Friday, September 30, 2005


I've got my first cold of the season and feel crap. Took Issy to playgroup today, where I assumed most everyone else would have runny noses like us, and found that we were the only ones with nose gunk. Everyone thought I had consumption from the sound of my barking cough and honking nose blowing. I've ripped through about a roll and a half of jumbo roll TP (for some reason, we never ever have tissue at home).

This is probably the first in a long season of getting everything coming and going from preschool. Yippee.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Reporting and development in the Middle East

I'm listening to Dexter Filkins, who's a NYTimes reporter based in Iraq, on Terry Gross. I am in love with Terry Gross and would probably marry her if I could, despite the fact that my friend (no names here--tee hee!) no longer listens to her and her "pro-Israeli" views. I'm so glad I haven't picked up on any hardcore Zionist stuff because I don't think I could live without her.

Anyway, this interview with Filkins has me thinking about how in the heck these people are able to do real reporting in Iraq. Seems like he spends a lot of time out of the Green Zone, unlike most, and he says he speaks Arabic. That I also kind of wonder about, because I've yet to see many people with a good enough handle on Arabic to totally manage an interview, nuances and all.

Which gets me thinking about all the people we ended up meeting in Amman who were supposed to be doing development work in Iraq but live in Amman because the security situation doesn't allow it. The US is funneling gajillions of dollars to run projects from promoting democracy to rebuilding infrastructure, but a disquieting amount of this money seems to be sitting around due the inability to do work in Iraq, thrown at projects for the sake of being able to say they're "implementing" them, or just funneled out to pay the American consultants and staff their inflated rates for working in a war zone.

I never once met anyone I would consider an expert on the Middle East working with these orgs doing business in Iraq. In fact, at least 95% of the people I met had no experience whatsoever working in the Middle East. Again, the security situation is partially to blame; it's difficult to attract anyone to Iraq to work, so many unqualified people are taking on jobs that give them an easy entrance into the development world. But it's a pattern I typically see in the US development sector--people running projects who simply have no clue about where they're working. Kind of makes one wonder how effective or sustainable they're going to be.

But back to reporting on the Middle East. Samer and I went to see Anthony Shadid a couple of weeks ago. His new book, Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War, looks definitely worth a read. This is the kind of reporting that really appeals to me--the kind that digs into the stories of the regular people experiencing the mayhem around them.

His reading was good, but way too short, since the audience got broken into groups to discuss "key" questions on the US' involvement in Iraq. I totally felt like I was back in grad school, where everyone kind of has no clue but are trying really hard to speak in a super learned way. Too bad we couldn't have heard more from Anthony to figure out what's really going on over there.

Ah, to be loaded in Zarqa

Seems Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi's family is reaping the benefits of all the havoc their relative is wreaking over in Iraq.

Firsts things first, though: must get a new pad outside of Zarqa. What a pit. I can't think of anywhere else more depressing and not amenable to being fabulous.

After going somewhere sufficiently nouveau riche, like Abdoun, say, they should fit in perfectly. A little astroturf, fake plants, and big huge glass doors will definitely do the trick.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Peace and love

Iss has been rockin' out all morning to Fountain of Wayne's "Peace and Love." Every time it ends I get a "kaman (again) 'Peace and Love!!!'

Listen to the locals!

I just read this article by Rami Khoury, who I really like. He's Jordanian but has been writing for Lebanon's Daily Star, an English newspaper.

From my experience working on projects in Jordan to promote social and political participation, it's so true: people are not turned on by democracy with a capital D. The word is too heavy and has way too much association with America. Unfortunately, America now only equals Bush and his plans to promote democracy though waging war (with plenty dead and tortured Iraqis in its wake).

People are, however, really into the nitty gritty stuff that makes for a democratic society. Freedom of speech is key.

A few years ago, Samer was painting in his studio downtown. He heard a ruckus outside and walked out on the balcony to see people who had been demonstrating against the war in Iraq getting the crap beaten out of them. The most disturbing thing to him was that just random people walking the other direction were being picked off by policemen and seriously battered.

He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it. Once back home, he was so outraged that he was dying to do something about it. Tell someone. Anything, really. But even the most simple act of writing a letter to the newspaper was completely out of the question.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Speak African?

One of the boxes my dad sent the other day contained the book "Cours de Foulfoulde," my faithful companion back in the day when I was desperately trying to stuff as much Foulfoulde vocabulary into my head as humanly possible. Foulfoulde, also known as Fulani and Peul, is something like the 3rd most spoken language on the African continent. Maybe 4th. I read it somewhere and now forget.

Gosh, what a wonderful language it is, though--and it was easy enough to pick up that I could gossip with the best of them (which means most of them) in my village. The only stuff I really remember now off the top of my head is, "me deeli loomo" (I'm going to the market) and "me idi wamoogo" (I want to dance). And then there's that song I remember in its entirety about Maigasina getting her watch stolen and then later told not to cry since the guy who took it is getting his comeuppance because the girl he's marrying is already pregnant. Ahidjo, one of the teenage boys in my neighborhood, taught me that song along with a ton of others, and I have relatively vivid memories of sitting around in my living room with him, Manu and Husseini just hanging out and talking about random stuff.

It's a hard call whether Foulfoulde is as exact a language as others. I remember hearing my Cameroonian love tell me "me idi ma"--which translates to both "I want you" and "I love you"--and it just didn't have the same depth as bahibek in Arabic. But fun Foulfoulde was. Silly sounds--at least to our English-speaking peoples' ears. I'm flipping through the book and totally remembering great words I'd completely forgotten--"guinnado" for crazy person, "maayo" for river. How could I forget these things--they were such a part of my every day for 2+ years. Various versions of my resumes have stated that I'm "fluent in Fulani," which was always a great hoot, because how random is that, but also because it used to be true. But even though speaking Foulfoulde again doesn't really figure way up there on my list of things to do, it makes me feel nostalgic for this language I've lost.

