28 June 2007

So Far...











and This

July is pending.

21 June 2007

Before & After

19 June 2007:

20 June 2007:

Notice anything different? Our power went out tonight. It came back within 5 minutes, but not so for the people to the right of the University.

I took this on the 19th as well:

15 June 2007


14 June 2007

One Lap Around Jordan

This week I went on a driving tour of Jordan. Not that we quite meant to, but…

J was heading to Wadi Musa to take supplies to M and her crew there who are excavating a Nabatian cemetery. S and F asked if they could tag along, as I had also done and J graciously obliged. As J and I were waiting to take off we overheard C, an American who just arrived in Jordan a few days ago, asking about directions to the town of Mu’ta. C has had a sucky couple of days. She arrived in Jordan, but her luggage is still in Detroit. Then, the person who was supposed to pick her up never did. Having thoroughly explored the airport, she found her way to Amman. The woman who failed to send someone to fetch her at the airport then told her to take a bus to Mu’ta, somewhere in the middle of Jordan. Mu’ta is south of Amman, so it’s sorta on the way to Wadi Rum. We offered her a ride, and picked up the boys at the Safeway.

Off and running we wound our way through Wadi Mujib and up to the Karak plateau. We stopped in Karak for lunch where C called the dig director. This woman had her phone switched off! By luck C reached a person who was working at the excavation where C was headed and this person informed the director that C would need to be picked up. Now, we were in Karak still, and had a while before reaching Mu’ta.

Mu’ta is a very small town in Jordan. It didn’t take us long to explore Mu’ta, which was a shame since we waited there for about 90 minutes for the dig director to show up. This didn’t just suck because Mu’ta is a drag. It sucked because I’ve never been to Wadi Rum, and I reckoned this would be my only time and I wanted to see the sun set. By the time the director showed up it was about 4:30, and we were still quite far from Wadi Rum. We delivered C to the director, and wished her luck. Mu’ta was not so bad, though. Many Mu’tanians (?) came to visit with us while we sat on the steps of a sweet shop. I take it they don’t see too many tourists there. I purchased 3 liters of water, and two ice creams for half a dinar! It was nice to be somewhere that didn’t drain my money.

Moving on to Wadi Rum. We arrived with enough time to see the sun set there. However, we were smote again. Wadi Rum is set up such that tourists cannot drive into the park. There is a gate with dudes who tell people this. We had a truck full of archaeological equipment and a letter from the Department of Antiquities stating that we had the right to pass and drop off our stuff. In other words, they were instructed in this letter to allow us to 1) drive in, 2) without paying for a ticket. Ha! J was driving and when the 7 men working there saw us they asked us where we’re from. She told them and then they said they needed one of us to come in and fill out paperwork and one of us would buy a ticket. She said No way! They jerked us around for a good 30 minutes. We called M, the lady waiting for her truck of supplies. She lives in the Village there, and we got her out of the shower to drive up to the gate. The entire time the men were telling J that she needed to go inside and fill out paperwork and the whole time she refused. Gosh, boredom is bad for men. Once they saw an angry-looking M emerge from her truck they changed their tune and told her that J was causing problems and they didn’t know why since there was no problem. I missed Wadi Rum at sunset! M graciously bought us dinner from the local restaurant while S, F and I sat and drank their Pepsi’s. While they were away some of the neighbors came over and told us that they needed some sort of paperwork from M indicating how many people would be staying in the house and for how long. Not that they need to know, it’s not their house. I pretended not to understand them. I told them in English that they needed to speak English because I didn’t understand. Very effective.

Exhausted by the Rum-treatment, we ate dinner and departed, stopping at the gate to let the men there know that we were not staying and didn’t not enjoy anything there. By this time the truck was as tired as us, and all the dash lights kept coming on. The 4 of us decided this was all for nothing and drove down to Aqaba, about 40 minutes away. It was HOT my friends. We got a hotel room at about midnight with a sub-par A/C. At 03:30 J called downstairs and asked them to send up a magician who could make it work. It never did, but we slept anyway because we were so ‘effin tired. We had a lovely breakfast the next morning and then picked up the boys at the McDonalds. We wanted to leave Aqaba before it was too late in the day because of the heat. Our truck was sans A/C.

