Sunday, April 30, 2006

The parking experts

I have a vague sense that I’m harshing on everything of late, and I’m going to begin this post by saying that there are tons of things I ABSOLUTELY love about being here. But there’s one thing, probably above all others, that literally bugs me to no end and has been known to get my blood pressure up through the roof.

It’s those guys—those “parking” guys—that are always lying in wait when you go down to Fuheis to have a nice, leisurely meal at Zuwwadeh. What their general purpose is, I don’t know, except to hang out on the street, open your door for you, get in front of your car and tell you how to park, how to drive away and anything else you have no need for. And then, for barging in front of you and busting into your day for no reason, they expect some kind of tip.

Yes, it is a huge effort for us to open the door and when they’re not around (as in, most of the time) we generally just abandon our car on the street because we have no clue how to park. In fact, driving is so much of a challenge for us that we often just feel overwhelmed by the task and consult random driving experts who are walking around on the street.

To be fair, I understand they probably weren’t making much of decent living before taking on this “job,” but their self-appointed consulting services honestly don’t seem to be needed. And the other thing that baffles me is that as of a few years ago, they’ve somehow become legitimized. They now wear fluorescent vests and seem to walk with a new, self-important swagger. I’m sure they’re nice guys at heart, but out on the street, they're as annoying as it gets.

Check out the picture of our parking consultant lending his expertise to securing Samer’s door. These guys sure are adept.

We also took a big bunch of pictures from our lunch at Zuwwadeh for all those clamoring for pictures from Jordan—plus we’ve got pictures of other stuff, like Easter egg hunts and our relative Tareef’s pre-wedding excitement. You can see them here at Flickr.

Our x-rated tendencies

So here we are sitting in the outside garden with Issy playing on his jerry-rigged bike and a few visitors: Samer’s mom’s friend, her Sri Lankan dog handler and a dog named Coochie.

Ok, forgive me my snideness, but I couldn’t help but cringe when I saw the entourage walking up. It’s kind of vintage drag-your-Sri Lankan-everywhere to do all those difficult things like walk your dog, etc. But Coochie—the name’s just too much.

We’ve been saying things like, “Issy, touch Coochie. Doesn’t it feel good?” and “Do you like Coochie?” We’re obviously getting a big kick out of it.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Town of tunnels and bridge

Ok, so what really is the deal with this ridiculous monstrosity of a bridge that's going up over into Abdoun? Honestly, from the project's inception up until today, I have not heard one person who thinks this bridge makes any sense or is a good idea.

For Pete's sake--it looks as if the idea is to do a Brooklyn Bridge-type imitation right smack dab over Wadi Abdoun. Where there's no water, I should add. The cost is astronomical and is yet one more example of funds popped into a random vanity project instead of using it to fund the city/country's economically disadvantaged.

We also have the fortune to be living over in that section of the Fourth Circle that is totally screwed. Every street has been closed or re-routed so it's a major chore getting out of here or getting back home.

The other day, though, I did hear the first positive take on the bridge. I was driving back home via Wadi Abdoun with our friend Hani, who's an artist. "The bridge is so cool. It's amazing!" he said.

"What?!" I asked. I wasn't sure I was hearing him right.

"No, the idea of the bridge is stupid," he said. "Better for them to leave it just like this--as it is." For now, the bridge is in something like three unconnected sections, with cranes hovering over each section. "It's beautiful like this. Just like a sculpture."

And from our vantage point, I totally got what he was saying.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Vowels matter

I had a hilarious memory the other day of one of the stupidest, most ridiculous faux pas I executed while working here in Jordan. It involved a woman whom I often collaborated with at the Ministry of Youth and with whom I was quite close. One day when I was in the Ministry for meetings, I noticed my friend Taroub wasn't around and asked where she was. I was told, "Maat waalid-ha."

I was shocked--her boy had died! Her son, who had been over at my house just a few weeks before, right after he had gotten out of school. Trying to hold back tears, I found out where the gathering would be for the funeral and immediately set about to tell my boss and Rebecca, who was our director at the time.