Cameroon's on my mind a lot these days. Not any less so since I saw the following on a post from

Almost a quarter of a million people in neglected northern Cameroon are faced with serious food shortages and more than $1 million is still needed to ensure they all get emergency rations, the UN World Food Programme said Sept. 22. "For one month... WFP is providing an emergency ration of cereals to 237,700 people in the Far North province of Cameroon, the poorest part of the country," the agency said in a statement. Free food will be handed out to everyone within affected communities. Officials put the total cost of the emergency operation at $2 million but so far they have only 43 percent of the funds. The French government has stumped up nearly $900,000 but another $1.1 million is still needed. Rains in northern Cameroon were poor last year, and food production fell about 200,000 metric tonnes, the WFP said.

This is so scary and upsetting. Our old stomping grounds--who would've thought our villages would see the day when there wasn't enough food? It always seemed like a delicate balance in many places of the Extreme North, but Yagoua was lucky that it had the river to provide us year round with tomatoes (unheard of!), salad, and many other kinds of produce no other villages had. I am desperately hoping that Yagoua--and the rest of the Far North--pulls through.

And in saying this I feel like a complete, self-centered wimp. Isn't there something I can do/should be doing to help keep it from happening? My years in Cameroon were wonderful and hold such a special place for me. For so many reasons, though, I feel like I just can't go back or ever know Cameroon the way I once did.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Runaround Monday

Monday's are always a little all over the place. Grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning. Yep, I'm trying to be a bit organized in this stay-at-home mom gig. I'm just now starting to get used to not having Geeva, my maid in Amman, around and it's actually kind of a novel thing to be cleaning stuff all by myself. Not that I enjoy it all that much, mind you. But I figure if I'm kind of organized in doing the house stuff that's more time to be out and about--walking, doing fun outside stuff--and for reading. That's the way it's been going so far, at least.

Except dragging a two and a half year old out to do groceries sucks. The worst part is fininshing up at Safeway. They've got those car things attached to the carts. Issy loves this, and he sounds like a jacked up car the whole time I'm shopping ("RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!" non-stop). The worst part is check-out time, when he starts loudly whining, "No! I don't want to go home!" over and over. Usually when he gets so riled up I can say a few choice threats (smilingly, in Arabic, so no one knows the depths of my evilness) and he quickly gets quieter. However, leaving the Safeway car has him inconsolable and I end up having to peel him out of it to get him into his carseat.

We've also started using training pants for the first time today. I'm really dreading the interminable cleanups this is going to involve. . .

Weekend was great. Went to see "Proof" yesterday, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Sunday morning also went to the interfaith church. I'm going to have to write more on the interfaith church at some point b/c it's a bit to get my head around. The speakers have been interesting, but there's definitely a touchy-feely random dabbling in all religions element to it.

Thomas Friedman's recent article ( ) on why Bibi's better for the Likud was also interesting. I read it the other day and was annoyed to see the title, but the reasoning is pretty right on. Netanyahu is evil incarnate if you ask me--even worse than Sharon, if that's possible--but if there's hope for a middle of the road party in Israel, this appears the only way to go.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Robert Fisk barred from entering US?!

Just read that Robert Fisk, the most consistently brilliant reporter on the Middle East, has been refused entry into the US. This is just appalling. Fisk has always done a great job giving the lowdown on what really goes on (unlike most of the stuff that makes it to us in the US). I just can't believe our gov't gets away with this.

Should I do this?

We were walking around downtown today and Ghida told me she thought it'd be a good idea to start up a blog. The idea always seemed like a really stupid one. I mean, Samer put a blog thingy on his site ( and I totally harshed on him for it. Too self-centered or something, it felt like. But I don't know. I've found myself checking out other people's blogs lately in the name of finding good books to read ( and I'm kind of intrigued with the idea of sharing cool info and just generally keeping in better touch with my friends. Who are spread out across the planet.

But I wonder if I have much so-called cool info to share. My life pretty much these days consists of going to parks with Issy, walking around Ballard and cooking dinner. Not too exciting, that's for sure. So my plan is to try this out for a week and see if it's a worthwhile thing to do. I do yearn for those days when I did a great job of recounting what was going on in my life by journalling obsessively. Some of it is pretty painful to read--geez, I sure was melodramatic. But just to have a record of my thoughts at the time and even remember what the heck I was doing in a certain year feels really magical looking back on it from such a faraway place.

The other day I received 3 boxes in the mail from my dad that were filled with old books, some clothes and notebooks from undergrad and grad school. There were a few of those wool sweaters we all wore back in the early 90's (HUGE things!), a bunch of pictures from my Peace Corps days in Cameroon that I hardly had any recollection of, and some weird clothes I got made in Cameroon before leaving that I've never worn and never will. Well, maybe I'll sleep in one of the big shirts or two. But the thing is, I had totally forgotten this stuff even existed. It'd been packed up for at least 7 years. And while I feel like, man, we don't have much space to live in here and I should just chuck it and keep the clutter at bay, I don't think I can live without it.

I'm choosing the name "ajnabeeyeh" for my blog, if it indeed lives to be a blog, just because that's totally what I feel like these days. Ajnabeeyah in Arabic means "foreigner," and that pretty much sums me up for the past 12 or so odd years. Living in Jordan for the past 7 years there was hardly a day that went by that I didn't hear myself labelled as one, but in many ways I think I've internalized it. We've been in Seattle for about 5 months now and I still have the feeling that ajnabeeyeh will continue to describe who I am--someone who's caught between a few different worlds.