We drove up the Desert Highway to Ma’an. I have wanted to see the train station there for sometime. There is an Ottoman train station that is part of the Hijaz railway, and I’ve heard that the Kingdom is going to restore the station. It is adjacent to a small university surrounded by olive trees. It was really quite beautiful. The station was closed off, so I only got to see it through a fence. It took us quite a while to find the place. It’s at the eastern-most edge of the town and we stopped 2 times (or once?) to ask for directions. We decided to send S to ask figuring that he was the most expendable of the group. Ma’an has a bit of a turbulent history, you see, and I was a tad nervous. But it turns out they like Canadians there! People were quite friendly. Two men walking around the train station stopped us and chatted very briefly. People seemed curious about our presence, but everything was great.

So, on to Shawbak! Another place I’ve never been. Finding it was a bit tricky because there are signs indicating that we should go straight toward Wadi Musa, and then the signs stop. Turns out someone forgot to put up the very important Turn-Right-Here sign. Again we stopped and asked for directions. Shawbak is beautiful, and free to visit! We wandered around for quite a while. S and F went pretty far down into one of the stair cases that leads underground to the water supply. It’s absolutely dark down there, so I chickened out quite early.

We headed north back to Amman and dropped the boys off near 7th circle. From there we were on the road to Abdoun and J and I continued on to Java U for good coffee, sandwiches, and a nice, shaded patio. We returned exhausted. It was really fun, though! (Even though I didn’t get to see Wadi Rum in the daylight.)

07 June 2007

The Performance of Foreign Identity

I have been thinking a lot this week about an artist that Miss Carousel wrote about recently named Marina Abramovic. Miss C explained that Abramovic set 72 objects out and told the audience they could use them as they wished on her. Items included paint, glue, and a loaded gun. Miss C wrote, “… it revealed the power dynamics around bodies that are often covered or unspoken, yet delimit women's lives. The power dynamic between the artist as a willing passive object for the audience began as subtle, playful exchange and became aggressive behavior that eventually ‘required’ intervention from other audience members who ‘got’ what was going on.” What makes me happy about this is that Abramovic is still alive. This is because although people will quite often put the gun to her head, total strangers in the audience are willing to stand up to a person with a weapon and speak out against violence. What intrigues me about this is that Abramovic reveals the extent to which we broker our own power every day with every person with whom we come into contact. Once we allow ourselves to become “willing passive object[s]” we give others the power to kill us, or to let us die. By putting an event like this in a performance venue, Abramovic forces people to confront their complicity both in ignoring suffering and contributing to happiness. But when these events are not part of a public performance somehow our role becomes invisible. And that is what has stuck with me. The objects in her performance are not from another world; they are common and surround us constantly. Thus, we all occupy the somewhat terrifying role she does in her performance. In other words, we are all featured in this very performance all the time. Is she ultimately arguing that people who are willing, passive objects are more likely to incur pain?

Before reading about Abramovic I was struggling to understand my experiences as a foreigner. Once I realized that it is a performance just as Abramovic’s, I began to wrestle with my own agency in an effort to avoid feeling like a passive object. Initially, being a foreigner made me into a person who empathized with furniture. I know very well what it is like to be installed in a room so people can come and look at me, criticize my appearance, and pronounce judgment on me all while I am mute. But this was largely my fault. If I am to be that passive, it is a matter of time before someone puts a gun to my head. And this is where my performance finally deviates from Abramovic’s; I learned far too late into this that I am in a performance, and that I have a role that is actually distinguishable from the role of an armchair.

