Sunday, May 28, 2006

My hero!

Check out this article by Rami Khouri .... I rest my case! J

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Among the Celebrations in June

High school graduations are definitely on this list. Photos attached to emails from family in Ohio and California show beautiful youngsters in prom gowns and dark suits; the cap and gown pictures will follow soon. I can just imagine the issues debated before they left for their parties – the absolute deadline for returning home, the warning against the temptations of alcohol, and most importantly safety on the roads.

I never had a worry about my children’s graduations. I never had contentious arguments with them about deadlines for being home; I didn’t watch them set off for a gala evening, because they were raised in Jerusalem under Israeli occupation. There were no graduation celebrations as I knew them. My concerns for their safety centered on their getting to and from school uninjured. No one could protect them from a hidden bomb or the rough treatment (or worse) from an Israeli soldier. Even inside their schools they weren’t always safe. They could be put under siege or assaulted by a tear gas canister lobbed into their crowded classrooms. Children from the age of 16 are considered to be security risks by the occupying power. I didn’t have to argue about deadlines for returning home – I had curfews. Amazingly, I never felt very sorry for their missing out on proms and parties because they didn’t know such celebrations existed. They didn’t know what they were missing. I did, however, and it made me sad; it still makes me sad.

But that time is past; we are no longer in Jerusalem. We are the lucky ones; our losses were confined to only one generation. After nearly 40 years of occupation children of two generations or more have never known the freedom to celebrate their graduations from high school the way we do in Jordan and in the west. In fact, celebrations of any kind seem frivolous when compared to the harsh realities of a brutal occupation in Palestine. Just going to school is luxury not a right. Now the children of Iraq are in the same situation. I wonder how many generations of Iraqi children will be denied the rights and pleasures of childhood.


It's Hot

This heat really wears me out!!! z Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Different Math

31 million: population of Afghanistan (CIA fact sheet)
27 million: population of Iraq
58 million: Total population

9 Billion - the estimated cost of war in Afghanistan and Iraq /month (Congressional
Research Service)

If this money were distributed instead of used for war:

9 billion divided by 58: = $106/person/month

Average family of 6 persons: = $636/month or $7,632/year

In addition:
Zero Iraqi and American war deaths
Zero Iraqi and American war wounded
Zero homes, hospitals, schools, bridges, electricity stations/grids,
water pipes etc. destroyed by war

Equals: electricity, water, gas, working hospitals, schools, banks etc.

Equals: Peace and Dignity

Equals: 58,000,000 persons grateful to America


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Photo diary

Of Children


...and the City - one day in May in Amman. J Posted by Picasa

Tuesday Again

Photo overlooking the beginning of Jebel Amman from the bridge over the Wadi Sakra Street - taken in October 2005. Note the sloping hill on the left: it no longer exists; there goes our green belt land.

Tuesday again, the day for the regular jaunt over to Jebel Amman. But it was a day of mixed emotions – the beautiful old building that used to be the Egyptian Embassy next to Romero Restaurant has been pulled down! Can't help wondering if this will be the trend when new laws governing rents will come into force in 2010 and downtown will be razed to the ground to make way for real estate developers and their ominous ilk.

Why don't we have laws to protect our urban heritage?

For without history a nation is devoid of its soul.

And then, as if some force was trying to make me cheer up, I met my little friend Mohammad; beaming from ear to ear as he hopped, skipped and jumped across the road to say good morning and very politely closed my car door for me …. Mohammad was attending class, along with his younger brother – in a neighbour's house – courtesy of the local residents who provided the text books and stationery and gave new purpose to a retired teacher who was happy to teach again. And they started with the Arabic alphabet; "A" is for - a new beginning.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Stop the World I Want To Get Off!

"Somebody stop the world I want to get off." Do you remember that musical in 1962 England? Then it was about love and entertainment. Today it takes on a whole new meaning!
All this restructuring Arabia into the world according to America at breakneck speed, is giving me sleepless nights. What with the IMF and the World Bank et al – I'd heard they were looking at Jordan's labour laws vis a vis women – does that mean that maternity rights may be under threat? And then I came across Walden Bello's 2002 book Deglobalization: Ideas for a New Economy.
Quite opportune I think to myself for getting a good night's sleep. Okay, no bedside reading book, but it appeared like a breath of fresh air and it goes something like this, quote: "It sets out to explain the crisis of legitimacy in the institutions and actions of global financial powers, such as The World Bank (et al). These institutions have imposed on the world a system that empowers corporations, while it weakens governments that try to serve the interests of its people".

