Monday, October 31, 2005

Trick or treat!

I know, you guys are probably getting sick and tired of me putting up photos of Iss being a Volkswagen Beetle, but these guys were just too cute. I think they inhaled about a pound of candy during the 45 minutes we trick or treated down Market St.







Meanwhile, over with the Alawites

Anthony Shadid's got an article exploring the state of affairs these days for the Alawites in Syria. There's a lot of Ghazi Kanaan worship among them, which I find kind of laughable but typical. He was probably an A-#1 jerk, but anyway.

Keeping busy

Daylight Savings Time rules! I love how I get to bed early and then sleep late and it's still only 9 when I get up. Only problem is, it's going to be getting dark at, like, 5 or something.

I've got to spend some time today preparing interview questions for filming tomorrow eve. Samer and Ghassan are coming to class to be filmed, and I'm a bit unsure of how things are going to turn out. Ideally, I'd like to film them at our place, but it's going to be a classroom exercise.

Here's the abstract on the film I'm hoping to get done in my film class:

Both Samer Kurdi and Ghassan Wahbeh are Jordanians who have spent a considerable amount of time living in the United States. For both of them, their first years living here were a time of enormous change and personal discovery that have shaped who they are today.

The egalitarianism, creativity and openness they encountered in U.S. society played a large role in encouraging them to make decisions they would have never anticipated while living in Jordan. Samer, who had originally come to the U.S. to study pharmacy, discovered painting during his university years in Boston and later returned to Amman to become a prominent Jordanian artist. Ghassan completed a medical specialization and is currently working at Children’s Hospital. As a result of experiencing America’s brand of social freedom and conscientious medical practice models, he has decided to establish his medical practice in Seattle rather than return to Amman.

Samer has recently moved back to the U.S. after living in Jordan for the past 7 years. While he and Ghassan feel at home in the U.S. and are happy to be here, they both have found that the American values they first discovered when arriving are not quite the same as they once experienced them. They find that many things have changed and that the aspects of what they believe makes America the country it is—freedom of expression, equality, and opportunity for all--are not quite the same as they used to be.


Anyway, I hope it goes well enough tomorrow.

I'm doing a pathetic job putting up anything of substance on the blog. Hopefully, things will slow down a bit and my posts will get a little less lame.

New camera

Mom and Dad bought us a new camera the other day (aren't parents the greatest?!) and I just managed to get a few recent pictures downloaded. Thought I'd share a few. . .






Saturday, October 29, 2005

More on Syria

So perhaps Bashar Al-Assad, as I've suspected all along, isn't truly all that bad. His family sure is a bunch of freaks, though. To get the details on them--and their role in leading Syria down the drain--see here.

Meanwhile, everyday regular Syrians must be loving their chance at becoming the next Iraq. A friend sent me this great pic the other day. It says, "Syria would like to announce that it's not responsible for Hurricane Katrina." Did someone inform Bush?

The American Colony

Just came across this lovely piece in the International Herald Tribune (it's also in the NYTimes, but don't want to mess you up with signing in) on the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. Almost everyone I know who does Jerusalem in style raves about it, but I still haven't made it there myself. I've always thought of it as one of the few places in East Jerusalem that hasn't been obliterated by the Israelis.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Partying in Ballard

It's been another busy day. Mom and Dad are leaving tomorrow. In the morning, we set out for Snoqualmie Falls and we ended with a lovely seafood dinner and Halloween party here in the neighborhood. Issy's buddy Nayan was there dressed as an ant. He sure looked cool.

How about some pictures?






Thursday, October 27, 2005

Volkswagen beetle

Today Issy dressed up as his most favorite thing in the world--an orange Volkswagen Beetle. His pre-school class had their Halloween party this morning, and Dad, Mom and Samer stayed up until 2 a.m. to produce Iss' cardboard vehicle. Here are a few pictures:



Interview with an insurgent

There's an interesting article over at the Guardian that explores the likelihood of a rift between the Sunni and Al-Qaida branches of the insugency in Iraq. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad goes undercover with a Sunni insurgent leader and learns there are plenty of ideological and tactical differences between the two groups. Definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Two films

There are a few movies playing here in Seattle for those of you interested in Israeli-Palestinian relations. "Another Road Home" tells the story of a young Israeli woman searching for the Palestinian man who helped raise her until she entered the Israeli army. Samer saw it last night (I was in film class) and says it's definitely worth seeing. It's playing at the Grand Illusion.

Tomorrow night at 7, Hani Abu Assad's ("Rana's Wedding") acclaimed film "Paradise Now!" is preview screening over at the Metro. There's a short Q & A afterwards, as well. Since seating is limited, you'll need to drop a line as soon as possible to Nancy Locke at nlocke5820@aol.com
to ensure you get a seat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

We're NOT the best thing since sliced bread?!

