27 July 2007

Reverse Culture Shock

Today was my first day as an adult back in the real world. I’ve been sleeping and weaving and knitting and eating for two weeks. I have been wearing tee shirts and drinking beer. I have been saying bad words (ok, I guess that’s not so different). I have been reacting inappropriately in social situations. It has been strange, and parts have been good.

The other day K and I were beer shopping and K struck up a conversation with some random dude who at one point introduced himself and reached his hand out to shake mine. I think I successfully suppressed my shock and I shook his hand. It was one of my many “Oh, yeah” moments so far. Today I went for a job interview and I wore a short-sleeved shirt. It felt so odd (though appropriate since I swear it was 1000 degrees Kelvin here today), and I took a scarf and put it around my neck. As if for safety or something. Weird.

In my first few days back in Jesusland I wove a scarf.
I purchased this yarn in March and I’ve been waiting to weave something out of it. I’m really happy with it. It was nice and cool in the mountains, and I took just 3 days from start to finish. A good way to work back into this society.

Some days I feel like things are going well. I do like the less-deadly smog of SoCal compared to Amman. I missed driving my car. I love the restaurants here. But then, I see weird reminders of American hysteria. (i.e. ) I am even more perplexed with the perception Californians have of the War and of all the stoopid things we have done in the Middle East. I’ve had a few conversations so far in which well-meaning people ask me what I did this last year, and when I tell them I’m met with wide-eyed silence. “Oh,” they say, “That must have been very interesting.” They are people, you know. “And you felt safe?” More so than here, I tell them. I’ve never been comfortable with my role as Jordanian ambassador to the frightened.

Today I went back to school for the first time since last September. I saw PJW (who has been to Jordan many times) and we had a nice conversation. I registered for the next quarter. K and I went to Trader Joes. A typical day, I guess. Filled with people speaking English and driving in the lines. I feel so out of sorts here. The other day K and I went to Burger Continental in Pasadena and I heard two Arab men talking over the salad bar. One man was complaining about the Salmon, and used the word Yanee as he searched for the proper complaint adjectives. I almost started crying. The hummus was good, but the pita was completely unacceptable.

I guess I’m back.

09 July 2007

Last Week

I hate the good-bye ritual. I hated it last year, and I still hate it as much this year. This last week has been crammed with great food and last-minute conversations. I’ve been filled with this urge to document and archive every moment of my last week here. Maybe this is not so strange. Many of the obnoxious academics I’ve met this year have spent their careers documenting and reenacting their own sentimental history. I’m just asking for one week.

Almost one week ago we took Yo to Reem al-Bawadi for his good-bye dinner. He’ll be back in Jordan at the end of the summer, but still. I won’t see him again until November in San Diego. Reem al-Bawadi was great. We sat under the tent and pigged-out. We smoked and had coffee and fresh juices, and still for 6 of us the bill was only 50 JD. Not bad. It was a fun evening filled with immature conversation and bad words. My kind of evening.

A few days later Emir, Miss A and I went to Hasham. We sat in the corner and at one point I realized everyone in the restaurant was wide-eyed and looking over my right shoulder. I turned around and saw a roach the size of my Volkswagen. Our waiter came over and squished it. The roach fell to the ground near Miss A’s feet, and the waiter left it there and walked away. About 5 minutes later Miss A yelped as she realized the thing was only half-squished and it was dragging its body toward her foot. I yelped. Then another customer summoned a worker who came and gave it a final, crunchy squish. I made eye contact with the customer and nodded. The worker told us that it probably came from the clothing store next to them. What ever you say. Classic.

A few days after that Emir and I went downtown to go suit shopping for him. We began in the Balid, and then took a serveece up to Jebel Hussein and looked at more suits there. He tried on a few, but didn’t commit fully to any. A picked us up and we went for coffee. A told me that my new blind engineer friend wanted to have dinner with me before I left. A made plans with Abu Khalad, the blind engineer, and dropped me and Emir off at home.