The next day, we made our way to her family's house to give her our condoleances. As we were sitting there, everyone looking extremely grim and sad (and myself in tears), I couldn't help but think that Taroub was really looking pretty good for someone whose young son had died. I mean, she seemed to be coping, and not completely listless in the way I imagined most bereaved mothers would be. I had been uncertain as to how the boy had died, and we began asking what had happened. After learning about his medical history, we found out that he had had a heart attack. "A heart attack?!' my boss asked. "But he was so young!"

"Yes, only 65," we were told. And that's when I learned that waalid, with a long "a," means "father"--and not "boy" (walid). We left shortly thereafter, laughing hysterically and replaying the scene over and over on the ride back. Taroub's look of surprise when all three of us came calling, our reaction to the "heart attack"response . . .

It was a shame that Taroub had lost her father, but for us, it was a great thing that she still had her lovely little boy.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Caffeine and more caffeine

Back to work in Jordan means continually buzzed. If I had a nickel for each time I was offered coffee or tea in meetings today, I'd be pretty well off.

Oh, if only I could talk about the work I'm doing. There's too much to say, and most of it depressing.

Speaking of depressing, this bombing in Dahab business is too much. I mean, these people visitng Dahab are wannabe hippees, for Pete's sake. They wouldn't harm a fly. Which means I'm going to have to skip our planned trip to Basata. The Sinai's too insane. . .

Oh, and more depressing: I had a meeting today at the Sisterhood is Global Institute, which is located in our old house in Jebel Weibdeh. My garden's been trashed and the interior has been completely uglified in that inimitable Jordanian manner. I'm just going to stop here, because I don't think I can think about it much more. Believe me, you have to work hard to make a place that hideous.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Change of date--film screening

We've pushed back the date of my film screening, as next Sunday is Labor Day. It will be on 7 May at 7:30 pm at Makan. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Film screening next Sunday

Just so you keep the date in mind, my film, "In the Land of the Free?" will be screening next Sunday evening at Makan in Jebel Weibdeh. We haven't set a time yet, but it will be in the evening sometime. I'll get back with a specific time over the next few days.

Here's a short description of the film:

“In the Land of the Free?” is a documentary about the lives of two Jordanians, an artist (Samer Kurdi) and a physician (Ghassan Wahbeh), who first came to the US to study and now live in Seattle. It is an exploration of their relationship to the United States and how this relationship has changed and evolved in the past decade.

Through the eyes of these two people, the film explores what attracts people to live in the U.S. and the qualities that make America a unique country. It also addresses the U.S.’ post-911 political reality and such issues as freedom, freedom of speech and equality and compares the growing openness in Jordan to the curbing of freedoms in the U.S.

While I made the film with an American audience in mind, I'm thinking that showing the film in Amman is a good opportunity to discuss ways in which art/film can be used to raise awareness of the Arab World in the West. That's the main reason that led me to make the film and I imagine it's a topic that will generate a lot of interesting discussion.

Anyway, mark your calendars!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rambling thoughts

Ever since I got here, I've been romanticizing life in Amman. Enjoying how everyone goes out of their way to be nice to me, the simplicity of our social life here, and the way it's so easy to feel like a mover and shaker in this town, among other things.

But there's also another side to life here that I don't miss at all: sitting in meetings with men (older guys, in particular) who revel in their so-called "expertise" on everything under the sun and barely let anyone else get a word in edgewise, getting stared at continuously, and the way many people in authority are often generally useless. A good example is how everyone pretty much knows that any policeman with his siren and lights on probably isn't on the way to the scene of a crime but rather just annoyed with the traffic and wanting to push ahead.

Anyway. These are my thoughts of the day.

Today I went out to a small town called Dlail (outside of Zarqa) to attend a play about domestic violence. It's part of a project to raise awareness around the country on the subject and it was fascinating, really, to see how much people participated (both men and women) in the discussion about what the play presented--particularly since it's such a sensitive topic. Not to mention that open discussion in public is not too common among men and women in these smaller, and very conservative, localities.

This is my favorite thing on earth--to be involved in projects outside of the city that allow me to get to know people in the villages and interact with them. I was just checking out the project and happy to see that it's being done well. The only thing that makes me kind of sad is that the vibe I got from people when I arrived, and before I talked to them, is much different than it used to be. Being the blond American in the room is certainly not a bonus. And no surprise, either. However, once I began to interact with people in Arabic, they were extremely welcoming and lovely.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Thursday

Today, among other activities, Issy and I met up with Geeva and her two kids, Salma and Suleiman, at the bird park and then played in the garden here at the house.