A few days ago, I came across a blurb in The Seattle Times about the lack of support for American troops in Iraq. There wasn't a whole lot of info, so I traced it back to London's Sunday Telegraph--and a much more detailed report.

The article concerns a secret poll undertaken by the Ministry of Defence to gauge Iraqi views on the state of security in Iraq and the presence of British and American troops, among other things. Here's some of the results:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.


And while the coalition did think reconstruction was well within reach, facts on the ground are pretty grim. In August, when the poll was taken, "71 per cent of people [polled claimed to] rarely get safe clean water, 47 per cent [said they] never have enough electricity, 70 per cent [said] their sewerage system rarely works and 40 per cent of southern Iraqis [were] unemployed."

Kind of makes you feel we're making real progress. . .

Monday, October 24, 2005

Our old buddy Saddam

I'm doing a pathetic job keeping in touch with the news, but here's an op-ed worth reading, by Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post.

Reliving the angst

The weekend was great. We headed out to Whidbey Island yesterday with the folks, and I managed to see a number of films, too. The new Wallace and Gromit is brilliant as ever--Issy sat through the whole, entire thing, entranced--and right after, Samer and I joined some friends to see "Thumbsucker."

There's a real teenage-angst theme going on for me these days, because not only did I see "Thumbsucker" (which I liked well enough), I'm currently reading Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld. Both have been bringing back a lot of unpleasant memories of junior high/high school days. Did anyone enjoy junior high? It was only when I got into my 20's that I realized all my friends were having as hellish a time of it as I was back then.

It all looks kind of cute and poignant from the lens of middle age, though. We rode back in the car yesterday eve talking and laughing about Adam's and my growing up years, and the various run-ins we'd had with our parents and teachers in our early teens. Many of the stories I'd forgotten, as I always do, but remembering them made me cringe. Cringe, because even though Issy's only 2, I'm already terrified of him having to go through those years.

Thing is, all the experience we old guys have that we can use to help out our kids as they grow up is essentially no good. I can remember taking my parents' advice with a grain of salt at the time (they were ancient and clued out, after all, I thought) and I have no doubt our kids will do that, too. They'll figure it out eventually, though. Inshallah they will and they'll still talk to us afterwards.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mehlis and meandering

So many things going on, and too little time. With my parents in town, things have been a little hectic. One thing you MUST do is take a look at the full Mehlis report on Syria's role in Hariri's death. It's wild.

I'm not quite sure this is available anywhere--I was Googling, and couldn't find it today. A friend sent it to me earlier; the version I have has some red highlighting put in by my friend (points he found interesting), but the text is original.

And just so you don't doubt I haven't had too much free time on my hands, here are a few pictures from yesterday and today:





Thursday, October 20, 2005

On being cursed

Robert Fisk writes in The Independent about his whirlwind book tour for his new tome, The Great War for Civilization. The article's definitely worth a read (although you have to log-in at the site--sorry!)

Fisk talks about all the dead he's seen over the years covering wars in the Middle East, and how his life and writing have taken on a grimness as a result.

The following excerpt really hit home for me:

I told the journalism students there that when I saw families walking happily in London or Paris, I wondered whether I had not missed out on life, that perhaps comparative safety and security with nothing more than the mortgage to worry about was preferable to the existence I had chosen for myself. A friend of my father’s once said I had enjoyed the privilege of seeing things that no other man had seen. But after a flood of questions from students in Sydney about suffering in the Middle East, I began to wonder if my privilege had not also been my curse.

For most of the time I spent in Jordan, war seemed to be all around. Unlike Fisk, I didn't see any dead bodies, but I certainly became affected by the general sadness and tension that one can't escape living there. At least 60% of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin--people who didn't choose to move to Amman but rather ended up there when they got booted out of Palestine. There were many days when I would go into work or talk to friends and hear horrifying stories about how their families in the West Bank or Gaza were being treated (jails, houses bulldozed, etc.) Not the typical water cooler conversation most people have in this country.

In many ways, coming to America has been a wonderful break. It's easy to avoid the news here, and conversation rarely, if ever, touches on politics or the urgent stories captivating us all back in Jordan. It's frightening, though, to know just how out of touch the general public is with what's going on in the rest of the world. Frightening, because it's oh so easy to be as out of touch ourselves. Like Fisk, we have the curse of having been there and needing to feel like we play a role in helping to make a difference.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Friedman gets it right

Tom Friedman is often annoying with his made-up letter op-eds in the NYTimes, but I have to say that the one I read today--a fake news story he's made up about an Iraqi delegation of judges and journalists coming to study the workings of U.S. democracy cutting their trip short--is pretty on the mark. Check it out--it's pretty cool.

