Tag Archives: Jordan

Musings of an almost-graduate

Tomorrow will be my last day as a University of Jordan student. I’ll walk in, take a test, and walk out a freaking graduate.

Freaking graduation

I’m not really that excited about it and I’m beginning to wonder if I really get the significance of this final day as a BA student. After four years of going to classes I hated, wading through literal unwashed masses to get around campus, being forced to enter bathrooms with horrors so unfathomable that I can’t even put them into words, and praying on floors that ALWAYS smelled like feet, I am finally free of the University of Jordan. I did my time and am finally getting my diploma. But instead of feeling the expected rush of relief, all I can think about is how hot it’s going to be tomorrow and that I’m going to have to face major traffic to get to a 4 p.m. exam.

I mean, I’m happy that there’s probably going to be plenty of parking at 4 p.m. But I have a feeling that’s not supposed to be what I’m happy about.

I know that part of the problem is that, while this may be my last exam at JU (or UJ… four years and I’m still not sure which), it is NOT my last exam ever. In a month or so, I’m off the states for a year to study journalism. Knowing I’m still going to have another year of papers to write and exams to take kind of dulls the thrill of finishing up this degree. Another thing, which I’m a little ashamed to admit, is that I haven’t really worked that hard as a literature student. I didn’t cut corners; I read what I was assigned to read, whether I loved it or hated it. But, with or without literature classes, I would have been reading. It doesn’t feel like much of an achievement to spend four years doing something you probably would have done anyway.

But while I would never recommend for anyone to study English literature at JU (it just sounds better than UJ), I enjoyed it. I had fun talking about everything with a bunch of strangers (one of whom eventually became a friend) in my oral skills class. I had an epiphany reading Where Angels Fear to Tread for my first novel course, and a blast working on a group project on The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf for my second one. I read a lot of poems, which I had never really been into before, and a lot of short stories, which I used to actively hate. I even recently wrote a short story of my own and, for the first time in my life, read my own work aloud in front of an audience. I’m even kind of glad I was forced to read all of those classical Arabic poems about war and horses during my freshman year.

That last statement can be attributed to graduation goggles*

I guess what I’m saying is, despite the university’s best efforts, I actually learned a lot during my four years at JU (yeah, JU). I never was in love with the place but I will miss it. It’s where I let go of who I was in high school and grew into a full-fledged person. It’s hard to really track changes in your own personality, but I can feel the difference when I run into people from school that I haven’t seen in a while.  I’m not a different person, but I am different. Maybe I’m just a little older… but it’s good to feel my age for once.

So tomorrow I will walk in, take a test, and walk out a graduate. Soon there’ll be a robe and then a diploma to prove it. It’s ironic that I’ve had to read so many books just for one piece of paper… But of course that’s the kind of thing I notice. I’m a literature student. Well, at least until 4 p.m. tomorrow I am.

*For those of you who aren’t obsessed with How I Met Your Mother: http://how-i-met-your-mother.wikia.com/wiki/Graduation_Goggles

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Protests, reform and – Oh look! Football!

The last few months have been months of extreme change across the Middle East. From regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt to violent government suppression in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the Arab world has been on fire and revolution has been on everyone’s minds. Just a few weeks ago in Jordan, there was no where you could go where televisions weren’t always set to the news or where you could escape from images of the violence happening in the countries surrounding us.

Of course, that was before Jordan collectively changed the channel to watch Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Disclaimer: I have no idea who these people are

This headline from the Jordan Times sums it up nicely: “El Clasico boosts businesses, takes youths’ minds off ‘depressing’ regional news.”  As one Real Madrid fan put it:

“Finally we found something enjoyable on TV rather than watching demonstrations taken place in different Arab countries.”

Because revolutions are depressing. It’s stressful to have Al-Jazeera blaring at you 24/7, replaying the same clips of wounded people in hospitals or Qaddafi making threats, over and over again! What’s even MORE depressing is when things get shaken up here in Jordan, a man dies during a protest and no one can agree on who is to blame. So let’s just bury our heads in the sand, pretend that nothing is going on and cheer on a bunch of footballers from countries most of us have probably never been to. If “we” win, maybe we’ll feel like we’ve accomplished something again.

Just to be clear here, I am biased against football. I hardly ever watch it and, if it wasn’t the only thing on during the World Cup, I probably never would. Still, this is not a rant against football, the European League or its fans. This is a rant about our willingness, no, our need to be distracted. Instead of facing the reality of our world, we throw ourselves into TV shows, sports, gossip – basically anything but ourselves, our own countries and our own opinions. I’m not exempting myself from this. I just finished watching an episode of Glee to help me forget about all the work I’m supposed to be doing; it’s escapism, another gramme of soma to keep me from feeling too much about anything.