The next day at 5 A picked me up and we went to Reem al-Bawadi with Abu Khalad. It was interesting for several reasons. This was the first time A has been in a group with me and he has been the one made to feel uncomfortable. Usually, I’m the minority and I feel odd. I must admit I rather enjoyed watching him look a bit uncomfortable. Abu Khalad has been married 4 times, but divorced only twice. His second wife is younger than all of his children. The man is hilarious. We talked about politics, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Then we talked about marriage. He told me his oldest son is going to get married this year. I asked him if he gave his son any advice, and he told me that he did. He said that a man should marry a woman with some education so she isn’t capable of only talking about her shoes, or Nancy Ajrum. He said that a wife should be pretty, but not wear make up or be too focused on her looks. At this point A sat up and joined the conversation and said that this was all weird, and that all a man needed was a “religious girl.” Abu Khalad turned to A and said, “Oh, yes, of course sheikh,” and then turned back to me and continued to talk about beautiful women. After dinner we had coffee, and I know this is when A wants to have a cigarette, but because he is a sheikh, he won’t smoke in public. Abu Khalad ordered a nargilleh for himself and one for me. He told me I am a beautiful and dangerous woman because I like to smoke the shamam-flavored tobacco. He and I sat and smoked in front of A who must have about died of a nic-fit. I enjoyed talking with Abu K, and I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed being the much less-repressed me in front of A. After dinner A and I went for more coffee. He told me that in this year he has learned a lot from me. He said that he has watched me interact with people and this has taught him the value of patients. He said that Muslims are supposed to be chartable, kind and patient, and he told me that I displayed all of these [even though I’m not Muslim]. I think the essence of this was that he learned that kindness can be motivated by many things, not just Islam. It was nice to hear, and I sat there stunned into silence for several seconds. The funny thing is that I’ve learned a lot about how to interact with people from him! In any event, it made my year to be told such kind things.

Sometime later I went to Jebel Hisban for the 40th anniversary party they had there. I must admit, I didn’t go to see the archaeology, I went because our Moudera told us that we’d eat at Haret Djudna after the whats-a-whose-it. I did have one more opportunity to see David Hale (and his 5 bodyguards) come and give a content-free speech, so I guess it was worthwhile going to Hisban. Good times. Then we went to H.D. in Madaba and sat under the fig trees and ate while BAP got Abu Ahmed to talk about his 45 years of working for ACOR. Interesting stuff.

The next day BAP, C and me went to see and Iron Age site near Wadi Mujib (actually, it is quite close to Diban). I went because C said that if we had time we could go to the Bani Hamida weaving center (in the middle of NO WHERE) and look at rovings and yarn. They also have finished rugs for sale, but went to see the fiber and yarn. A lovely woman came and opened up on a Friday for us. BAP and C purchased lots and lots of stuff. Somewhere south west of Madaba, we could see the Dead Sea. We found a narrow road that looked like it headed west into the Ghour. We had a wonderful and relaxing road trip. We saw more archaeology, and then headed back up to Amman.

Now that I’m preparing to depart, a few academics have asked me for some time to talk about my work [at their convenience]. Funny, I’ve been here for 10 months, overlapping with several of them for more than 6, and yet a few have just now decided to speak with me. Oh, the hubris. I would be offended if I thought for a moment that it has crossed their minds how rude that is. But instead I’m just reminded how important it is to make sure that a PhD doesn’t turn me into an utter ass.

Ok, off the soapbox. Two nights ago A and I went around Amman so I could take pictures. We spent a lot of time in Whedat, where there are great falafel shops and great views of the city. I finally saw the Abu Darwish Mosque up close. I have had a week of good-bye dinners with my friends and families. They have been intense and exhausting. When I return to California, I think I will sleep for two weeks. Last night I had my last good-bye dinner with the people who have made my work possible. It was the dinner I least looked forward to because they are the family with whom I am the closest, and the thought of saying bye to the kids and women and brothers made me feel sad and exhausted before they even picked me up.

Tonight I’m going with my American peeps to a place in Fuheis that I hear is great (and the name of which I cannot remember right now). I’m also going to attempt that RJ early check in thing I’ve heard about. Rumor is that I can take my bags to their 5th (or 7th?) circle office, check them in, get my boarding pass, and be permitted 50 extra kilos of stuff to bring. What I imagine will actually happen is that A and I will go there and find the office shut without explanation during working hours. A and I will go for 3 cups of coffee, talk about religion, return at 2 and find workers smoking who will tell us they are closed. A will argue with them, and then they will tell me that this 50 kilo thing is untrue, and I can’t actually get a boarding pass, but I can leave my bags and Inshallah they will arrive in Chicago. This is not to diss RJ at all. I actually have nothing but good things to say about them. The food is good, the legroom is merciful. I’m just looking forward to one more attempt to do business in Amman before I go. I’ve finally convinced myself this is all very reasonable. If it goes easily, I may actually be disappointed.