Later this evening, we saw an improvisational music/silent film thingy at an old cinema that's been beautifully renovated down from Rainbow Street. Unfortunately, by about 3 minutes in I was bored to tears. Pretty cheesy. Particularly since the captions to the film were all in French with no translation at all. Luckily, I know French--and I was suffering at how inane the event was--so it must've been doubly boring for those who didn't. Surprise, surprise, the event was sponsored by the French Cultural Center, who always seems to do this kind of stuff. For years, they had a North African film fest that, of course, had no English subtitles--but even more shockingly had no Arabic subtitles. I went for a couple of years to the opening night with Jordanian friends and they had to leave because they had no clue what anyone was saying.

After dinner we went out to a new place owned by the Fakhrelddin guys called Bistro One over by the old Amigo's (which is now a new Amigo's), and who should we see except Samer's long-lost (and estranged) sister and her husband. She spoke to us for a while, which has not happened for years, and I'm thinking this just might be a good sign.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

They steal your underwear, too

Back here in Amman, it's difficult to escape the West Ammani soap opera of life with the help. Just yesterday, Samer told me he's already getting tired of hearing about how hard women have it here managing their maids and what misery they put them through.

Perhaps he forgot what a drama it is and how whenever there are a handful of middle-aged Jordanian women its usually the centerpiece topic. Nevermind that their maids are likely hanging out in the room next to them watching their children, cleaning up their crap, cooking and serving food--and probably hearing every word their "Madames" say.

And Samer did happen to be along with us the other day when we went to visit a good friend of mine who was having an Easter party for her son. Her son's pre-school classmates and moms were there and Samer (and I, for that matter) stuck out like a sore thumb. The visitors were all decked out in their finest stilettos and made up to the nines. Hairsprayed to bouffant refinement. Everyone sat rapt as one woman spoke about how she is "60% certain that my maid accepted money for sex" and how her maid is "sick--she pulls her hair out." To that, I said, "Haram, she's probably depressed." And miserable, no doubt, to be living with such a jewel of a boss.

One more typical conversation among the fabled elites which, I have to say, are part of the world I was happy to escape when we bailed for Seattle.

Samer's mom and dad have recently employed a lovely Filipino couple in their house. On the first day I met them, their eyes lit up as they told me about their daughter who is turning 8 in a few weeks. They're planning to call her for her birthday and, listening to them tell me, their expressions and excitement made it obvious she's the joy of their life.

Even thinking about being far from Issy for more than a week brings tears to my eyes (even though he is a twerp), and I had a similar reaction hearing them talk about their daughter and attempting to imagine what it must be like for them to think about being away for two years. So last night when Samer and I came home from dinner, waking Issy up with a crash of the door, and I ran into John carrying my crying baby--and not his--my heart nearly broke.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Stop the wall!

The story of the day is my father-in-law, aka Abu Maher, and the wall he's decided to erect around the entirety of his yard to contain my son. From the moment we arrived at the house, the family has been talking about the wall Abu Maher intends to put up and until today we weren't quite sure what was going on.

Samer's dad is a big fan of Issy and, being the extremely eccentric and lovable guy that he is, often asks us curious questions to ensure Ismael's being properly taken care of. A few months after he was born, for example, Abu Maher made us promise him that whenever we left the house we wouldn't just leave him there while running around town doing errands. I mean, for all he knew, we could've just taken off for a weekend and oh, I don't know, left him to fend for himself in his crib or something. Since we left for America, every time we talk to him on the phone he makes sure to remind us to always keep him in our sight and not forget about all the kidnappers running rampant in the U.S.

Well now it seems he's gone too far. Samer's mom was in tears this morning when the blacksmith arrived with a 5-ton mess of iron and his guys to erect the structure. And I mean, is it ever a structure. Somehow they've got about 4 prison-strength doors that are about 7 feet tall and huge sections that hook on to the already-existing fence which will undoubtedly give the house the appearance of Alcatraz if Em Maher and we fail in our bid to stop its construction. Yes, there's already a fence that encircles the yard, but Ismael might become bionic by some means and be able to clear it.

