17 December 2006

Blogs, Flu, and a Plane

As a news junkie, I spend a good chunk of time each day reading on-line newspapers and a selection of favorite blogs. While the BBC and the Washington Post have plenty of news, I always turn to blogs for analysis as I find them much more in line with rational thought than media corporations tend to be. They also tend to be much funnier.

Currently, my favorite political blog is Sadly, No!, a blog based in Europe, but including American contributors. They are not only side-splittingly funny to read, but both their analysis and the comments of their devout readers are right on the money. Over the weekend they posted about the Iraq Study Group’s report to Our Dear Leader, and a subsequent editorial in the Washington Post. Charles Krauthammer, a frequent contributor to the WaPo slammed the report, very much echoing the position that Bush has taken. While these things really did happen, and it really makes my head hurt, there are still Americans who are appalled both by this administration and by voices like Krauthammer’s. It makes my head ache a little less to be reminded daily of this. One of the Sadly, No! contributors, Travis G., asks in his post if the Administration is delaying their announcement about a new Iraq strategy simply because they have not thought of a catchy name for this next phase of shame. I wouldn’t doubt it. Enter the S,N! commenters who provide some of the funniest reading material I’ve seen on this. (After all, I have to laugh to keep from crying.) On of my favorites is “Operation Oedipus Tex.” “Operation Futile Crescent,” was another. I feel a bit guilty reading this blog and laughing at the stupid things Bush does because very little of what he does is funny. Still, it’s a small antidote to the venom Bush Co. has put out in the world, and perhaps I should take comfort in what little comfort there is.

In the mean time, I am so sick. I read this morning in the Jordan Times that the Kingdom is currently in the midst of a flu epidemic. No kidding. K is on his way to Jordan as I type, and I hope that I can be done with this cold/flu in the next 14 hours, or our 2 weeks together is going to be spent hovering over a humidifier.

K is here right now. I need to feel better quickly!

13 December 2006

What is The Status of Women in Jordan?

Today in class a British student asked the teacher about the status of women in Jordan. Frequently students in my class will ask the teacher their culture questions, and she is very indulgent with us. The student who asked about women told me that she has been having problems with men in Jordan, and she ended her thoughts by saying, “I feel like a prisoner in my own house; every time I go out men stare and honk the horn at me and say terrible things to me.” She repeated this to our teacher. Let me say, for purposes of disclosure, that this student wears clothing that I think is provocative for Jordan. While it is de jure in England or the States, I don’t see many women dressed like her, not even at the University. That said, both her and I are tired of men’s horney-ness being our burden.

Our teacher told her that how men see her is up to her. She said that women have to carry themselves in such a way that our very body language dissuades men from saying inappropriate things. She also said that it’s important to dress “appropriately,” read: modestly. Of course, what is modest in the UK and what is modest in Jordan seems to be very different. I don’t think that Western women can have it both ways. Either we wear clothing here that we would not necessarily wear at home, or we are apt to endure more harassment. I too find it frustrating sometimes. When it was still very hot here a German woman asked me why I wear long-sleeved, collared shirts. It seemed like such a stupid question to me. Last time I checked, Jordan was a Muslim country. While I can eat a Big Mac here, I’m still not in Los Angeles, I’m in Jordan. I’ve been here just over 3 months, and I dress more modestly than I do in the States, and I have had only 2 problems with men, and both were more amateur and amusing than frightening. I’ve never actually felt threatened here. Still, it does weigh on me that men seem to wear what they want, and I can’t, and when a man pulls his car up to me and asks me to fuck him, the reaction of Jordanian women has overwhelmingly been to ask me what I may have done to provoke this. This was relayed to our teacher, and she responded by declaring that the onus is still on us as women. Like it or not.