I know that political discord isn’t fun, especially when people are so divided. But to be honest, in the couple days following the March 24 protests, I learned more about my Facebook friends than I have in years of knowing them. I didn’t like a lot of what I saw, but at least what I was seeing was real. If we want to advance as a people, we need to cut the small talk and start saying what we really think, even if it’s not going to be popular.

This really happened. Discuss.

A few weeks ago, cars were decked out with Jordanian flags – today, there are street vendors peddling European clubs’ logos at traffic stops. It’s not that I think we don’t all deserve a little fun sometimes. I just think there are some things worth being depressed over.

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Hip-hop article on 7iber.com!

An article of mine is being featured on 7iber.com! Check it out!

Click here –> Hip hop, Jordanian style

Thaer on the left, "Ripsta" on the right

Thanks again to Thaer and Abu Ghazaleh, two really nice guys. They gave me some great suggestions for Arab (and non-Arab) hip hop artists to check out, here are some of my favorites:
The Narcicyst ft Shadia Mansour – Hamdulillah
Omar Offendum – Straight Street
Kenny Mohammad, beatboxing

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Smoking ban drags its heels into reality… Maybe.

From the moment visitors step outside of the airport and onto a Jordanian sidewalk, they are greeted with the sight of a row of taxi drivers, chain smoking their way through the tedium of the day. It almost doesn’t matter where they ask the driver to take them; cigarette smoke is inescapable, from coffee shops to hotel lobbies, from public buses to public bathrooms. Spending a few hours running errands in Amman, Jordan, you’re as likely to see men, women and teenagers smoking as you are to see no-smoking signs. Perhaps it is this blatant disregard for privately-imposed policies that makes people skeptical that the newly-enforced legal ban on smoking in public places will ever really take hold.

“I don’t see a ban working here,” said G.K., 21, a recent University of West England graduate. “In England, they’re used to obeying rules and regulations. Here, the first time that someone tells a guy he can’t smoke, the man will probably pick a fight and hit him.”

The amended Public Health Law, which was ratified in late 2008, has certainly been slow to gain traction. It was not enforced at all before March 2009, when the Ministry of Health announced that violating the all but ignored no-smoking signs in the nation’s airports and malls would now constitute a legal offence, resulting in either a 15-25 JD fine or up to a month in prison. Three months later, the ban was implemented in fast food restaurants, and on May 25, 2010, more than a year after the law was originally endorsed by parliament, the Ministry announced that the smoking ban would now be enforced in all indoor, public places. At least, that was until the Ministry decided to grant a grace period to restaurant owners for them to adjust to the ban. The ban is now supposed to have been enforced in full starting July 1.

Smoking ban: info

Although he has his doubts about the nation’s ability to enforce the ban, G.K. says that he supports the decision to prohibit smoking in public buildings. “Even though I smoke, I know how it feels to have someone blowing smoke in your face.” He does not agree, however, with the ministry’s decision to include hookah smoking in the ban. The hookah, otherwise known as hubbly bubbly, is a cultural staple of social gatherings and is commonly smoked in restaurants. In fact, the promise of a good hookah, which can be flavored using different syrup-tobacco combos, is often enough to attract crowds of customers. “Cigarette smoke sticks to your clothes, but hookah smoke can smell good. It’s less harmful to the people around the smoker.” G.K. also touts the hookah as a tourist attraction. “It’s an experience just to try it.”

But what Jordan gains in tourism is probably not enough to offset the heavy costs of smoking to the nation. According to Ministry of Health figures, Jordanians spend 360 million JDs a year on tobacco, as well as almost the same amount on treating smoking-related diseases. This is not surprising, considering that, according to a survey conducted by the National Jordanian Anti-Smoking Society last April, about 21 percent of students aged 13 to 18 smoke either cigarettes or hookah, despite the fact that neither can be legally sold to children below the age of 18.

“The main objective of the ban is to maintain public health,” said Health Ministry Spokesperson Hatem Azruie. “Non-smokers have the right to breathe clean air.” However, he also says that living in a non-smoking country will help people to smoke less. “When you work eight hour days as an employee at the ministry, for example, where there is no area where smoking is permitted, this automatically helps you to quit or to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke in a day.”

In its efforts to curb smoking, the ministry has also begun offering free consultations and nicotine substitutes to smokers who are trying to kick the habit. According to Azruie, the ministry plans to establish more locations to help smokers quit throughout the Kingdom in the near future. The first step, however, is admitting that you have a problem.