What Bellow advocates is re-empowerment of civil society in its own image. I wonder what happened during last year's conference in Amman on "Globalisation, International Finance and Democracy in the Arab World" or was it just another conference?

To quote from the website of the Canadian Barnard-Boeker Centre Foundation "Bellow says we must deconstruct while we construct. This system will allow us to finance local development based on human needs; establish ecological equilibrium and de-emphasize growth. Decisions would be based on democratic choice, not the imperative of market forces, and land and resources would be redistributed equitably for all. In this process it would make sure that corporations and the state are constantly monitored by civil society."

Bello concludes that "a more fluid, less structured, more pluralistic world, will enable nations and communities to carve out the space to develop based on their own values, their rhythms and the strategies of their choice".

This business of globalization is getting to me. So I went for a walk to clear my head of all the negative emotions I have been feeling these days from the loss of state owned land, to the great tax burden Jordanian's have to carry. And then I passed a car with the following sticker on the back:


And I had to laugh – really loud – felt much better after that, hence the photo. J

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Where has all the Middle Class gone?

Having lived in Jordan for over thirty years I have witnessed what seems to be the demise of the middle class. Articles in the Jordanian Arabic papers have also referred to the disappearance of the middle class as it used to be known. This phenomenon seems strange given the fantastic figures for growth and investment in the Kingdom. Therefore, I find myself pondering how much benefit the average Jordanian is really reaping from these investments and development.

I am no economist but I believe the middle class in any country is usually the backbone of the society. Healthy growth should initially benefit the middle class, as they are the ones who rotate money locally in a way that benefits the greatest number of people. However, this does not seem to be happening. More and more I hear people complain that they cannot cope with the fast rising cost of living. The weed-end edition of the Jordan Times again had an article about the growing number of unemployed.

Jordan has been following market economy but I fear much of this is just in terms of theory. A small example may be that in developed countries the rich are taxed in proportion to their income while in Jordan they are not. In fact, most of the tax burden seems to fall at the lower income level, which used to be the middle class, while large companies, corporations etc. seem to get away without paying taxes proportional to their income. If we are going to follow the example of developed countries then we must adopt a similar taxation system.

I believe more work needs to be done to make Jordan economics more people oriented with the aim of improving the quality of life for all Jordanians. z

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Bit of Trivia

Last night on TV I saw a man sharpening a straight razor. With precise strokes he vigorously moved the steel blade across a leather strap, reminding me of the way my grandfather honed his razor. When I came to Jordan and met my husband’s grandfather, who had a full beard, I learned that he had never shaved. In fact, I think most photos taken of Jordanian men before the 1930s show them with full beards. This must have been the fashion by default, since owning a good razor was probably rare.

Some years before I came here, Syria, Egypt, and Israel had opened factories to produce razor blades. To protect their local industries the respective governments prohibited the importation of blades. Jordan had no such restrictions, so businessmen imported top quality Swedish steel, double edged razor blades. In fact, the number imported equaled one blade per day for each man, woman, and child in the country! Their quality was far superior to any produced in the region, and although they were considerably more expensive, the demand for them was ENORMOUS. By the time I arrived in Jordan, the supply in the market was so unreliable that razor blades were on the list of things to stock up on whenever one went shopping or traveled abroad. Why weren’t there enough blades in Jordan to satisfy the local market? You’ve probably guessed by now. At least six truck loads of razor blades were smuggled into Israel and Egypt every week, the amount going to Syria was never clear. The Jordan businessman was happy. The government was happy; it was collecting customs on all those blades. Who would have thought that not too long ago, trafficking in razor blades had an impact on Jordan’s economy?