Sorry, it's a drag to have to log-in to get to the Times' stuff, but it's probably worth it in the long run.

The trial begins

The trial has begun over in Baghdad, and since I need to get out and about to show my family around Seattle, I'm just going to point you to where I was checking stuff out: The Guardian. They've got pretty good coverage so far.

Eeks!

The New York Times prints out (for a non-password one, see here), in its entirety, a recent fatwa on playing soccer. Unbelievable.

Here's a little excerpt:

1. Play soccer without four lines, because this is a fabrication of the heretics' international rules that stipulate using them.
2. International terminology that heretics and polytheists use, like "foul," "penalty," "corner," "goal," "out" and others, should be abandoned and not said. Whoever says them should be punished, reprimanded and ejected from the game. He should be publicly told, "You have imitated the heretics and polytheists and this is forbidden."
3. Do not call "foul" and stop the game if someone falls and sprains a hand or foot or the ball touches his hand, and do not give a yellow or red card to whoever was responsible for the injury or tackle. Instead, it should be adjudicated according to Shariah rulings concerning broken bones and injuries.
4. Do not follow the heretics, the Jews, the Christians and especially evil America regarding the number of players. Do not play with 11 people. Instead, add to this number or decrease it.

Kind of makes you want to say, "Dudes, why don't you get a life?"

And this is where I should tell all you people out there that the huge majority of Muslims are not freaks. But y'all better be careful and stay away from the evil ball just to be sure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Jordan's take on Saddam's trial

I just checked out Natasha's blog and saw a link to an article talking about reactions in Jordan to Saddam's trial. Conspiracy's the word, as usual. I'm really interested to see what happens with the trial over the next few weeks.

My extended families

On Sunday, while we were riding around on a boat on Lake Union checking out all of Seattle's lovely houseboats, my mobile phone rang. It was none other than Rushabh, our 13-year old neighbor from across the street, checking up on us.

"Where are you guys?" he asked. "And what's Issy doing?"

We've been really blessed that we lucked into living in a house on a block in Ballard that has just the kind of family we like living across the street. Rushabh's mom makes some mean Indian cuisine (she has us over for dinner all the time); Kooshbu, Rushabh's 7-year-old sister, has been coming over lately to perform "Say, Say My Playmate" (remember that one?) with me; and they all absolutely LOVE Issy. I mean, they come over as soon as he's done with his nap, take him over to their house and feed him and--ready for this?!--babysit FOR FREE. Can you even imagine?

They're so much fun. Shortly after we all come in from our day out sightseeing with Mom, Dad and Adam, Rushabh blows through the door with Kooshbu in tow and the house becomes, for lack of a better word, exciting. Exciting in that loud, jokey, utterly chaotic way that I've noticed is characteristic of every house I've ever lived in.

This all likely started back in Cameroon, where I lived in a small house in a walled-in compound that included my landlord, his wife, Hadja, their four small boys and about 12 other people who were related or renting a room.

Hadja and I were tight, and once I got back from teaching, we'd hang out on my porch with neighbors and gossip. My house was always open to anybody and everyone. The boys would always be coming in and out, wreaking havoc and being silly. Hadja'd always keep her meat in my freezer because she didn't have one, and at least 2 times a week she'd come banging on my door once I'd already gone to bed so she could come in and pull it out. Every month, religiously, she would also come to my window at night (always when I was already asleep) and say, "Amanda! J'ai besoin du coton!" The "cotton" she needed so badly--Tampax--was the coolest thing since sliced bread, in her opinion--she'd never seen tampons before. Usually shortly thereafter, a number of the kids in the neighborhood (they all trolled the garbage for cool potential toys) would be walking around making music with the cardboard applicator "horns" they'd scored from the trash.

For at least the first year after I moved back to Boston from Cameroon, I didn't know what to do with myself when I was at home. There weren't people walking in and out continuously; there was quiet. It was abhorrent. Somehow, in those two years back in Yagoua, I'd forgotten what a private person I was and how being alone feeds the soul, yada yada yada. I needed people around to feel real. My roommate Shazam (a Peace Corps friend) and I quickly remedied the situation by making friends with a dozen or so strange, foreign people--our now husbands included in that group--and nightly made hearty, African-like stews for at least 8.