This morning I unwisely was under the illusion I might be able to sweettalk him out of it. I reminded him that Issy is never out of our sight and lobbied for a partial backyard fence since the front of the house is potentially dangerous. The gardener's always watering the garden and the whole front area is tiled and gets very slippery. I didn't even get close to convincing him, though. "I am an old man and cannot get out to be sure that Ismael is safe and I do not want to worry about him and I will pay 10 times the amount of this fence to take care of him." It's cute and hilarious and endearing, really, but definitely not so for Em Maher, who's dying that her beauteous sweet peas won't be able to pop through the fence and her amazing garden is getting ghetto-ized.

So far we've put a wrench into the system. The blacksmith and his boys felt too bad to continue, Samer made a screaming phone call to his dad ("How could you upset Mama like this?" he raged, as his mom and I were in tears from laughing) and Em Maher's doing an excellent job with the silent treatment. So we'll see if we're able to put a halt to at least one ridiculous wall in the Middle East.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Getting glitzy

Going around Amman today, all I could think about is just how much things are booming here. Which is kind of funny, in a way: we leave and things get hopping. Anyway, I came across this article in the Guardian about Johannesburg and had no idea just how much that city has become a boomtown of late.

Before reading the article, all I associated with Jo'burg was its astronomical crime rate which, apparently, has changed. Right after we finished our Peace Corps service, my friend Andrew travelled there and was killed for his watch.

Along with rising property prices, the city is implementing "initiatives aimed at integrating the poor and working class: public toilets and bathhouses, roofs for markets, paving and lighting designed for pedestrians." Well, we certainly have lots of pedestrians here. Perhaps we could start with a few sidewalks that don't have trees planted in the middle of them. . .

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Home again, home again jiggity jig (kind of)

Here we are, in jetlagged haze, back in Amman. The trip was surprisingly manageable with Issy--his new "Finding Nemo" Leapster cartridge the big star of the trip.

Amman feels kind of the same and kind of just wild and crazy. New buildings popping up all over the place, the Fourth Circle all closed up with insane detours and even more crazed drivers cirling around the neighborhood--not to mention frenetic activity everywhere. I need a few days to adjust and get a grip on how different things are, but my first impression is that Amman's doing the wannabe Dubai thing. There has to be a better model of development that more effectively takes the have-nots into consideration. It feels like just more elitist bells and whistles to me. Perhaps I'm wrong, though.

I decided to go and do one of my standard activities first thing: sugar depilation. Today was particularly harrowing, and I won't go into detail except to say that this afternoon I encountered the rabid bikini line hair removal Nazi of Amman in the flesh. I'm still shaking in my boots just thinking about it.

And of course, in the few hours I was outside the house I already ran into three people I know. Only in Amman. . .

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Hey, you guuuuuuuuys!!"

"The Electric Company" is out on DVD! Man, I wish I knew before we finished up all our shopping for the trip.

I'd heard a bit about the 4-DVD issue of my very favorite 70's show (I loved it even more than "Sesame Street") but didn't know it was out already. To this day, whenever I see Morgan Freeman, I'm always kind of surprised that he's sans Afro and not walking around reading random stuff. He was so cool.

Anyway, there's a great piece on the subject in today's International Herald Tribune.

Preparing for flight

Our house is a mess. We've got clothes piled up in the dining room which Samer has just started working on, sticking them into our humungo duffle bags. We've got smoked salmon for the fam, computer fans for Maher (?!) and an iPod for Mo. Wow. Mo really got lucky this time. . .

And in the hope of preserving our sanity on the 30+ hour trek to Amman from the West Coast with our lovely son, we've got bags of gummy bears, yoghurt-covered pretzels, trail mix, jelly beans (all this sweet stuff is for bribing when needed), pumpkin seeds and I can't remember what else. We've also got a new drawing cassette for the Leapster (to replace the one lost a few weeks ago) and a new Finding Nemo cassette that we will hold on to until Issy gets antsy and we're dying for some relief. And then there's the portable DVD player that greatly aided us on our cross-country trek last year. We just bought the new Wallace and Gromit (Issy's fave) film DVD for that, along with yet another Thomas the Tank Engine DVD. And some Playmobile pirates and a few puzzles for good measure.

