David is become Goliath…

August 24, 2009 at 2:51 am (Uncategorized)

In the biblical story of the struggle between mighty and minute, privileged and impoverished, the roles in the Middle East have ironically reversed. Israel plays the role of the nuclear behemoth, while the Palestinians, denied the right to self-defense, are reduced to rock-throwing and unending patience.

Israel is the largest security threat to the region, which is ironic, given the prevailing Western stereotype of the Palestinian Muslim as terrorist. I didn’t meet any terrorists this summer, only lovely, wonderful Palestinians and Westerners horrified at their experiences in and with Israel. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter?

My American friend said the Israeli border guards could have killed her in detention (they were so horrible that at one point it crossed her mind) and no one would know. The US would never challenge Israel because we have always been allies.

On the other hand, if an American disappeared in Jordan, there’d be hell to pay. An international outcry would likely ensue, with calls for the person to be “liberated from terrorists.” Please note that in all my time in Jordan I felt safer than I do here in the states, and that the Israeli border is easily the most frightening (certainly the most militarized) place in the region.

As I begin to digest my summer experience, I’d like this blog to become a space for Palestinian voices, since I don’t hear or see them anywhere in our country. I owe it to the folks I met this summer, and I simply think it’s a good idea.

I also don’t think there needs to be this either/or dynamic anymore, where you’re either on one side of the issue or the other, with no space in between. Call me naive, but I think dialogue is important. We can’t have dialogue, however, unless both parties speak and I’d like this blog to be a chance for Palestinians to do just that.

Barack Obama said in his big race speech in Philadelphia during the Reverend Wright affair (part I) that we can continue to ignore race, if we wish, and nothing will change. Or, we can take the more difficult course and begin to talk about the barriers between us. I think it’s worth a venture in this direction for not just those who live in the Middle East, but for anyone whose life is affected by the unrest, namely, most of us.

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Jihad

August 23, 2009 at 4:41 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s such a powerful word that I thought it was fit for a title by itself.

I’ve heard about two types of jihad here–the inner jihad and the self-defense jihad.

The inner jihad is kind of about self-control; when you want that second piece of dessert but you know you shouldn’t, or when you want t beautiful dress but really can’t afford it, when you envy a friend and feel tempted to say something unkind…

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books@cafe

August 23, 2009 at 4:37 pm (Uncategorized)

My last time on Rainbow Street!

It’s funny how things don’t mean as much until you’re about to say good-bye. This is a great resource, if a tad self-consciously Western and scene-y for my taste, but they have great books in French about the Palestinian experience in exile.

I’m waiting for Laurel, whom I haven’t met yet but we both worked on the campaign. She’s now living in Beirut (lucky!) working on her master’s in Middle Eastern Studies.

It sounds like we have a lot in common. She had a horrific ordeal at the Israeli border yesterday and I’ll ask her if I can share any of it here.

Why don’t we ever hear about these Israeli border crossing stories in the states?

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Taking Flight

August 23, 2009 at 2:49 am (Uncategorized)

I’m leaving on Monday. My pickup is 4am, flight is 6:40am.

Amman Istanbul.

Istanbul Chicago.

Chicago San Francisco.

Home.

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Final Destination

August 19, 2009 at 5:32 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve arrived at ACOR, the American Center for Oriental Research; my final residence for my summer here in Jordan.

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Winding Down

August 18, 2009 at 10:19 pm (Uncategorized)

It looks like my time here in Jordan is drawing to a close; I’d hoped to spend a couple of weeks housesitting for a friend, but his landlord objects to the facts that I am

1. a single woman, and 2. unrelated to this particular friend, who is male.

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Time for a Project?

August 17, 2009 at 12:52 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve been wondering how to approach the subject of Israel/Palestine with people at home who don’t have access to the same information that we have here.

I’ve decided that recording Palestinians’ stories as told to me is the best way to represent what is happening without ideology getting in the way. After all, this is how I’ve learned most of what I’ve learned here.

This way my priority would be to accurately represent what is said, not project my own experience, necessarily (obviously, I think the Palestinian experience is underreported). Maybe I shouldn’t bother trying to change people’s minds, but my views have changed radically since I got here.

Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation has done a wonderful job of recording the stories of Jewish Holocaust survivors, and I think there should be an organization to record the stories of Palestinians who were displaced from their homes because of Israel’s behavior.