What I will miss about Jordan (in no particular order):
1. Ramadan lights
2. Great food
3. Eating dinner at 10 at night
4. Nationalism
5. Driving
6. Pine trees and basalt deserts within a 40 minute drive
7. DVDs
8. Stair cases potentially measured in kilometers
9. Archaeology
10. Conspiracy theories
11. Aramex
12. Flags
13. Fireworks
14. Smoking
15. Most people
16. The ‘Inshallah Lifestyle’
17. Jebel Amman (particularly the Turkish Bath)
18. Fine
19. Mobile Com
20. The word “y3nee”

What I will not miss about Jordan (in no particular order):
1. Mansef
2. Phone calls at 6 in the morning
3. Diesel pollution
4. Abdoun
5. Lack of privacy
6. Qursh
7. The shabab-factor
8. Racist expatriates
9. Smoking
10. Dry eyes

And the last list I need to make before I go? The rules for the AMP Drinking Challenge! If AMP says:
1. That’s fucking disgusting,
2. It makes me want to puke
3. (Takes the Lord’s name in vane)
Then we must drink. This is not for the faint at heart.

Good bye Jordan.

02 July 2007


I finally went to Palestine. At the urging of my friends here in Jordan I crossed last Friday and spent the weekend in East Jerusalem. I packed a few things in my bag and J2 and I met a group of archaeologists and shared a chartered bus with them. I figured with 4 Syrian visas, one Lebanon and one Iran, I would be back in Amman by dinner time, but I some how made it. After I was granted a visa one woman from the group told me that she thought there was no way they would let me in. I have come to realize that my one life skill is crossing borders. So I’ll begin by telling you how oddly easy it was.

We left Amman at 7 in the morning and took a bus with American Christian evangelicals to the King Hussein Bridge. People were stamped out of Jordan. The Jordanians put the exit stamp on the back of the 5 JD exit fee paper instead of in passports. They didn’t even ask, they just assumed. Interesting. Then, we took the same bus across the bridge. Typically, people arrive at the Jordanian exit point, take separate transportation across the bridge, and take a third ride into the West Bank. We jumped the que of busses and headed across the Jordan River. Once across, an Israeli woman boarded the bus and asked us if we had any weapons. From there we were herded into a building adjacent to the building where I saw them herding the Palestinians waiting to cross. We lined up for our visas. J2 looked nervously at me. I approached the woman behind the glass and slipped my passport through the slit. She looked at my passport and told me to wait. They processed all the others save me and one other man. He had traveled to Syria in 2000, he told me. The women behind the counter helped us to fill out paperwork, and told us to sit down. We did. At one point a woman asked me when I went to Iran (I guess they couldn’t read the date since the numbers are Iranian and not Arabic???). Then she asked me what my father’s name is. About an hour later the group decided to go. The bus was waiting for them, and me, J2 and this man said we would take a taxi to Jerusalem. So, we said good-bye to the group and told them we’d see them soon. They prepared to depart. Just as the bus started to pull away, the woman with our passports emerged from her glass box and told us we were free to go. I think they were just trying to delay us. The man waiting with us booked it outside and actually caught the bus. We were in Jerusalem by 10 in the morning. I’m told this will NEVER happen again. They did not search my bags or ask me any other questions.