F.M., 20, who goes from smoking a hookah up to three times a week in the summer to almost never in the winter, doesn’t know if she considers herself a smoker or not. She is sure, however, that a ban on indoor hookah smoking will not be successful. “If 90 percent of the people in a country smoke, it will be impossible for [a public smoking ban] to work out.” She is against implementing the ban, particularly where the hookah is concerned. “I don’t always like to sit outside when I smoke hookah so that everyone can see me.” Although hookah cafes are filled with female customers, there are still some cultural taboos surrounding women and smoking.

“It’s not feminine at all,” said X.R., 26, assistant director of finance at the Sheraton. X.R., a non-smoker herself, supports the idea of banning smoking, in Jordan and beyond. “People who smoke are selfish and they don’t care about people with sensitivity to the smoke, “said X.R.. “It’s your own fault if you want to suffocate yourself; why should you suffocate me along with you?”

According to Azruie, since life was breathed anew into the public smoking ban last May, about 50 violators of the law have been referred to the court. Meanwhile, the Jordan Restaurants Association has been pushing for more leeway. On June 20, representatives of the JRA reportedly met with ministry officials to ask for more time before the implementation of the ban, but their request was denied. Bassam Hijjawi, director of the ministry’s primary healthcare directorate, reiterated that, as of July 1, the ministry of health will “no longer excuse restaurants that fail to implement the smoking ban and will refer violators to court,” the Jordan Times reported on Wednesday.

It’s impossible to say whether or not the ban will stick this time around. As of July 2, restaurant’s are still allowing indoor smoking.

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Women’s rights and Niqab

A woman, out and about, doing her thing.

I’ve basically just been using this blog as a place to post random thoughts, but today I feel compelled to make this post.

Tuesday, the Jordan Times featured an editorial on the French niqab ban called “Avoiding Controversy.” Never have I read a piece with a more unintentionally ironic headline. The piece applauds France’s decision to talk to its Muslim population about why it wants to prohibit the niqab, otherwise known as a face veil or a burqa, before enforcing the ban. This is said to be the “right thing to do” in order to “avoid any unnecessary controversy and friction between the government of France and its Muslim residents.” While it would make more sense for France to talk to its Muslim population BEFORE deciding to ban the niqab in the first place, just to make sure they actually did feel oppressed, I was not surprised by this kind of shortsightedness.

This, however, is where I draw the line:

The French government also maintains that Muslim scholars in France agree with the interpretation that the Holy Koran does not in fact call for the wearing of a full face cover, which leaves women with no identity or personality of their own.

These are not the words of a man who knows women who wear niqab. These are not the words of a man who respects a woman’s ability to make her own religious choices. Here is my response, which I sent to the Jordan Times but am not really expecting to be printed (for its length as well as its content):

——————————————-

I am a Muslim woman who does not wear niqab, nor do I consider it obligatory under the teachings of Islam. I do, however, believe that, as long as it does not violate anyone else’s rights, women’s clothing (as well as men’s) should not be regulated by law. If a woman wants to cover her face, that is her right, and if she wants to wear shorts and a tank top, that is also her right. In countries like Jordan, these freedoms are guaranteed and our society has not suffered for it. We have all kinds of people, and, as a nation, Jordan accepts them equally.

I was therefore frustrated to read Tuesday’s editorial on France’s impending niqab ban, “Avoiding controversy,” in which the niqab was said to leave “women with no identity or personality of their own” and to prevent women from being “active members of the Muslim nation.” Is this to say that women in niqab are not contributing to our society? Clearly, you have not visited the Kingdom’s universities lately, which are teeming with strong, intelligent and confident women, who choose to cover their faces, but express themselves through their words and actions. If you cannot see them, it is because you look away. They are there and they are active members of our society.

As long as a woman chooses to wear niqab on her own and is not being forced into it, there is nothing inherently oppressive about a face veil. The problem with these European bans on niqab is that they completely ignore the possibility that a woman would choose to wear such a thing. But even if you assume that women who cover their face are being oppressed, what does banning the niqab get you? The women who really were being forced to wear them have now effectively been put on house arrest. They won’t be allowed to leave their homes, to get an education, or to become active members of their own countries. Let us not pretend, therefore, that this ban has anything to do with the rights of Muslim women. This ban is about saving France from being forced to look at these unsightly people, draped in black and conjuring up images of the desert.

It is bad enough that the French have chosen to look away from women in niqab. Let’s not follow in their example.

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