into how working with UNRWA, the United Nationals Relief and Works Agency, is and how people feel about the organization/situations in which they live (/live near) these camps. Basically, I don't have an opinion because I've only done research online (like looking at everyone else's opinion), but I should be talking with someone from UNRWA sometime soon. I've probably talked with someone from a refugee camp; I don't know if I'll be visiting one--should I? I can never tell if I'm imposing myself and I present a terrifying situation for myself, or if I'd be welcomed in indulging in my curiosity. I sorta live near one of the camps. The Amman New Camp (Wihdat) was established in 1955 for refugees expelled from Palestine after the 1948 establishment of Israel as a state. Initially (I don't know if it's any different now), the area was 0.48 km squared for 1,660 refugees. Now over 51,000 registered refugees live within this camp. Damn. That doesn't include the numbers that UNRWA doesn't have of the unregistered folks living here in Amman and at the camp. In addition, there are 9 other official UNRWA funded camps, and three other unofficial refugee communities scattered throughout Jordan. According to UNRWA, Jordan holds almost half of the Palestinian refugee population, and as a result of the space compared to the volume of people, these camps are pretty crowded, disorganized, unhealthy and underfunded.

All of these facts are available to look at online with the UNRWA website, opinion/question/answer boards, NGO websites, wikipedia, etc. With all the information I've been looking up for the past week, I've been formulating lots of questions and trying to sort out my feelings about immigration and the responsibilities of refugees and those housing the refugees. When a disaster hits an area (natural disasters, war, famine... you know the deal), people flee and others provide. Temporarily. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico, it could be argued that some people living in the gulf states (particularly of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama) became homeless and became refugees... or displaced peoples, I guess. These folks were unable to return to their homes and were forced to migrate to another area and seek the refuge of someone else's hospitality. My mom and I talked about hosting a kid who would be my age from NOLA, but I don't think we could have afforded it. I think it's great--it seems that it may be a subconscious human reaction to help out those who are truly suffering in certain situations. Who knows if this is a natural instinct; it's just a theory.

Anyway, Jordan has been a host for the Palestinian refugees for a little less than 60 years. Wow. That's a long time to be a refugee. That's a long time to host so many refugees. 's gotta be expensive. Some people still currently living in the refugee camps here in Jordan and can remember living in Palestine before the partition of the area in 1948. I find it incredible that there would be a country that would continue to support these refugees for so long. After 1948ish, after the six-day war in 1967, after the intifadas and the recent distress in Gaza there have been more and more people entering Jordan... and that's just Palestinian refugees. The number of the Iraqi refugees is growing as well. Jordan's bursting at the seams and the natural resources/economy doesn't seem to support the number of people trying to reap benefits from the land. Is there a certain point where it's okay to be selfish and stop people from coming in? Is this a horrible thought?

In Maine, where my mom and I have lived since 2001, we have a pretty large Somali refugee population and a few years ago, the mayor of a certain town told the Somali folks already there to send the message along to their families to stop coming to Maine; he said that the city just didn't have enough resources or jobs to support the amount of people coming into the state. Essentially, (and I don't know if the entire city really felt like this, but people certainly supported him...) he told them that the Mainers didn't want them coming... My gut reaction is that this guy is racist and scared of having to work with Muslims because of the big hype/scare since 9/11 and all this terrorism/Al Qaeda/Taliban/Hamas bullshit scare tactic America has come up with. This may be the case, and I think it partially was, but I wonder now if he was actually trying to make sure that there were enough resources for people who were actually residents/citizens. In a pretty tactless way.

Everybody needs a home. That's the big deal right now. The Jews got their homeland after a-so-called-billion years of suffering, but now they've ostracized a whole other group. How fair is that? Not very. History is important, and boy, did the Jews have historic suffering, but, COME ON! Let's live in the present! The groups of people who fled Palestine to Jordan have sought refuge from their Arab brothers and sisters, and they received it, but now that it's been almost sixty years, don'tcha think that it's been long.enough for another country to be financially responsible for people who aren't residents? I don't even know if this is what I believe. I keep going back and forth because I want to embrace all kinds of people and try and help as many folks as I can, but at what point does state sovereignty outweigh the need to be hospitable? I have no idea what I'd do if I were a politician here.