Jerusalem was beautiful and, more importantly, cooler than Amman. The heat wave here last week made Amman just miserable, and the cool breeze was such a welcome change. I shared a room with a very fundamentalist Christian woman from Michigan. I quickly threw my stuff in our room and headed out with J2 and A, the lovely woman who invited us to tag along. A is amazing. She’s almost 80, comes to Jordan every summer to excavate, has more energy than most 20 year-olds I know, and has to be the kindest person on the planet. It was truly a privilege to get to know her. Both A and J2 have been to Jerusalem a million times, but both were also kind enough to show me all the tourist stuff since it was my first time. It was Friday afternoon, and we walked down to the Damascus Gate, which led us into the Arab Quarter of the city. We headed for a shop owned by a Palestinian family A has known for several decades. When the men in the shop saw her they jumped up and began kissing and hugging her and calling her Mama. It was such a sight! We had tea, and they caught up. She hadn’t seen them for a year. A told me a bit about the family. They are from Ram Allah. Originally they are from near Tel Aviv, and in 1948 ended up in Jerusalem. The man we spent the most time with, H, told me that his mom was almost left behind. His grandparents carried all the kids they could, and she made it only because her older brother was able to carry her. H and his siblings were all born in Jerusalem, and so they have the blue Jerusalem ID cards. Their vehicles also have the yellow license plates that allow them to move between Ram Allah and Jerusalem. This drive would take 20 minutes without the wall, but now can take about 3 hours. Palestinians who have vehicles with white and green plates, and green ID cards cannot enter Jerusalem. Blue ID Palestinians with yellow plates cannot go to Nablus or Jenin. It sucks. So, H’s father started with nothing back in the day, and now his sons have antique shops all around the Old City. They are by no means poor, but they are also not immune from the suffering heaped on Palestinians in the West Bank. H was shot at one of the check points years ago while he was trying to go home. He told me that he saw a Palestinian shot, and this man was bleeding and needed help. H jumped out of his car to help, evidently freaking out the Israeli soldiers, and he too was shot. After that he moved to Jerusalem, refusing to do the commute. He told me he doesn’t even have a car now. Can’t say I blame him.

Invited for lunch the next day, we said our Salaams and continued on seeing the city. We walked along the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus walked to his crucifixion, and saw the Jafr Gate and later the Church of the Holy Sepulture.
I saw the stone where Jesus’ body was washed after he died, I saw Golgotha, I saw the place where I was told he is buried. It was amazing watching people come and worship. Men and women from all over the world entered the church and began weeping. Others seemed stunned and were silent and still. The Church itself it huge, and we spent a bit of time there. From there we headed to the Western Wall. It was approaching sunset, and A and J2 told me this would be the best time to see the Dome of the Rock. We stopped for a falafel sandwich and then walked through security into the plaza where the Western Wall is. It was sunset on Friday, and the place was packed. I don’t like crowds, but J2 told me I had to go touch the wall. I’m glad she did. Both A and J2 went with me. A told me that we needed to back away from the wall when we were ready to go. I’m so glad she told me that! We threw scarves on and walked up to the small section of the wall left for women to visit. As I walked up I saw young women backing away with tears in their eyes. We made our way in, and I saw the little notes that people write and stick into the wall. Women were rocking back and forth and reading the Torah. It was quite a frenzy, but I touched the wall! As you can imagine, the stones are nicely polished at this point from so many people coming to touch them. I awkwardly walked backwards away from the wall.

After that we went to the American Colony and had tea. We were all exhausted. I went back to my hotel and tried to write notes while my roommate continued to talk to me.

The next morning I ate my egg and drank my Nescafe and left the hotel to meet up with J2 and A, who seemed happy to have had ham for breakfast. My roommate followed me to the hotel because she said she needed to talk to A about how to take a taxi. I assured her that she just needed to walk outside and take a taxi! At the AC I handed her off the A who promptly sent her off in a taxi. We walked down to the old city, and it was even cooler on Saturday than Friday. As we walked down one street several Arab kids blocked our way and told us, “this way is closed.” We stood there for several seconds, and then they laughed and let us pass. Lest you think that random road blocks and all the other quotidian BS that taints the lives of these people is not ingrained in kids, be assured it is.