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A trip to Damascus

A couple of weeks ago I went to Damascus with some friends and stayed in the lovely Beit Al Mamlouka Hotel which is situated at Bab Touma in the Old City of Damascus. A lovely hotel with eight rooms all decorated beautifully. The two pictures show the inner courtyards. Quite expensive but worth it. We walked down the lovely narrow alleyways to the Grand Mosque and Suq looking at all the interesting shops. We bought sweets, carpets, tablecloths and even had some fun looking at the underwear shops which were amazing. Brightly coloured feathers with lights and music when pressed!
It is lovely to be in an Arab city which is Arab and has not been overwhelmed with Western culture. The people were all charming and helpful and even in the crowded Suq Al Hammadieh we never once felt hassled.
There is an immense amount of renovation being done in the Old City with coffee houses and restaurants springing up, all tastefully decorated and filled with Syrians enjoying themselves.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

How I Often Spend Fridays

Friday is the Moslem Holy Day in Jordan, and as such, it is the day chosen for weddings, planned social occasions, family outings etc. This is true for Christian Jordanians as well, since EVERYONE is free on Fridays.

The past three Fridays were taken up with family happenings for me. Two weeks ago on Friday my grandsons received their first communions. They were in a class of about 180 children, so only 92 were scheduled that day - the other half for the following Friday! Grandparents, aunts and uncles, not to mention each child’s god parent and nuclear family were there. It was a photo opportunity surpassing all others and a joyful, memorable event.

The next Friday my husband had to go to Madaba, his home town, to ask for a bride for his nephew. Nowadays this tulbeh, as it is called, is nothing more than a formality since most couples have their families’ permission already. The tulbeh is an old tribal custom and not limited to Christians, and this is how it works. Generally six to eight men from the groom’s family go to the bride’s house where they will be greeted by the bride’s father and an equal number of men from his family. In my husband’s tribe, the groom doesn’t even go and no women are present. The eldest uncle of the groom formally asks the father of the girl for her hand. As soon as the father agrees, coffee is served to seal the agreement, and that’s that. As outmoded as this custom may seem today, most of the young people I know, my children included, anticipate having a formal tulbeh as a delightful way to dignify and validate their engagements.

Yesterday was Friday, and we went to church again. This time it was to attend a six month memorial mass for three family members. It wasn’t an accurate six month accounting for two of the deceased, but the plan was to combine the dates and make one memorial mass in the hope that the next two Fridays will remain free - Inshallah. ASH

Friday, May 12, 2006

A day on Third Circle

Photo: Third Circle on a warm day in May.

As the town went about its business around the busy third circle, I met a woman - a widowed mother of a handicapped son going about her business too, collecting tin cans for recycling. She stood out because she had the face of acceptance; of happiness and humility, of gratitude and grace. And so long as she collected discarded cans she had the money to pay the rent and feed her beloved and only son - a touching moment of the human capacity for unconditional love. J
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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Please Mr Mayor

I see King Abdullah has asked the newly appointed Mayor of Amman to make proper plans for the City. I wish him well and think he has got a hard task ahead of him. There are a few pleas I would like to make myself.

1. Stop these monstrous tower buildings in highly built up areas – how on earth can the sewerage/water/electricity/roads networks cope with them??
2. Please make sure that the road planners THINK before they build over-passes and tunnels that start in the middle of the highways instead of at the sides.
3. Get the roads painted with lines that enable drivers to drive more safely – or is that an impossible task?
4. Clear the sidewalks of those horrid fat and low hanging trees that stop people from using them.
5. STOP planting grass everywhere. Tons of water is used to keep it green. What a waste!
6. And what can we do about the huge billboards that are on every roof and available space? Ugly, ugly, ugly. I suppose it all comes down to money again as I presume they are a good earner for the Municipality.

Our city is being laid to waste for the sake of money, money, money. Landowners are being bullied into having their land taken from them and we are left with the consequences.

PLEASE Mr Mayor think, think, think. Don’t be rushed into decisions, think of the future generations.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Rape of Jordan's Forests

Photo of rural development in harmony with its surroundings - in this case Dibeen Forest - why upset the balance of natural growth ie the needs of the local inhabitants vs. corrupting influence of real estate developers with only one thing in mind - money.