As I said before, Jordan has a little less than half of the Palestinian refugees in the region, but that doesn't count the unregistered folks and those who have renounced their Palestinian culture and become Jordanian citizens. Many of the folks in Jordan are Palestinian-Jordanians and a smaller percentage are actually East Bankers (from the time when the area was under British mandate and this state used to be TransJordan). It's strange how much blood and birthplace comes into play here. It's like with Harry Potter (HAD TO)--the purebloods, half-bloods, muggle borns, muggles, etc. What does it all matter? We're all living and we all seek attention and crave love. How different can we be? Especially when some of us are Palestinians posing as Jordanians. Ahhh, I don't know. I'll probably get a lot of disrespect for this post, but this has been something that I've been thinking about for a while. Immigration and the status "REFUGEE" are obscure and murky terms for how people choose to individually identify. Unfortunately, this isn't an individualized world, as much as we'd like it to be... It's a world with an impossible amount of connections (I know first-hand that there are so many connections; just last night at choir I met another person who's done Seeds of Peace and we know lots of the same people).

So, after this incredibly long post, I'm left with the question: is it our common and decent civic duty as citizens of the world to take in everybody for as long as it takes or have we reached such a point of separation that each person needs to watch out for him/herself? Additionally, are organizations/agencies such as UNRWA (and others, I'm sure) actually helping the cause? Is it a case of prolonging a completely desperate situation? Is UNRWA providing for the refugees as the situation stands or will it become an organization that focuses on a solution to the refugee problem? What's better? What's worse? Shouldn't we focus on fixing long-term problems, rather than the short-term? But then, woah, shouldn't we fix the current problem? Am I just over-analyzing?...once again?

Regardless of the deal, I give props to the Palestinians for persevering and to the Jordanians for rolling with the punches and being so hospitable. I get that people are tired (I am, too), but we gotta keep pushing for a solution. I only hope that people haven't become too jaded. A solution is out there! Peace is possible! Let's do it!!!!

Picture: A piece of art I came across. Afraid I don't have a source.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A New Life


The other morning I woke up to the sound of gunshots. When I went running (not from being fired at), I heard them too. In fact, when I went to bed I was still hearing gunshots. It's ok, it's ok, there hasn't been a bloody revolution here in Jordan, people were just celebrating the results of their high school Tawjihi exams. People were zooming around honking their horns and hanging out of the cars, waving Jordanian flags and yelling with joy. High school is over (basically--it's like when finished our course requirements or when got into college and still had to go to school). My host brother, Bashar, says that high school is actually the most important education someone can receive, and getting a good score on this exam can determine how successful you are for the rest of your life. Something that's a little different from the states... in addition to the gunshot celebration style. Yeehaw.

So life with my family has had its ups and downs. When I arrived, a little over a month ago, there were only five of them (however, far more than my two person family consisting of my mother and me). There's a mother, father, sister, brother and an Indonesian maid living permanently here. However, literally within the first hour of my arrival, another sister arrived from Dubai and brought her two children, Filipina maid and a baby on board. We all piled into the cars and traveled back "home." I immediately felt out of place and unable to connect, which is understandable... they all cared about the new pregnant person. Totally understandable, BUT! after a solid month of miscommunication and some not-very-solid connections made, I got a little sick of it; especially since I'm usually quite personable. Blah, blah, blah, I'm done complaining, though, because an amazing (and at the moment, crying) babygirl was born exactly one month before my (and Reema's) birthday. I am, of course, still stuck in the shadows, but after gaining the trust and affection of the two other kids, I've been able to deal. I get an indescribable flutter of satisfaction every time I get a hug, they reach out for my hand, they sing "Leila, ya'Leila" overandoverandoveragain, etc. etc. etc. Anyway, whatever, a new life has begun and I've been able to see it. She's only a few days old and I got to be here for it. I've never seen any person this young, in real life. I even got to go up to that window and check out all the babies. My maternal heartstrings are being plucked. Babybabybabybabybaby fever!

In the middle of all the craziness in the Middle East caused by governments and super upset people, I'm left with a burning question: why must babies put everything in their mouths?--perfume (containing alcohol... bad, bad Muslim baby), cigarettes, vases, my hair, etc.

There's still so much to do, so much to see, so much to learn, all that... I'mma stop thinking about it because it also freaks me out and overwhelms. Alas, at least there's lots of chocolate and balloons around to cheer a person up!

Picture: A flower in our garden

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Journaling Attempt


Currently I'm at Books@Cafe, a hip, hot hangout spot on the list of 101 things to do in Amman. It's neat, I guess. I'm eating lentil soup, which I'm surprised to say is yellow. It's okay, though, I had this same soup last night with my family at home... or else we'll just see how I'm feeling later. Around me, there's an Arab couple, sitting dangerously close to one another and cuddling, which is usually viewed as mamnoo3 (forbidden).