We did some shopping. I bought a beautiful jacket. Or, I should say that K bought me a beautiful jacket. After being unburdened of our money we met with A’s family for lunch. H was late meeting us because a friend of the family had drowned the day before, and he was buried that morning. 25 years old, and set to be married the next week, his fiancé was somehow rescued from the water where he died. H arrived at his shop and apologized for being late. He walked us up the Via Dolorosa and we turned a corner and continued to his house. What a house! More on that later. We went upstairs and met a room full of women who hugged and kissed us. H’s mama grabbed A and cried and kissed her. H’s mom doesn’t speak English, and A knows no Arabic, but I assure you these women were communicating just fine. We sat down to a table of hummus, shrimp, fish filets, chicken with peppers, soup, salads of all kinds, and warm bread. My usual panic set in regarding being fed by Palestinians. There was no way we were going to be able to eat enough to satisfy mama. Then, 5 minutes after we began eating H’s hilarious sister got up and emptied a bathtub-sized pot of grape leaves and chicken onto a place and put that in the middle of the crowded table! The chicken and grape leaves were so fragrant and delicious. The grape leaves had a bit of meat in them, and they were by far the best I have ever had. I particularly enjoyed the chicken with sweet peppers. Mama and daughter were amazing hostesses and continued to shovel food onto our plates despite our insistence that we’d had enough. Luckily I fasted that day to prepare, but still, I was told that I didn’t eat enough. What a wonderful ritual! Kateer zacky!

From there we went up several flights of stairs to the top of the house. The view of the old city cannot be better from any other place. There is a little crow’s nest on the top of the house. We shimmied up a ladder so we could look all around. Once we were done enjoying the view-porn we crawled back down and mama was waiting with tea and sweets. We sat with the family and H talked more about his experiences as a Palestinian in the West Bank. I will tell you that at the end of his narrative he told us, Every year we say ‘next year has to be better,’ and then it isn’t. People can’t go on like this. We Palestinians live to suffer. I will tell you that that wall will come down because we will tear it down with our hands. People are not naturally like this, they won’t live like this, and I don’t believe that most people want this kind of oppression for others. Even in Bethlehem, the city of Jesus, they are caged in like animals. The city of Jesus is surrounded by one of those walls! We are like Jesus. We are Muslims, but we now live to suffer in the land of Jesus. We know we will be rewarded for our suffering just like he was. But now, that is all we have to live for.

After lunch we went with Abu Yosef, a friend of H, to Ram Allah. AY has a Jerusalem ID. We drove along a road headed for Ram Allah and AY told me who is living where, “…This side Jewish, this side Palestinian…” At one point we came upon a row of honking cars. The bride and groom were at the front of the pack. We were all heading for the check point. Even on her wedding day, she sat in check point traffic. We drove along side of the Wall and eventually emerged in Qalandia. We passed from the developed world into the Neolithic. On the Jerusalem side, the streets are maintained and everything is clean. Immediately on the other side, the road was nearly impassable. There were massive pot holes (another reason H told me he won’t commute), and rubble strewn all over the place. There are massive guard towers abutting the break in the Wall where the check point is.
The tower I saw up close is pock marked. AY told me that people throw stones at it. Self-consciously engaging in Misery Tourism, I listened as AY told me things like, “many, many Martyrs from here… Many, many Palestinians killed here, and here, and over there…” We drove into one of the refugee camps in Qalandia. Houses were built upon each other, there is just no room for the amount of people there. AY said, “See them all just sitting around? There is no work! There is nothing for them!” Every house I saw had “Fatah” spray painted on it. One had “Fatah Hamas.” We headed north to Ram Allah. Ram Allah is strange to me. There is a lot of money there in some places. AY told me that Palestinians from the States or Canada are returning and bringing cash with them. They are building enormous houses that over look the camps there. Strange. In Amman everything seems so segregated to me, but it wasn’t there. Ram Allah has a new mega mall, and a nice Turkish Bath. The middle of the town was packed with people and really nice looking shops. There were Palestinian police all over the place. We headed to the Tomb of Arafat, which is on the property where his house is. You know, the house where he spent the end of his life under siege. I went there. We walked in and AY prayed at the tomb for a moment and then had a smoke.
I stood there slowly turning around only able to say, “Wow… wow… Oh my God.” We drove on and as we watched people regularly run lights, AY told me that there is no law in Ram Allah, “like in Jordan, you know?” In fact, in Jerusalem he had to remind me to put on my seat belt. (Haven’t done that since March.) Once we crossed into Qalandia, he reached over and pushed my seat belt button and said, “ok, you’re out of Jerusalem, you don’t need this anymore.” We drove on the road that skirts the wall, and I saw numerous settlements. AY said, “The Israelis build these, but no one lives in them! Maybe one or two families.” We passed an Arab community where cars cannot go because the road leading in there, which passes under the road we were on, was filled with rubble ostensibly for security. Now, people have to park somewhere and hike into their community. We headed toward Jericho (?) and turned right to what AY called an Israeli Check Point. The Arabic sign at the check point said Ahlan wa Shalan. AY told me that we would pass without problems because he has yellow plates and he said, “They think I am Russian or something.” He is pale and has beautiful blue eyes. He also had a car with 3 Western women. A soldier looked in the car after AY said Shalom to him, and we were waved though. AY told me that if I were muhajabee, or looked Arab, we would have been there all night.