Life in Amman proved to be pretty much the same. Our lovely old dilapidated house had guys coming in continuously to fix this or that. Eyad, our right-hand man, was always walking in to take the car keys to go get it fixed, repair some electrical prob or bring a chicken (or 3 or 5) over from Samer's dad; Geeva, our maid, and her oodles of Sri Lankan friends, would be group drying the dishes or cooking up some food, all the while chatting and laughing excitedly; and Samer's brother Yasser would randomly walk in with bags full of chocolate bars and pumpkin seeds he'd drop all over the floor. A regular madhouse.

I'm aware that many people--my husband, particularly--consider me a bit of an anal type. And sure, I do like things just so. No dirty socks thrown beside the bed night after night without ever being picked up, toilet paper rolls changed soon after the paper's all used up, etc., but somehow the house's general freeform social nature is just the way I like it. My family, God love them, are the greatest, but somehow I just keep on managing to find myself living far away from Southern Ohio. In the meantime, I like to find my family here in my own digs, barging right through the front door.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The family visits

Adam, Mom and Dad arrived late Saturday night and we spent all day yesterday bopping around Fremont market, touring Lake Union by boat and checking out Pike Place Market. It was also Ameen's birthday, and we celebrated in the evening with an amazing white chocolate/marzipan cake--here's to many more birthdays and cakes, Ameen! A few pics:




Friday, October 14, 2005

Going the way of Rome?

There's a brilliant opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune written by Zbigniew Brzezinski that does a great job assessing what he calls our government's "suicidal statecraft."

Isn't this statement a riot--"Flaying away with a stick at a hornets' nest while loudly proclaiming 'I will stay the course' is an exercise in catastrophic leadership."

Here's a bit more:

It is a self-delusion for Americans to be told that the terrorists are
motivated mainly by an abstract "hatred of freedom" and that their
acts are a reflection of a profound cultural hostility. If that were so,
Stockholm or Rio de Janeiro would be as much at risk as New York.

Yet in addition to New Yorkers, the principal victims of serious
terrorist attacks have been Australians in Bali, Spaniards in Madrid,
Israelis in Tel Aviv, Egyptians in the Sinai and Britons in London.
There is an obvious political thread connecting these events: The
targets are America's allies and client states in the deepening U.S.
military intervention in the Middle East.

Terrorists are not born but shaped by events, experiences, impressions,
hatreds, ethnic myths, historical memories, religious fanaticism and
deliberate brainwashing. They are also shaped by images of what they see
on television, and especially by their feelings of outrage at what they
perceive to be a brutalizing denigration of their religious kin's dignity by
heavily armed foreigners. An intense political hatred for America, Britain
and Israel is drawing recruits for terrorism not only from the Middle East
but from as far away as Ethiopia, Morocco, Pakistan, Indonesia and even
the Caribbean.

After the war in Iraq began, when I was living in Jordan, I definitely noticed a shift in opinion toward regular Americans living or working there. In all the years before, after answering every taxi driver I came into contact with (all of them I ever met asked me) that I was indeed from the U.S., the standard reply I'd get was was something like, "America's great. We love Americans here, but we don't like your government." Then, they would usually go on to tell me about a relative or relatives they have living in the States, talk about U.S. cities, etc.

This differentiation between government and citizen doesn't quite seem to be the same anymore, though. America's increased engagement in the Middle East and the anger it is provoking has made a huge negative impact. So when Bush won in 2004, the sense of dread I felt was definitely connected to my fear of the way perceptions would change of me/us in the Middle East. Bush won for real this time, the idea goes, and he didn't get there without most of the U.S. voting for him. And, I have to say, it's pretty understandable for one to think that our country as a whole prefers that he and his policies prevail. I, for one, was certainly shocked he managed to find so many people to vote for him.

It's not a huge shift, mind you. Or maybe it's hard for me to detect, because Jordanians are amazingly hospitable and that takes precedence over politics. Since the election, when people in Jordan ask me where I'm from, I've often felt the need to toy with the idea of saying, "Canadian" (how cool to be Canadian and not have to worry about these things.) I never have, though, and it's probably because I can claim a bit of camaraderie with anyone who asks by saying I'm an American married to a Jordanian. That's definitely an option close enough to being Canadian.

Suicide, Syrian style, part 2

Forgive me, but I've just got to put up another cartoon. This one's from Hajjaj, as well, and about Syria. What a killer!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"Suicide" in Syria

This cartoon was just sent to me from someone in Jordan. It's by Emad Hajjaj--a really cool guy and brilliant cartoonist who lives in Amman. He became a celebrity a few years back with his depiction of Abu Mahjoub, your standard, everyday (and side-splittingly hilarious) Jordanian guy.

For those of you who don't read Arabic, the pictures show (from the far right to left) suicide Russian style, kamikaze style, French style and, lastly, Syrian style.

We gotta think nobody's buying the suicide story anywhere in the Middle East.