Both voices deserve to be told, both groups of people deserve the opportunity to heal.

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Telling the Truth

August 16, 2009 at 7:58 pm (Uncategorized)

I made a pledge to myself and to my Palestinian friends here that I would accurately represent their stories when I went home. I plan to do this, even though it will be difficult for some people to hear. I was similarly honest with my Palestinian friends when I shared with them the various truths about my Jewish friends–that I love them, that they are good people who would never condone the kind of suffering I’ve seen here–and was able to clear up some misunderstandings.

The truth must out–when people are hurt and hurting, we owe it to ourselves and to them to be honest about what is happening. I believe we are obliged to bear witness to suffering, whether it’s listening to an aging Holocaust survivor or a young woman whose children were killed by Israeli missiles, a Palestinian refugee who has not left the Gaza refugee camp since arriving in 1967 or the woman whose male family members were shot dead as they fled the advancing Israeli army in 1948.

We know the story of the Holocaust, of the millennia of suffering of the Jewish people. I’ve seen the concentration camps, I’ve met survivors, I’ve grown up around loving Jewish folks who have made their stories very clear to me.

Now it’s time for me to share with you what my Palestinian friends have experienced. I’m not interested in distorting the facts; that is not conducive to healing. When Israel hurts innocent civilians, it detracts from its own ability to heal the wounds of the Jewish people. Re-creating trauma in whatever form only prolongs the suffering of all parties. We can do better than this. If we do not, we dishonor the memories and the suffering of all who have gone before us.

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Next to Godliness

August 15, 2009 at 7:15 pm (Uncategorized)

I don’t know who said “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but it applies in Jordan.

Islam is big on cleanliness. Muslims are instructed to wash at least their hands and feet before prayer. I like this. And the tradition carries over to non-prayer activities, like cleaning floors. The number of people cleaning floors and the frequency of it was one of the first differences I noticed between America and the Hashemite kingdom.

My manpower formula for floor-cleaning in Jordan is this: however many people are necessary to keep a given floor clean, plus one.

Whether it’s the airport, a shopping mall, sidewalk, or restaurant, there appears to be exactly one more person than is strictly necessary to keep the floor clean pushing a broom around.

Given the underemployment here, this is good for another reason, not just to make sure we’re all a bit closer to God :-).

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The Catscape

August 14, 2009 at 9:21 pm (Uncategorized)

As a consummate cat lover, the cat situation here is very difficult to stomach.

Cats here are treated as vermin, and pretty much are. They’re underweight, dirty, and often covered with sores. They eat out of dumpsters and are anything but domesticated. Restaurant owners shoo them off of verandas and children twirl them around by their tails or commit equally horrendous offenses. PETA would be horrified!

It’s a reflex to say “Hi kitty!” or “kitty, kitty!” when I pass a cat, but here I just can’t say it.

Jordan’s highly-publicized and corporate-sponsored first national cat show took place on Friday, and after weeks of speculation about whether we would go, Ying and I decided to pass.

The cat show even has its own facebook page!

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The Camps

August 11, 2009 at 2:32 pm (Uncategorized)

I visited two Palestinian refugee camps on Monday. I still don’t really have words; I’m too upset about much of what I saw to sound rational.

This is going to be a difficult discussion, especially as I prepare to return to the states and share what I’ve seen here. Let me make it clear that my love for my Jewish friends (and family, since there is basically no difference) does not change.

Let me also make clear that the respect, trust, admiration and understanding that I’ve experienced with my Palestinian friends, colleagues, and random folks I’ve spoken with will also not change.

In a word, we have a problem, a “mushkila.” There is an enormous disconnect between what is happening on the ground, what is reported in the media, and what people believe to be happening.

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[Some] Young Turks

August 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm (Uncategorized)

There is a sizable Turkish contingent studying Arabic at Qasid this summer, including at least one family group. Most of them seem to be studying classical Arabic, which many Muslims do in order to read the Koran.

There is a mother/daughter pair, too, whom I presume converted to Islam because they have blond hair, blue eyes, beautiful skin, and British accents.

The makeup of the student body this summer is largely comprised of Americans and other Westerners studying Modern Standard Arabic for school or career reasons and of Muslims who study Classical Arabic in order to understand the Koran better, for personal enrichment.

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ACOR[N]

August 10, 2009 at 6:27 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m exploring staying at ACOR, the American Center for Oriental Research, when my lease is up before my flight leaves.