There are a bunch of nationalities here--an American man and Jordanian women are audibly talking about a movie script or a book manuscript or something. I think he's her editor. There's a British group of chicks talking about their travels. A surly looking Japanese boy plays on his phone while he sips his coffee. An American couple looks at the hill in the distance Jabal Luweibdeh and Qalaa, which has the Roman temple of Hercules. Farther along there's an older women (no idea where she's from... I guess my stereotyping can't figure her out), who is reading and then there's a Jordanian man engrossed in his work. He's smoking shisha and studying or drawing a comic strip or something. Then there's me, a (shy of one month) 21 year-old American student on an Earlham College abroad program for a few months. As I eat my lentil soup, I'm being watched by a few staff members, who are probably trying to make sure that all these foreigners pay their tab. As the lady who is serving me clears the table, I mumble out a hasty shukraan (thank you) to make it seem like I actually belong. I've been here since early January and I'll stay until May. Though there has been some language progress, I still feel woefully behind in the Arabic language. I feel that I will eternally be targeted as a tourist, even though I live with a host family, know where I need to go and am able to get home by taxi, usually without any abnormal complications of getting overcharged or lost on the long trek from first circle on Jabal Amman to Marj al-Hamam. It doesn't even matter to those who watch and honk at me on the street. It's exhausting being in the minority in a strange environment every.single.day. I'm not used to being in the minority--that's an experience in itself. I'm a while girl who was born in Tennessee, moved to Maine (#1 whitest state) and now attends school in Indiana. I have absolutely no problem with diversity, it's just a verrrry unique experience being constantly gawked at and viewed as a perptual tourist. It's a lot of traveling, much more money than I'd care to spend, and it all takes some getting used to, but I'm very much enjoying my time in the program. The twelve other folks in the program are just plain wonderful. I'm so lucky to be working with such incredible people and having the opportunity to study and absorb this entirely different culture with them.

There isn't a lot of work to do because Prophet Muhammed's birthday was the other day and I'm assigned to grant writing, research and organizational stuff (/my boss didn't come in today)... but I get internet. I work with a group of ladies at the headquarters for the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA) in Amman, Jordan. This non-profit, non-governmental organization offers high quality legal aid representation, assistance, awareness and counseling to those who are underprivileged and vulnerable throughout Jordan. The organization has established legal aid clinics in three locations (Amman, Madaba and Zarqa) and has recently received a grant award from the World Bank to open up more legal aid clinics throughout all of Jordan to specificially focus on the Palestinian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan. For Valentine's day, Reem, an administrative assistant, was given two parakeets (by someone who is in love with her--it's unrequited), but she didn't want them so she's donated them to the orgainzation. They were chattering and singing, it was nice, even though I'd like them to be freeeeeeee!

Anyway, this organization I'm working for is something like a Human Rights Commission--like the ones we have in the states. I worked for one in Richmond, Indiana (where I go to school) and it's recently become a hot topic of controversy. Last October, the city council of Richmond voted 7-2 to defund the Human Rights Commission of Richmond, Indiana. I just couldn't understand why; maybe it's because I come from a pretty liberal background, I embrace diversity through being a part of Civil Rights Team(s) and, I dunno, I generally think that it's common sense to have a place that'll legally protect your basic human rights... but whatever... The Human Rights Commission in Richmond operates as part of the government and is therefore, part of the government's budget. Even though Richmond's budget was actually "in the black," cuts needed to be made to keep it that way. The HRC operates on about $34,000/year, which isn't actually all that much... if you think about it, it's out of a multi-million dollar budget. I can understand that cuts need to be made, but it's the only city service that has been completely deprived of funding. The $34,000 went back into the "rainy day fund," which is to be used in emergencies. C'mooooon Richmond! Don't add more IT or janitorial positions, give it to your people!

Basically, the JCLA is a Jordan-based Human Rights Commission, with lawyers, and funds. While here in Jordan I'm learning how similar and different American and Jordanian Judicial systems are from one another. I'm learning lots through observation, and am on the brink of understanding language, people, culture, the whole deal (sorta). The best thing for me to say right now is that I'm learning. However different the family life, the language, the food, the driving culture, the very personal questions, the color scape of the houses or the amount of walking I do is, I'm constantly taking it all in. Which is probably why I'm exhausted.

Picture: a dried up wetland area (Azraq)