Which means we're going to be lugging tons of crap around with us--and that's not even counting the carseat and the stroller. Very unlike the days when we took along the latest New Yorker and Economist and were pretty much set.

So I'm feeling pretty prepared. And even more so after Samer reminded me that we will be on the Royal Jordanian flight. Which translates to us as, Our child is no super angel, but we've endured more than our fair share of unruly little devils on RJ flights in the past. Which means we're feeling more laid-back than usual about the whole situation.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Zarqawi demoted?

I'm way too beat to write but was just sent this article on Zarqawi from a friend in Jordan. Looks like an interesting enough read. . . .

Media reports during the past week have announced that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—al-Qaeda's chief in Iraq—has been "replaced" or "demoted" from the leadership of Iraq's Sunni resistance coalition (Daily Star, April 3; al-Bawaba, April 2). The stories have said that al-Zarqawi was removed as "the result of several mistakes he made," including for taking "the liberty of speaking in the name of the Iraqi people" and for "targeting the Islamic states neighboring Iraq, particularly Jordan" [1].

And I had been assuming he was out of the news due to the Bushies' preoccupation with everything Iranian.

Friday, April 07, 2006

John in the Guardian

Our buddy John Sinno is profiled in today's Guardian. He and Ghida are wrapping up an amazing week of films here at the Seattle Arab and Iranian Film Festival. The article shows just how much of a slog it is attempting to distribute Arab films here in the U.S.

We were at the Iraq in Fragments screening last Friday and I was really blown away by the film's beauty--and brilliant editing. Here's hoping it comes your way sometime soon.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Free Zone"

I just came across a movie review for the new film "Free Zone," which is set in one of Jordan's economic free zones and appears to be a tale of Israeli/Jewish and Arab understanding. Directed by Amos Gitai and starring Natalie Portman and Hiam Abbass, it tells the story of an American Jew and an Israeli who venture into Jordan and interact with the character Abbass plays. I'm mildly interested, by only mildly after reading the NYTimes review.

I wasn't too thrilled, either, when I read that Leila's (Abbass) farm is randomly discovered to have been "set on fire by Palestinian militants, including Leila's angry stepson, who reviles her for her modern ways."

Oh barf. I'm really getting tired of waiting to see some non-terrorist associated portrayals of Palestinians. Geez.

Oh, for Pete's sake

I'm getting so tired of the inanity that Israelis engage in to intimidate Palestinians for no good reason. I mean, what's the point of detaining a cabinet minister as he's crossing the border into the West Bank from East Jerusalem--an act that's supposedly not allowed, but very much allowed in practice? It's just so stupid and petty--and doesn't do a thing to show that Israel is engaged in any way in treating Palestinians as human beings. Anyway, here's the article I came across.

On yet another "accidental" murder

Remember the documentary filmmaker killed by an Israeli soldier a few years back? One bullet, very effectively placed, killed him as he left a Palestinian home (holding up a white flag, no less.)

An inquest jury in the UK has found the soldier guilty of murder and made special mention of Israeli authorities' lack of cooperation in giving details about just what happened. The Guardian states

The jury unanimously found that Miller, from Braunton, Devon, was unlawfully killed. Its forewoman said: "This was an unlawful shooting with the intention of killing Mr James Miller. Therefore we can come to no other conclusion than that Mr Miller was indeed murdered." At that moment the cameraman's family started to sob. The jury added: "It is a fact that from day one to this inquest the Israeli authorities have not been forthcoming in the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Miller's death."

Miller was making a documentary when he was killed as he and colleagues tried to leave a Palestinian house where they had been filming. An award-winning documentary maker, he and two colleagues were clad in body armour and protective helmets and clutching a white flag with a torch shining on it when they came under fire from an Israeli armoured personnel carrier.

Miller's mother said the following:

"We've managed to rally enough resources to fight this, but Palestinians can't fight this, and there's been hundreds of Palestinian deaths."

Boy, is that ever true.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Absent

It's been a while since I've posted and that's due to the insanity of the past 5 or 6 days. I've started up the pre-trip ritual of buying as much junk as possible to stuff in our bags to Amman. You know, buying 875 tubes of Blistex for my favorite brother-in-law (hi Maher!) and stocking up on things for Issy to do during the marathon plane trip.

If I'm MIA for a few more days, hopefully it means things are coming together before the big day.