This is important because I realized back in January that I needed to contest the way I was being hyper-sexualized. Ironically, the most sex-less year in my adult life has been steeped in near-constant discussion of sex. In fact, I now believe that as an American associated with the circle of people that I am, my sexuality is a gloss for my national identity. It is not a role I am interested in performing for the very conservative people I know here, and yet it is a role they seem to insist I occupy. It isn’t vicious on their part. They are doing the best they can to understand me based on the limited knowledge they have about American women, but I find it exhausting.

In the past few months I have adopted a strategy that I’ve found to be very effective at shutting these uncomfortable discussions down. I simply turn their words or actions back on them. For example, one very religious man I know here seems to be obsessed with the fact that I live in Jordan and my husband lives in California. He never misses an opportunity to tell me that I am responsible for ruining my family. About 2 months ago he told me one evening that my husband is certainly having sex with a lot of women because I am not with him. I told him it only seemed fair to me since I was also having sex with a lot of women here in Jordan. He got absolutely saucer-eyed, and backed out of the room. He did not speak to me for a month. When he finally did we had a wonderful discussion about cars, and sex has not been brought up since. Simply telling him that I didn’t want to discuss my sex life was not sufficient. It was only when I equated my desire for sex with his assumptions about my husbands desire for sex that he understood my willingness to embarrass him by acknowledging that I’m a sexual being. By making the performance as uncomfortable for him as it had been for me, the whole thing concluded and now we have “normal” conversations about food or politics or soccer. Another example: women here will constantly adjust my clothing to cover my arms or neck more thoroughly. One time a woman started to push my bangs out of my face. As she did so she told me that this was better because with hair in my face I looked like a prostitute. I asked her to stop touching my hair, but she continued. I reached around her and began to pull her hijab off. She shrieked and let go of me to plant her hands on her head. I told her she’d be more comfortable if she just took off her hijab, and that she looked like a child with it on. She stared very intensely at me for a long time, and then said simply, “ok, I understand now.” Consensus reached!

For a while I thought it was just me, but it is not. I had an interesting discussion with B, a Canadian who is here for several weeks as a volunteer teacher. She was invited by a friend/co-worker to East Amman for the weekend. B’s co-worker said something along the lines of, “I want my friends and family to meet you because you’re a Canadian who is actually moral!” Again, here is the performance of nationality, and it collides uncomfortably with sexuality. I wonder if B’s friend could imagine B saying to her, “I want you to come to B.C. and meet my friends and family because I want them to meet a Muslim who doesn’t want to kill westerners, ahey?” B is amazing and seems to have held her own. A few days with a Jordanian family means lots of great food, lots of laughter and coffee, and no sleep. She was grilled by friends and family about her personal life, and perhaps in that time she showed them that it is no more reasonable to assume that all westerners are “immoral” than it is to assume that all Muslims are suicide bombers. We have so much to learn about each other.

But the common thread here is sexuality. This is the one currency in which we all deal, albeit quite differently.

I’ve been having an argument with a friend here about a minimum age for marriage. He argues that it is ok to marry “a girl” as long as she has had her period, even if she is 9 years old, for example. I strongly disagree. What I realize from this discussion is that to my friend, a Woman is defined by her ability to give birth. To me, a woman is a female person who has either a certain level of education or sufficient tacit cultural knowledge such that she can make intelligent decisions about her own destiny. There is no way a 9 year old would qualify as a Woman in my world. But, of course that would be my definition, I have no children. By my friend’s definition, I’m not really a woman. No wonder everyone here needs to discuss my sex life. I am a foreign woman who harbors the threat of a foreigner’s sexuality, and yet I’m not quite a woman. Sometimes I know that men here just want to talk about sex with me. But sometimes I think that, at least among my conservative friends, the constant discussion about my sexuality is their way of contesting my perceived asexuality, something that may be more threatening than foreign sexuality.

