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.






Picture: A regular ol' sunset in Wadi Rum