Film course

Next week I'm starting up an intensive film course, at the end of which I'll have a short film to show for it. I've currently got a ton of footage that I shot during the summer of 2004 back in Amman which desperately needs to be revisited and sorted out. My plan at this point, though, is to ignore all that footage for a bit longer and concentrate on my technical skills during the course.

So now I'm stuck with figuring out what to do for the short film (we're supposed to come to the first class with a script or at least an idea.) Right now, I'm thinking about doing something on Samer, but I'm still not sure what, really. Today I need to get planning.

The great aspect of filmmaking, in my mind, is that it is so free. I love the idea that I can patch together images, play around with music and end up with a story from my own unique viewpoint. The thought of slaving around with words for an eternity--because that's always how it is for me--is too high of an art for me to master and, besides, I'm way too lazy. Writing narrative is much too intimidating, but film--hey, I think it's something I can do.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New picture

Rania Khalil just sent us this picture from when she was in town a few months ago and stayed with us. We miss you, Rania!


More on Iraq

Isn't it ironic that this "War on Terrorism" is turning up more potential terrorists than ever imagined? Where else but in Iraq, the erstwhile Big Kahuna of terrorism. Despite Bush and Cheney's insistence that Al-Qaida was in Iraq before the war (it wasn't), it certainly is now. Al-Qaida and tons more.

This article talks about what those of us living in Jordan have known for a long time: that people have been energized by the utter chaos this war has unleashed in Iraq and have been going over to fight in droves.

A good friend of ours who grew up and still lives in a run-down neighborhood in Amman told us over a year ago that since the war people have taken to religion like never before. We were shocked to hear how he could scarcely find one woman in the neighborhood not wearing a headscarf (a new development at the time) and how numerous young men were going missing and later found to be off fighting in Iraq. Sad but true.

Oh, man

Hot of the press: Syria's Interior Minister, Ghazi Kanaan, is reported to have committed suicide. Here's what Nick Blanford of The Times has to say about it, and why most people in Damascus won't likely think it's a suicide.

We shall see what happens next. . .

Meanwhile, here's a little something from Newsweek about how the U.S.' neurotic policy in Syria is playing out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Fall reading

It's Indian summer here in Seattle. For the past few weeks, it's been just gorgeous. I keep waiting for things to get drippy and dreary all of a sudden, but so far so good. Iss and I took a walk around Green Lake, where we always check out the leaves' progress ("It's fall, Mama!"), and then headed to the park.

The color of leaves, the color of the traffic lights. . . these are our major preoccupations lately. Issy checks out all this stuff from his carseat and lets me know when I'm good to go or need to stop. I often have flashbacks to when I was little and my younger brother Adam sat by me in the back seat--just like Issy does now--pretending to be an ambulance, fire truck, or whatever noisy vehicle he could conjure up. Traffic lights were his thing, too.

Speaking of Adam, he's coming on Saturday--the same day Mom and Dad arrive to spend two whole weeks with us. We're all really looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, I've got books coming out of my ears. Saturday is proving to be a wonderful read so far, but I just don't have enough time in the day to chug through. I'm making a concerted effort to get it done by the time everyone gets here, since no way will I get to do any reading then. There's also Cloud Atlas on my bedside table, and I've got Prep waiting for me at the library. Aargh. So not only am I way behind in reading books in a timely manner (I haven't read a single one of the Booker nominees, of which I see John Banville won yesterday for The Sea), I'm also dreadfully slow with the ones I do read.

I have, though, been managing to keep up a bit better with print media. Here's an interesting, though depressing (but what isn't these days?) column on Iraq, and scooters take the front page of today's Post-Intelligencer (much cooler than SUV's). Also thoroughly fascinating was Jerome Groopman's, "When Pain Remains" in this week's The New Yorker (sorry, it's not online). There are so many things I read in The New Yorker and love that I would otherwise not give a second look--particularly medical stories--and Groopman's stuff is always a keeper.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Iftar

We were invited last night to iftar at some friends' house. For those of you not familiar with iftar, it's the dinner (literally, "breakfast," but let's not get into that) that happens at sundown daily during Ramadan. Iftars typically are major spreads where people who've been fasting make up for all that food they've missed during the day by shovelling everything within reach in their mouths at a breakneck pace. Generally, about five minutes afterward, one is so full that all he/she can do is make it to the closest cushy chair and crash out for the night. At least in Jordan that's pretty much always the case.

My first introduction to Ramadan and iftar was in Yagoua, in Cameroon, and breaking the fast definitely did not involve as much brouhaha and huge amounts of food. People always broke fast with bouillee, an excellent porridge made from rice flour that I've never been able to duplicate. Every evening, people would bring me huge bowls of it, despite the fact that I lived alone and couldn't finish even one of the bowls, much less four or five.