I haven’t figured out if/when I’m going to Palestine.

ACORN was the community-organizing group that received criticism during the presidential campaign last year, but I don’t know enough about the issue to comment on it.

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V/E Day

August 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm (Uncategorized)

At April’s “Yalla Bye, Jordan” going-away party, I met someone from the Obama campaign!

Not just someone from the campaign, but someone who worked in the same state as I did for the general election, in the county next to mine!

Crazy. Michael is best friends with some of the first people I came to know on the campaign, among them Alex Lofton and Elizabeth Wilkins.

What are the odds that we’d run into each other in Amman, Jordan, the year after the election, but never saw each other in Ohio? Michael was part of the GOTV team, who didn’t show up until the last few weeks before the election. They played one of the most crucial roles, however (well, every role was crucial), in our big win.

As Election Day approached, whether it was November 4th or during the primary season, people would refer to it either as “E-Day” or “V-Day” (i.e. Election Day or Victory Day).

I thought it would be fun to title this post “V/E Day,” since that’s what the day Germany surrendered in World War II was called in Europe, incidentally (Victory Europe).

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Fractured Identities//a Moveable Peace

August 8, 2009 at 9:47 pm (Uncategorized)

The Palestinian diaspora. So ironic! It was my Jewish friends who were once exiled from their own land and now, Israel is the one doing the exiling. How can it not see the suffering it is causing? Does it see but not care? This is not the Israel I learned about as a kid. Something is out of joint.

The Palestinians I have met here treat me like family. They are such good people. They love each other, they want good lives and they want to better themselves. I watch them sacrifice for each other in ways I’ve never seen Americans do, especially not at such young ages. They are more polite and more gracious than most people.

It hurts me to hear their stories. I have heard about atrocious behavior on the part of Israeli settlers and soldiers from people and sources I trust. This isn’t propaganda. It’s real, and it begs further exploration. I do not believe that a nation of Jewish folks can heal from what has happened to them while they continue to visit violence upon people in a weaker position than they.

This suffering must stop. Monday I may go to the Palestinian refugee camps near Amman. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I don’t believe in a God who would rejoice in or cause this suffering. It’s not funny when an Israeli soldier refers to Palestinians as “cockroaches”–the same word, by the way, used during the Rwandan genocide–or when a Palestinian makes a favorable reference to violence against Israel.

There is no question that the Jews have suffered immeasurably throughout their conscious existence. That is not debatable. We all know, however, that continuing a cycle of violence, even at the nation-state level, is not the mark of redemption. It stains the souls of the Israelis to do harm to anyone, even if it is in perceived self-interest. There is enough human suffering surrounding Israel for anyone to see what I am talking about.

If you fancy a trip to Israel, please also visit Palestine. Make up your own mind and leave the media to its own self-interested sideshow. Talk to people on all sides of the issue. Investigate your sources before believing random bits of information. Do this because people who are suffering are counting on us to bear witness.

These are the lessons learned from the Holocaust, no?

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A Mecca of a Mall

August 8, 2009 at 11:40 am (Uncategorized)

Oh, the irony! Mecca is the holiest city in Islam, yet the biggest and fanciest shopping mall in Amman is the “Mecca Mall.” I waded in yesterday, not realizing it was a huge sale weekend, out of the sheer need to let my skin feel the air after being completely covered all summer.

Turns out the mall has a lot of mid-priced European clothing stores with absolutely beautiful clothes. I’m so tired of shopping at the same stores in the states and wearing the same clothes! I’m ready for a new aesthetic, a new sartory, as it were.

The shoppers seemed mostly to be “Gulf Arabs,” i.e. folks who are so pampered and have so much money that throwing it around a mall and waiting in line for a dressing room, arms overflowing with expensive garments, is the most strenuous part of the day. I’m sure there were a few Jordanians in the mix, too.

So I puttered around the air-conditioned complex, not realizing how large it is. I found a beautiful beaded necklace at an Afghani crafts store for $2 (I’m hoping it was actually made in Afghanistan, but what are the odds?).

Today I’m wearing short sleeves; a graphic t-shirt in the same shades of gray as my almost floor-length French-made skirt, which is today’s concession to the modest dress standards here. If I were anywhere else in the city (I’m in the Western-ish, replete-with-expats Jebel Amman district), I’d put on my handy black cardigan cotton sweater to cover my arms.

