29 September 2006

Another Week in Jordan

Two weeks of school down, 14 more to go… We are nearly through one week of Ramadan, and as it heated up again here this week, energy was sapped. Yesterday in hour 3 of our class our teacher decided to introduce asking questions in the past tense to a room full of hot and hungry people. There was nearly a mutiny. She went over asking questions, and then asked if we understood. No one moved, except me. I shook my head “no”. She repeated herself, and then said, “Ok, do it now,” while she snapped her fingers at me. “Yella Yella!” I sat there. She said, “You don’t know how? Tell me what you want to ask in the past tense, and we will go through it.” I said, “I want to know how to ask my roommate why she didn’t kill me in my sleep yesterday.” At least everyone laughed, but in the end the teacher took us through asking “Did you study Arabic yesterday?” Boring!

I shared a taxi downtown with a Dutch guy, English gal, and an Australian gal. We spent the ride discussing the terrible state of British food, and the terrible state of the American political consciousness. The English gal said, “Americans, they don’t know where anything is on a map, and they eat all the time.” The taxi driver was trying not to laugh. We unanimously agreed that the Australians are hard to pick on compared to the Dutch, English and Americans.

After school this taxi took me down to the NGO where I’m volunteering and we talked about choosing a project to work on. One Danish woman argued with everything everyone said. She’s adamantly anti-American, but she’s pissed at the wrong person with me. I reminded her how rad those cartoons were this year. Thankfully this woman is leaving soon. It is very interesting to be privy at a group conversation in which people discuss what an NGO can do in Jordan to be of service. I could not help but think that they really need an anthropologist to make their projects more applicable, if not more beneficial to the communities they target. I have been around anthropologists so much that I forget what an utter lack of cultural competence can mean in a situation like this. This NGO actually has funding, but they have strange ways of using it. One suggestion was to look at organized labor in Jordan, such as it exists, and generate pamphlets to distribute to workers. These pamphlets would have a 10-point sketch of their rights. This is absurd to me! I can’t imagine that workers don’t assert their “rights” because they don’t know about them! The Australian Embassy put out a call for proposals for 65,000 dollar grants (!). They also distributed a list of projects they funded last year, and all seemed to me to be classic applied anthropology projects. Some examples include the establishment of a community radio station in south-east Asia that will be used to distribute information about health care services, etc. It would be run and maintained by locals. Another project established, trained, and funded a women’s resource center in India. All the projects create jobs, use local knowledge, and contribute to local knowledge. None of the project were based on ignoring, or eradicating local knowledge. None of the projects seemed to begin with the argument that the population was unaware, and would be suddenly empowered by the introduction of knowledge as facile as a 10-point pamphlet. What do I know, I’m American. We divvied up tasks. The proposal is due to the Australians in less than one month, so I’m nervous about getting this together. The fellow in charge, who seems genuinely happy to have me there, asked me to take the call for proposals and go over it so I can make suggestions about where to start, and how to target our project. My impression is that every person there, even the brilliant Danish girl, really cares about human rights, and wants to make a positive contribution, but they don’t have a back ground that lends itself to developing applied research projects, and in the end are reduced to pamphleting, and generating reports that few read. This is really ideal for states and corporations that wish to continue exploiting people. I don’t mean to imply that I’m what they’ve been looking for, and that I have the expertise they need necessarily. What I mean to imply is that these groups, I think, could really be more effective if they had more anthropologists there to balance out the folks with degrees in Justice. But, this is what I’m here to learn. I suspected this stuff happens, and I’m so excited to see this from the inside.

It’s the weekend! Today I need to write to the mother of a student who was killed in a car crash two weeks ago. I’ve been putting this off. I need to sit down and do this. I need to read the call for proposals from the Australians, and I need to learn about 86,000 vocabulary words. Oh, that reminds me. I decided that flash cards would be helpful for me. I went down to the University Bookstore to find 3 by 5 cards, and they didn’t have them. A day or two after this I saw M, and he had 3 by 5 cards. I told him I’d been looking for those, and asked him where he found them. He said he got them at the very bookstore I’d been at. Apparently, they are secreted away behind the counter and I need to go and ask for them. It’s like a Speakeasy, but for flash cards! Welcome to Jordan!

“I” and L moved into the apartment next door to us, and “I” bought a hubble-bubble two days ago. I went over there last night after we had Iftar and we smoked. “I” went down to Lebnani Snack and picked up three juices for us. They have these wonderful fresh juices that are so good after a day of fasting. We sat in their apartment and watched the Arab telenovelas. I don’t know what soap operas are called here, but I can say for sure that they are the same everywhere. There is actually a soap opera about the Bedouin! Ahhh, I hear the propane truck driving around playing ice-cream man music.


Blogger Steven Kesler said...

Now we're getting somewhere. This is just the sort of post I was hoping you would write. Your insightful views of the inner workings of NGO's specifically and politics in general are intriguing. I wonder, just to beg the question, how do you think an Anthropologist's views of culture and politics might be more apropriate than, say, a businessman or local politician? It sure does seem to me that foreign humanitarian investments could be better spent, but who really knows more about the local culture, the local folks who are trying to make a difference or an Anthropologist? Keep up the great posts. I appreciate that you take some of your free time to share your experience with folks who are far away.

10:59 AM  
Blogger K said...

In terms of making fun of Australians, one word, Vegimite. Bluck!

8:07 PM  
Blogger Weeping Sore said...

I concur w/Steve. Don't stop describing your daily experiences, because that keeps us all informed about your life. But working w/ the NGO is the real deal. It's disappointing that the anti-American bias is just as strong there - among presumably enlightened professionals - as it is in a local taxi. While that can't make your job any easier, it sounds like it will help to keep it interesting and challenging. It will become more complicated as you go along, to keep the "teaching" you do balanced with the "learning".

9:28 PM  
Blogger Frances Goodman فرانسيس said...

Steven, that’s a question I think I’ll spend my life trying to answer. I don’t think there is an ideal situation in which corporations or states want to “develop” people. Given that people who are targeted for these projects are often devoid of resources, an anthropologist can be the next best thing. That said, anthropological projects that discount the local perspective are, in my opinion, imperialist at best. So, No, I never think an anthropologists views should be given more weight than a local view. Instead, I think an anthropologist should know enough about both to act as a cultural broker, rather than a cultural representative.

5:12 PM  

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