Additionally, for the women I know here, discussions about sexuality provide them the means to demonstrate to me that they are not children. Further, if we just discuss “sexuality” they are avoiding discussing The Act directly, thus preserving their modesty while simultaneously demonstrating their maturity. I understand that often when we discuss Sexuality we are really discussing Sex, but I think it’s not important to harbor on this with them. The ways in which women here broker their sexuality/gender identity is really ingenuous even though it has often been directed at insulting me. But among my friends consensus is important, and it is achieved by argument. When I fail to engage in the argument I am often demoted to Child Status, thus further throwing into conflict my Identity. The insults are intended, most of the time, to provoke me to behave as an adult. This is why I stand behind my policy of mimicking their actions and words as I already described.

Ironically, if I’ve earned any Respect here, it has not been from wearing hijab as advertised. It has stemmed from arguing and saying provocative things. Perhaps even more ironic, in the end I’ve had to talk about sex a lot to get people to stop talking about sex. In doing this, I figure I’m feeding the stereotypes many people here have about sex-obsessed westerners. And this is the part I don’t like. My friends are right to adamantly contest the association of Violence with Islam, yet I do not understand how I can contest the conflation of Sex with American Female and retain Adult Status. My best guess at this time is that I should just keep showing up for dinner and demonstrate that I can be here and not have sex with men (or women!), and that I don’t think people here want to kidnap and kill me.

And maybe this is what effective activism looks like.

03 June 2007

Qasr Burqu' (قصر برقع)

Yesterday Miss A, Yo and I went to Qasr Burqu’. This castle is waaaaay out in the eastern desert by way of the Amman to Iraq death-highway. So we (by “we” I mean “Yo”) drove and drove and had nothing but sketchy directions and an apparent willingness to die of thirst or lack of caffeine. We passed by a zillion military guys standing on the side of the road and wondered what was going on until we were buzzed by military jets flying low and doing cool acrobatics. Later we saw stuff blow up in an apparent exercise for important spectators. Cool.

We passed through Azraq and headed toward the Iraqi border.

Eventually we passed though a town affectionately named “Pump Station H5” on our map and continued further east to Ruweished. From there we were to take a dirt road north-ish. There was actually a sign posted which indicated the precise dirt road we should take! With that, Miss A jumped into the back of the truck and we headed north on a dirt road passing several Bedouin tents and a cemetery. About 30 minutes later Yo spotted a basalt nubbin protruding from the landscape. I must admit that at this point I was a bit alarmed that we had found it, and that it would suck. Once we actually drove up to the castle we could see how nifty it really it. It wasn’t even ungodly hot yet. It was quiet and beautiful out there. The castle is in bad shape, and there is plenty of graffiti, but it’s still a cool site. We walked around for a while and climbed all over the rubble. Before we sat down for some hummus we took a group picture:
And then a Weewah-style picture:

After lunch we drove into Ruweished, currently home to displaced Iraqis.
Ruweished, as far as we could tell, has no inhabitants over 10 years old. We drove up to a gas station for some Solar and saw the que of trucks obviously heading for Iraq. We cut ahead of them, and several kids gathered around to talk with us and fuel up the truck. They wanted to know if we are tourists and if we’re going to the border. All that sort of stuff. Having fueled up, and feeling thankful that none of the truck drivers we cut off tried to kill us, we headed back to Pump Station H5.

We were trying to find the site of Jawa, but instead we traveled on a dirt road until we about reached Syria, and then turned back. On the way back to the highway we came across three men standing looking at a car with it’s hood up. We offered them a ride to the town, but they said they were ok. It was a long walk, I hope they got their car running. So instead of finding Jawa we marveled at the amount of cairns out in the desert. There is so much human modification to the desert, and all of it indicates boredom, I think. It’s really beautiful out there. We headed back to Azraq and had coffee and sheesha at our now-preferred truck stop/coffee shop. After much sitting and smoking we decided to eat at Huston’s in Shemansani (sp?). We were all jonesing for Mexican food. I don’t drink any more, but Yo and Miss A seemed to enjoy the margaritas there as well. What an amazing day!

We left at 06:30 and returned at 21:30. I slept very well last night.

Next Saturday to Ma’an?