This seemed to be a catalyst for another female student to ask her why women don’t go out much. This student said that she has never seen a woman playing soccer at the University, and she rarely sees women downtown after dark, and for that matter women don’t seem to occupy many professional roles in Jordan. Our teacher seemed to appreciate the candor, and she said that “in these Modern Times” girls don’t go out and play as much as they used to because “…the world is more dangerous.” She said that women have a lot to do at home for their families, and they don’t have the leisure time to cruse around downtown like the young men do. I found it interesting that she blamed the phenomenon on modernization rather than sexism. That seems like a mostly reasonable argument to me, but I still think there is plenty of sexism here. She did say that women always do more than men, and she looked at me (the only other married person in the room besides her), and said, “You know this is true, right?” I burst out laughing as the other (younger) students looked confused. Sexism certainly isn’t unique to Jordan. I am beginning to think that we become acclimatized to our own cultural brand of sexism, and we internalize it and see it as rational, natural and acceptable to a certain extent. When we confront a different cultural version, it’s shocking to us. I will admit, the extent to which the differences between men and women are invented and naturalized does shock me. Still, while I have adopted a different wardrobe, and I think that sucks, I know there is a trade off. I’m much less likely to incur violence at the hands of a man here than in the States.

What I’m having trouble analyzing is how much are this students (or my) problems with men attributable to the fact that we are foreigners. I don’t know sometimes if men stare at me because I am a female who goes downtown alone, and this is a novelty, or because I am a foreigner downtown. Probably all of the above.

And, I don’t even mind any more that people stare. What does make me uncomfortable is how other women will question my sexual morality, or that of my husband. The first time a woman here asked me if my husband will be unfaithful to me this year, I was dumbfounded. No one would ever ask this question in the States! Or, if an American asked me that, I doubt she or he would expect an answer. There seems to be a “well, men are like that…” attitude here that I don’t understand. I found myself shocked at how often women here will ask me about sex. I thought Americans talked about sex a lot, but I’m beginning to think that Americans have nothing on Jordanians. I guess everything is a trade off.


11 December 2006

Coffee Divination

Like reading tea lees, divinations drawn from espresso may be the next big fad. This Latte Macciato is either a hand giving the peace sign, or it's a decapitated bunny. At any rate, as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, "I will drink life to the lees, or coffee grounds, or whatever."

03 December 2006

That brain fever accounts for it all.

I had a long talk last week with a friend about the differences between being educated and being smart. I am educated, but he is smart. For a variety of classist reasons, we value the former more than the latter. It got me to thinking about Melville. Brilliant, but not educated, his insight into early America is still stunningly original and hilarious to me. I realized after reading my favorite novel of his, The Confidence Man, that he engaged with the pseudo-science of physiognomy more than I initially realized. The perverted logic behind this thinking is that we can judge individual character, or soul by looking at appearance. Appearance includes skin and eye color as well as style of dress. So, with that said, and especially for K, here are some of my favorite quotes from this book:

“Ay, sir, permit me – when I behold you on this mild summer’s eve, thus eccentrically clothed in the skins of wild beasts, I cannot but conclude that the equally grim and unsuitable habit of your mind is likewise but an eccentric assumption, having no basis in your genuine soul, no more than nature herself.”

“When man judges man, charity is less a bounty from our mercy than just allowance for the insensible lee-way of human fallibility. God forbid that my eccentric friend should be what you hint. You do not know him, or but imperfectly. His outside deceived you…”

“He was, as before said, a young man of about thirty. His countenance of that neuter sort, which, in repose, is neither prepossessing nor disagreeable; so that it seemed quite uncertain how he would turn out. His dress was neat, with just enough of the mode to save it from the reproach of originality; in which general respect, though with a readjustment of details, his costume seemed modeled upon his master’s. But, upon the whole, he was, to all appearances, the last person in the world that one would take for the disciple of any transcendental philosophy; thought, indeed, something about his sharp nose and shaved chin seemed to hint that if mysticism, as a lesson, ever came in his way, he might, with the characteristic knack of a true New-Englander, turn even so profitless a thing to some profitable account.”

Then from the discussion between the Confidence Man and the Barber:
“But what I want to learn from you, barber, is, how does the mere handling of the outside of men’s heads lead you to distrust the inside of their hearts?”
“What, sir, to say nothing more, can one be forever dealing in macassar oil, hair dyes, cosmetics, false moustaches, wigs, and toupees, and still believe that men are wholly what they look to be?”
This exchange is toward the beginning of the “Very Charming” chapter, and following these quotes is an extensive discussion of hair. Wild, huh?

I’ll end with my favorite quote from the book:
“Then you shall hear my story. Many a month I have longed to get hold of the Happy Man, drill him, drop the powder, and leave him to explode at his leisure.”