Do the people who live around Dibeen Forest-Nature Reserve, actually need five star hotels and tourist resorts? And what of water?

When are we going to realise that trees matter as much as people in a land devoid of vegetation.

I mourn not just for the people but for the land ...
Photo overlooking Dibeen Nature Reserve - the only place in Jordan where you can actually see the colour green.

This is what our government, in its infinite wisdom, intends to destroy in the name of development.

Dibeen was classed a nature reserve in March 2005. and

Tuesdays in Jebel Amman

Photo: A stroll on Rainbow Street

Note to self: don't blow a fuse when you can't access your blog site – just post it the next day, so here goes:

Today is Tuesday. The Hamseen weather conditions that wreck havoc with the air we breathe, and colours our lives with a layer of dusky pink desert dust, has moved on and the sky is blue again. Even the traffic was behaving itself – it was as if there was a collective sigh of relief to feel the crispness and clarity of the air on the face.
I passed an old man leaning against a tree in quiet contemplation. All was calm, for once.
I parked the car in a quiet and quaint neighbourhood of Jebel Amman, and was warmly greeted by Mohammad, my ten year old smiling friend who looks after my car.
I kept wishing I could help Mohammad go to school. He doesn't you see, because his widowed mother cannot afford the basic fees to send her son to government school.
So Mohammad happily cleans cars for his Uncle who has taken him under his wing.

Tuesday also means breakfast at Umm J's – a gathering of ladies from all walks of life who range in age from mid twenties to late seventies – it is a glorious hour filled with lively political and literary debate, a bit of gossip (one minute's worth), networking for voluntary work, and above all a feast of culinary delights prepared by the matriarch herself. And today was her birthday. And I shall never forget the day I inadvertently set her skirt on fire! Thank the lord we lived in Jordan … within a few days the skirt was fixed by one of our skillful invisible menders. But Umm J, however, has endured much worse – try giving birth in a closet with no electricity, as a military occupation is in full swing – read curfew with bullets flying by a zealous Israeli army whose only intent was ethnic cleansing.
That was her introduction to life in Palestine;
1948, 67 … and all that …
and hence the reason why Mohammad grew up in a refugee camp.

"Life and its curve balls!"


Monday, May 08, 2006

There Goes Our National Forest

The plan to construct a JD100 million tourism complex on a 500 dunum area in Dibbeen was announced in today’s Jordan Times (May 8, 2006). This information shocks me and compels me to speak out.

The reason a country designates unique wonders of nature or forests as national parks is to preserve them and safeguard them for future generations.

How is it possible to take 500 dunums from Dibbeen National Park and develop them for tourists? Who has the right to do this? The Social Security Investment Corporation does not own Dibbeen, does it? We have no forests to speak about, and we are definitely not going to grow any in the near future. The forest area of Dibbeen belongs to the entire country and for the benefit of all.

The article in today’s Jordan Times said that The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature will set guidelines and insure that the integrity of environment is kept. I doubt that this will happen. The RSCC is a non-governmental society and will not be able to exert pressure on the investors, especially now that these investors have already signed. Certainly the RSCC objected to this project when they first knew about it, and if not, they should have.

No matter what the article said, I am not convinced that the foreign investors and the proposed resort they envision will in any way benefit Jordan. The investors will reap whatever profit is made, and since they are ‘foreign,’ the money will go to foreign quarters. Five star hotels are not within the budget of the average Jordanian. Also, tourists don’t pay 5 star prices to justify building this standard of hotels. Jordan’s tourism market does not cater to tourists who will stay in a resort, because they spend their precious few days seeing the archeological and religious sites dotted throughout the country. So we are to believe that a few hundred jobs for local Jordanians will compensate our children and grandchildren for destroying part of their national heritage!

We must assume, then, that a part of our national forest is being ‘developed’ for the use of the inhabitants of the gulf countries. They are most welcome to come to Jordan, to visit, and to invest, but not to damage or change a national heritage that we have vowed to safeguard. ASH

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What’s the Point?