Speaking of brouhaha, Ramadan in Jordan is hilarious. Fasting all day (no water either!) is killer, but the funny thing is how people are so melodramatic about it. When I worked at the British Council, we were always slammed with work in the months before and after Ramadan. However, it was nearly anathema to attempt to get anything done while everyone was fasting. Sure, we'd have meetings, but people were way out on other planets. I could relate in a way, usually, because I nearly always fasted, but work was essentially just going through the motions ("No! We can't hold that workshop/meeting during Ramadan!" "Wait until after Ramadan!")

Anyway, last night's dinner was lovely. We ate a whole huge piece of lamb, a yummy eggplant dish, meat pies, fattoush, and a number of other things I can hardly remember because I was eating like a fiend. Samer and I had decided to fast (iftars are more fun if you fast before them), and for about an hour and a half before time to eat I was pretty out of it. Headache, grouchy. It also didn't help that the blasted sun doesn't go down until around 7.

Probably the best thing about going to iftar last night was the way it duplicated the iftars at family and friends' houses in Amman. First of all, Ramadan in Seattle and Ramadan in Amman are two completely different affairs. In Amman, the whole atmosphere changes. Plus, we get to see family and friends nearly every night and stay out late playing cards and smoking argileh (Samer's the argileh guy, not me.) Here in Seattle, it's just another month. 'Ammo Abed, whose house we visited last night, said that when he happened to mention to some of his tennis partners that it's Ramadan and he's fasting all month, they responded with a collective "That's nice." We all found this falling out funny--and not many Americans would, I suppose--because we know not only just how harrowing the act of fasting so much is (not "nice" at all) but also what a huge big deal the month is in terms of specialness and community.

The iftars that I spent at Samer's family's houses probably did more than anything for me to feel like I belonged. There's always a feeling of laid-back ceremony to waiting together for the moment when we can start chowing down, the shared lethargy of having full stomachs, and the excitement when the hot qatayief is brought in. Ramadan was certainly never my holiday; I'm not Muslim and not expected to fast. But nobody ever acted like it was weird the years I did fast. Not only that, they acted like it was the most normal thing ever. Perhaps it was during those lazy evenings that I started to realize I wasn't quite the outsider I thought I was.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Pumpkin patch

We spent the afternoon up in Snohomish at a pumpkin patch and corn maze. Here are a few pics:



Friday, October 07, 2005

Our two cities

The artwalk last night was worthwhile, although there was nothing that knocked any of our socks off. Or even got us mildly excited, really. The great thing is that we're in a real, live city--where there are old warehouses made into studios and something of a downtown scene.

I just got back from taking Samer lunch down where he works by Pike Place Market, and after sitting in the park eating and watching the ferries pass by, Iss and I took off for a spin (in his super stroller) around downtown. Sure, many of the people milling about were tourists, but there's still a bit of a downtown scene--and downtown is an amenable place with stuff to do.

Most downtowns here in the States are, I suppose. It's funny, because in Jordan, not too many people in our neighborhoods ever make it downtown. It's too "lower class" for their taste, and not filled with shiny stores like out in the western parts of the city. Samer's studio was in an ancient building downtown, and we often hung out down there, checking out rugs, drinking tea, buying fruit smoothies. But to most people there we looked out of place, and we were generally assumed to be tourists.

It stinks that everything in Amman has to be so segregated by class. Downtown is wonderful in many ways, but it often feels like it's dying. Not any real restoration to the old buildings (which often get torn down or the Amman version of glitzed up) and there's not much more than a handful of places that attract a handful of people from the western parts of town. Everything's out in the neighborhoods, which don't have any real distinctive features or raison d'etre.

Seattle has a wealth of neighborhoods, and each with a quirky and distinctive personality. Because the city feels very alive and diverse, I'm often surprised at how uncosmopolitan it is. And here I'm not thinking about population diversity (because it doesn't feel less than super white in most of the areas of town), but the way in which the neighborhoods have an evolved and multi-faceted vibe.

The Seattle art scene is one area that could certainly benefit from a little contact with the outside world. Samer and I have checked out nearly all the galleries here and are generally shocked at the pedestrian level of stuff that's shown in the reputable places. The second-tier places show stuff that's so frighteningly bad it's unbelievable.

So what's the deal? There definitely doesn't seem to be a dearth of people interested in art. There were tons of people out last night on the artwalk. Perhaps we'll figure it all out the more Seattle-ified we become.