AY drove us up to the Mount of Olives and we looked down on Jerusalem on one side, and Jordan on the other. He took me to my hotel. I thanked him and said good night to J2 and A. Again, I tried to write while my roommate continued talking to me.

Sunday I was up early to avoid further conversation and get to the Dome of the Rock before we had to head back to Amman at noon. A and J2 met me at my hotel and we walked over. After going through a few security checks we emerged on the platform and I saw the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. At this point I did get choked up a bit. Not because I was over come with religious emotion, but because I thought of my friends in Jordan who were excited about me visiting since they cannot. One friend here told me, “I wish I could go with you and see Jerusalem,” another asked me to bring a rock or something so he could have a little piece of the city. The profound religious experience is lost on me, but it would not be on my Palestinian friends here, and the profound sadness of this is not lost on me. Even with many troubling visas, I was allowed to go just because I was born in Washington D.C. What is wrong with this world? I took a billion pictures and a few rocks. The entrance into the Dome of the Rock was opened. I looked in. What an amazing place, and I feel lucky that I was able to see it. Tonight I will tell one friend about it, and give him some gifts I got his family in Jerusalem.

At noon the group came back together and we boarded our A/Ced bus and headed back to Jordan. This gave us one more opportunity for us to see that horrible Wall. My roommate knew nothing about the wall. She didn’t even know it existed. What an ideal state citizen!

We headed down below sea level to get stamps and forms. My passport was not stamped, though I told them they could. I have no evidence in my passport of my visit. Just as well, I guess. The others in the group asked to make sure their passports were not stamped as well. The Israeli security ladies asked each person “Why?” The answer each gave was that they might want to visit Syria some day. Oh, sure, that will happen. The same women who had NO IDEA that there are nasty things happening in the West Bank, who told me she is “miffed” when she wants to buy something from a Jordanian and he doesn’t speak English, she is going to keep the Syria option open. Excuse me if I’m skeptical.

It was hot in the Ghour! We headed out of the valley up into a much cooler Amman. J2 and I (after much argument with the bus driver) jumped out at the Air Port Road and took a taxi home.

Now it is nice and cool in Amman. I’m so glad. It was awful last week.

As I look over my pictures I have such mixed reactions to each one. I thought I would never go over there. I didn’t want to go and support what I consider to be a military occupation. But, my Palestinians friends here have in this year encouraged me to go and see for myself how people live there. It was as bad as I expected. When we entered Qalandia I could hear J2 and A sitting in the back of the car expressing horror at what they saw. I just sat there undaunted. I’ve spent 10 months documenting misery now. When I see mobs of people sitting outside of their small houses I think things like, I bet that guy over there is a wicked-good backgammon player. My perspective on this is not fresh enough to know if the people who live in the misery we came to see can also see it. I’m sure they can’t always ignore it. Those kinds of living situations produce a collective misery. Once misery is transformed from an individual experience to a community experience, I think observers loose the individual in that sea.

Jerusalem is a beautiful city. It struck me that Arabs and Israelis live together because they kind of have to at this point. I didn’t enter a single Palestinian-owned shop that wasn’t stocked with Jewish and Israeli souvenirs (i.e. caps that said “Israeli Army”, or Star of David jewelry). They need each other. And, they make it work. As individuals, people can come to an understanding. I saw Jewish Israelis conduct business with, and share genuine friendship with Palestinians. I come away from my very limited time there believing that the governments are the culprits there. I guess I’m not entirely surprised. A few evil people with the power to govern folks like my oblivious roommate is all that seems to be necessary for violence and oppression to continue.