Last week I went to the dentist, not one of my favorite outings, but a necessary one from time to time. Actually, I wanted reassurance that all would be well during my up-coming trip to the States. Two years ago I had a terrific toothache and needed emergency treatment in a dental clinic in California. Everyone in this large clinic treated me professionally and impersonally. The receptionist sent me to the x-ray room once I had paid for the visit. The dentist told me that I had two abscessed teeth that would require immediate root canals at a cost of $2,000 - $1,000 for each tooth! I turned down his advice since I was returning to Jordan in 10 days. As luck would have it, by that time I needed one tooth extracted, a root canal in the other one, and a new bridge. The total bill came to less than $1,000!

This information should entice a travel agent to sell a tour to Jordan with a trip to the dentist as an option.

But to return to my dentist appointment last week. He works alone in an unpretentious office with only a secretary/receptionist manning the phone. While we were alone in the waiting room, I began leafing through a magazine, and she made a phone call. Directly she swiveled her chair to face the wall. Although she lowered her voice, I knew this call was personal from the snatches of conversation and giggles that I heard. I felt badly knowing that someone in distress might be trying to make an appointment while she was tying up the phone. Some minutes passed; she hung up, and I saw my dentist. I decided not to tell him about his receptionist because she was new on the job, and he would sort things out. What I did do, however, was tell this story to some significant Jordanians in my life. At the very least I expected a thoughtful silence in response to my astute observations. Instead, I got an explanation for her behavior – “the girl was bored in a small office; she called a friend. So what?” I thought: I KNOW THAT, but the point is -----. ASH

World Laughter Day, 7 May

And now for something completely different. Today is World Laughter Day, so for the sake of world peace, let's all join together in cyberspace and laugh out loud for absolutely no other reason than it's good for you – and scientifically proven to boost those 'happy chemicals'. Altogether now … ho, ho, ha, ha, ha.
You have just joined millions of other people doing exactly the same thing - practicising the laughter yoga mantra. For laughter yoga is sweeping the globe. Check it out on
Reading about the movement's new members I was struck by a club that opened in December 2005 in Israel. Within no time, Palestinians were 'jumping the wall' to join in and now Israeli and Palestinian, Muslim, Christian and Jew are laughing together. For as the movement's founder says "people who laugh together don't usually try to kill one another" – Dr Madan Kataria.

There is hope yet….J

Friday, May 05, 2006

Beat rising Fuel Prices – The Bio Way

Following on from "The Ominous Trend" it would appear that nearly 3.6 million citizens of Jordan cannot afford the recent rise in fuel prices – quite a thought – in a country with a total population of almost 6m.

One would have hoped that the State would get serious about alternative sources of energy, thereby reducing our dependency on fossil fuel and in particular diesel currently distributed by the JPRC with a high sulphur content - a toxin that contributes to air pollution. Coupled with the dubious and illicit acts of 'mixing' lower grade fuels with 'super' and even 'unleaded' by some unscrupulous private dealers (many outside Amman, ok, not so many within Amman itself) – we now have a wonderful cauldron of pollution oozing into our children's lungs.

And what of solar heating and wind energy – natural assets that Jordan has in abundance (researched for many years by the RSS and other concerned parties and yet the results of which are probably languishing on some government shelf)?

While countries from China to Turkey have subsidized the conversion of fleets of buses and taxis (millions of them) from fuel to liquefied gas and even biofuels, thereby substantially reducing pollution and the cost to the pocket overnight, we continue to rape our fragile environment.

Consider what a small town municipal council in Germany is successfully doing: converting used cooking oil from all the towns' restaurants into fuel that keeps the fleet of public sector buses running for most of the year. Ingenious!

Biofuels are being taken seriously by citizens the world over – even now in America because they don't pollute and impoverish as fossil fuels do – in our case 3.6 million citizens. Plugging the gap with cash handouts and investing in shale oil extraction …. comes up short on many fronts.

When you can create a cheap renewable energy source by growing corn and rapeseed and by using simple domestic and agricultural bi-products such as vegetable oil, straw, chicken droppings and rice husks – not to mention Mother Nature (sun, wind) - isn't it incumbent on the Government to do so?
Check out these links: (This one's great, came about as a result of the film Syriana)