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Miss[ing] Jordan

August 7, 2009 at 7:42 pm (Uncategorized)

I can’t believe it’s already time to compile a list of what I’ll miss most about Jordan:

the call to prayer from the mosques five times each day (especially when you can hear more than one)

the smell of Turkish coffee from street vendors

the honking of the taxis that is a form of friendly communication

talking to taxi drivers

Rainbow Street

sharing in the trials and tribulations of Arabic class boot camp with my classmates

Ustaadh Amer’s laugh and lectures on Islam

truly divine falafel and baba ghanoush

chocolate milk

50 cent Turkish coffee that is better than anything Starbucks brews

watching the way Muslim girls style their scarves

learning Arabic

random fireworks at night

Malek’s driving

humorous verbal misunderstandings due to language constraints

the genuine kindness of people here

the lack of cynicism

Saudi license plates

fantastic, fresh, real produce without any funny stuff on it

the elegance of cafes and restaurants and rooftop cafes

seeing people smoke argeelah

feeling safe every minute of the day, even at night or on deserted streets

the wearing of t-shirts by people who do not understand what is written on them (i.e. the guy with “uterus” across his chest comes to mind)

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Happy Birthday, Ying!

August 7, 2009 at 7:29 pm (Uncategorized)

Yesterday, my lovely roommate Ying had a get-together at an elegant cafe/restaurant called Canvas in Jebel Weibdeh, next to the National Art Gallery.

It was an eclectic bunch, as folks from Ying’s workplace were there, along with some cyclists she met a few weekends ago, a college friend of hers who is also here in Amman, another woman she met while searching for roommates, and more!

Such a civilized evening, as my dad would say. We sat outside on the terrace, in candlelight. The music was soft, and the conversation wonderful! I sat next to an Italian girl who has been studying at the University of Jordan since February and is heading back to Italy next week. I also met a Jordanian who was accepted to MIT but since it was the year 2001, his father would not allow him to go.

A Palestinian woman who lives with her family in Saudi Arabia and teaches English was a lively addition to the group. I sat near the two cyclists, who happen to be among the top cyclists in Jordan! They are each half Russian/Ukrainian and speak fluent Russian.

April, Ying’s friend from college, came. She was with us on our Beirut trip last weekend. Her roommate was there as well, an American who teaches English with the organization AMIDEAST and is from Ohio. Another Jordanian I didn’t really have the chance to talk to attends the German-Jordanian University and will leave soon to study for five years in Germany.

Another guest is a student from Western China, the area where there is conflict with the Uighur Muslims. She and Ying spoke Mandarin together. Ying is originally from San Diego and her folks are from mainland China.

Ying and April and Hayam went to Wadi Rum today; I went shopping! See post below for details.

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Revolt in the Desert, or, A Sartorial Uprising

August 7, 2009 at 7:27 pm (Uncategorized)

Yesterday I reached a critical point of having worn too much clothing for too long in too much heat, and recycling the same few pieces of clothing for the past couple of months.

I broke down and marched into Mecca Mall in search of at least one knee-length skirt and some short sleeves.

Turns out it was a twice-yearly big sale, and I found some amazing items. The mid-priced stores are European and have beautiful things that we don’t see in the states. I also picked up a few items of jewelry at rock-bottom prices, because “accessories make the outfit.”

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Cultural Dissonance [Dissidence]

August 4, 2009 at 8:38 pm (Uncategorized)

Blah. I had a rough day and my wonderful friends offered to come over, only to be kicked out by the stupid landlord.

But you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. The wholesomeness and piety and respect and reverence that I find here go along with restrictions that I find unpleasant and inconvenient, but the freedoms I love in the West are accompanied by their own set of distasteful problems.

In other news, I received my first Jordanian paycheck today. I also might get to do a translation from the French about the history of the Algerian soccer team, insh’allah, and I’m currently [trying] to do a brochure for a local paint company.

I’m also working on fundraising for some local Palestinian refugee camps, and hope to visit one soon.

Not that the US culture isn’t full of contradictions, but one I find particularly striking here is that of men working in women’s clothing stores. There is such an emphasis here on modesty and separation of the genders that when I walk into a clothing store I am startled to find men working there. I guess most women don’t work outside the home, but I certainly don’t want guys helping me look at clothes!

Thus far my grand total for shopping in Jordan is one skirt and one pair of earrings.

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