Issy was driving us nuts last night--super grouchy and basically a handful. We finally allowed him out of his stroller and shortly afterward, he walked up to a photo that was suspended from some wires hanging from the ceiling. There were some people around (and Samer, who was "keeping an eye" on him), and he banged it with his hand to see it swing. It was pretty embarrassing, but I kind of cracked up in spite of it when a very noisy collective gasp rang out in the room. Yep, these people like art. Too bad it's all crappy art.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Going out on the town

Today's been filled with pre-school, cleaning the carpet and tea with a friend.

We're headed to the artwalk downtown tonight, and I'm really looking forward to it. One nice thing is that the Seattle Art Museum opens its doors for free during the artwalk, which is cool since I'm not so sure there's enough good art there to make it worth it to pay full price. I'll report on what we find tomorrow.

Last night Samer and I finally nabbed a DVD copy of "Night on Earth," the one Jim Jarmusch film I've been dying to see for ages. Funny thing is, I thought the film was made more recently, but it really looked dated. The cars all looked so old and it seemed so 80's. It was made it '91. What a crackup that we all looked like dweebs then (not to say I don't now, either--heh heh).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Syria's fate

There's an interesting opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune on Syria's current state of affairs. Volker Perthes writes,

Bashar Assad's regime in Syria has reached its end phase, even if it manages to
hang on to power for months or years. This is so almost irrespective of what
Detlev Mehlis, the UN prosecutor charged with the probe into the murder of
former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon, will say in his report about the
alleged role of Syria in that crime.

I've been reading tons of stuff on Syria lately, what with the UN investigation into Rafik Hariri's death, and I'm always struck by how pathetic Bashar seems. I mean, sure, he was only planning on being an eye doctor, but could he possibly be so lame? He doesn't even try. Maybe that's simplifying it a bit--everyone talks about the old guard and their lasting power--but it's just kind of sad. I have the impression that he's probably just a regular, decent type of guy.

Anyway, this paragraph jumped out at me:

In today's Middle East, coups are probably only possible if they come with a
credible promise of democratic change. Any military officer who pushed away
Assad and his entourage would therefore have to allow the formation of
political forces and real elections in due course. Such a program would win the
indispensable support of the bourgeoisies of Damascus and Aleppo as well as of
civil servants, intellectuals and even much of the rank and file of the Baath Party.

Is that really true? Yeah, it seems like things are changing, but have they changed that fast? If so, Bush be praised (no, I did NOT say that!). Actually, I do think it's probably true, but likely not in as cut-and-dried fashion as it appears. The notion of democratic values certainly has a strong cache in the Middle East, but whether people will revolt if no democratic action happens is up for grabs.

And is Syria really that horrible? Honestly, for the life of me I can't figure out all the brouhaha going on in our government about the urgent need to change things in Syria. It's just a bumbling nation--perhaps not as harmless as it gets, but better labelled as politically, and socially, retarded.

Seattle World Affairs Council events

There are a couple of events out on Bainbridge Island the World Affairs Council is sponsoring that look promising. Both events are part of what must be a series--"Advancing Democracy: Two Viewpoints." The first one will be on Oct. 20th, with Thomas Malia, the Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House participating. Freedom House does some cool work around the globe and is based in DC.

The other one will feature Robert Kaplan, of whom I'm a big fan. It's on Oct. 27. I've read a number of Kaplan's books, most recently Balkan Ghosts, which I found just brilliant.

There's also a interesting looking event out at UW on Oct. 23 with the kind of lame title of "Extraordinary Women Paving the Way." Speakers are Zahira Kamal and Naomi Chazan, women who are actively involved in Israeli and Palestinian activism.

The World Affairs Council sponsored Anthony Shadid's talk that I blogged about earlier. Hopefully, the above events won't get too into the breaking into groups/boring discussion stuff that happened with Shadid's presentation. I imagine they'll be quite good.

For more info, check the World Affairs Council website.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ramadan Karim

Kul saneh wa antoum sallemeen--Happy Ramadan to all of you out there!

Samer's folks called us last night to wish us a happy Ramadan and we were super surprised to learn it's that time of the year already (we don't have a t.v.--wouldn't we better have a clue if we had a t.v.?) Most of the time we were living in Jordan, Ramadan fell during the colder months when days were shorter. That meant that sundown came sooner and fasting wasn't quite so killer (I fasted in the years before I was pregnant with Issy.)

I remember how awful it was for my students in Cameroon during Ramadan. One year, the month fell during the absolute hottest time of the year and my students were completely catatonic for most of the month. They'd hang out on the school grounds until the sun went down before walking the 6 kilometers back to the village.

So what a hoot it was to learn that Jordan's started daylight savings time nearly a month early so the spread (and let me tell you, what a spread it is!) comes out sooner rather than later.

We left too soon!

The LA Times had an interesting article on Amman becoming a boomtown of late. Things were hopping in general for quite some time before we left, but the city's also now attracting money that might have been invested in Lebanon and now isn't due to the craziness there. Ashraf Khalil writes,

It's the Middle East's newest boomtown. Property values are up as much as 200%
in the last two years, traffic jams are worsening, and hotels are packed with the
strangest of war-zone bedfellows: Iraqi politicians and businessmen, international
aid workers, foreign contractors and mercenaries . . .

. . . Five years ago, the very mention of Amman in comparison to other Arab cities
would prompt snickers and eye rolling. It was a backwater next to the throbbing
vitality of Cairo and glitz of a resurgent Beirut. Even Baghdad under Hussein had
a livelier reputation. According to guide books, the esteemed travel writer Paul
Theroux once dismissed it as "repulsively spick-and-span."

But that very blandness has become the city's principal virtue. Amman has been
safe, and in the modern Middle East, safety sells.

Yes, we hope it will remain safe for a good, long while, too. There's been a very palpable sense among most people that I know that Amman must be next on the list--that things have been quiet and without incident for an amazing amount of time. The events in Aqaba a few months ago perhaps have changed that sentiment a bit, but I suspect that people are still feeling cautious and amazed that Amman up until now has avoided any major catastrophe.

But anyway, back to the article. I had known that a certain amount of prostitution has been on the rise, and have heard a bunch of stories from a Filipina friend of mine about how people she's known are being completely supported by American soldiers coming to town, etc. But reading about the sheer yikky-ness of what's going on--and it seems to be happening on a huge scale for a place as small as Amman--truly grossed me out.

Thousands of muscle-bound, hard-living security contractors have turned the
capital into their final party spot before heading into Iraq, and their
detox-from-mayhem point on the way out. . .

. . . In a dark, top-floor bar hidden away from the families dining in the otherwise
sedate Shanghai Chinese restaurant, a platoon of European women patrols the
room, indulging the whims of patrons. The girls are forbidden to sit, so they
stand making small talk over the blaring Arabic and Western pop music. They
get a cut of the drinks they serve nonstop, accept tips appreciatively, and the
rest seems subject to negotiation.

The American military-guy-out-on-the-town phenomenon is a disgusting fact of life when living in Jordan, and probably many other places around the world. I can't even count the number of times we've been out and had to switch locale because of loud, obnoxious and drunk military dudes. I imagine the ubiquitous hired guns are first-rate, too.

Amman changing so much, and so fast? It kind of bums me out that it's not morphing into a more cosmopolitan place (which it certainly isn't if infected by tons of Americans, heh heh). Perhaps the restaurants will get better and cooler movies will come 'round. If that's the best we can do for now, I'll be grateful.

Monday, October 03, 2005

La voila

The penny + one from the weekend:






Saturday!!!

This morning I got a message from Ballard Library that Ian McEwan's Saturday is ready for me to come and pick up. I'm so excited! I'm a big fan of his books and had the feeling it'd take at least another 6 months for it to come 'round on the hold list. Which gives me faith that this project of mine to refrain from further cluttering up the house by buying tons more books and just do the ol' library hold thing might be worth it.

I've still got to finish up Girl Finds God, which is proving to be quite a good read. I'll report more on Saturday soon, hopefully.

Found it!

Issy and I went to Children's Hospital this morning to find out where the penny'd gotten to. Turns out it's not stuck at all and getting pretty close to the end of the line. I wish I had a scanner to include the x-ray in this post. It's hilarious.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Penniless

Last night Issy swallowed a penny. We think. All I know is that I was stoking the lovely fire I'd made so we could have a romantic movie-and-fire night, and Samer yells from Issy's room, "I think your son swallowed a penny."

Wonderful.

He'd been playing with it in the bathroom and by the time they got to his room Issy told Samer he "ate the money." And we couldn't find it anywhere. No comment on why he was playing with a penny, but whatever.

So we called Ghassan, our favorite pediatric gastroenterologist, and he tells us to make sure he's breathing ok and to take him for an x-ray in the morning. He was not only breathing fine, he was jumping, screaming and dancing all around the kitchen, so we figured it'd likely made it to his stomach. However, we decided he should probably sleep with us so we could monitor his breathing. Although sleep was precisely what we didn't do, with Issy between us kicking and flailing about all night.

I feel like I've slept a total of about 1 hour with all the action that was going on in our bed . Meanwhile, we've decided to feed Issy a ton in the hopes that penny'll show up soon. We're giving it until 5 to come outta there and if not we'll head to the hospital. So far, we've had one dirty diaper, but no penny. I'm totally having flashbacks to Peace Corps, MIF-kit days.