Thursday, July 31, 2008

Green belt??

Views from Ras an Naqub, Southern Jordan

In today's Jordan Times an article talks about placing a 'green belt' along the 'desert' highway;
hmmm! But what about my green belt along the Wadi Sakra road that was taken away from me, the citizen, from the base of my mountain in congested Shmeisani ....? And all along I thought a 'green belt' was a term designed to create space within and around urban areas and to curtail encroachment on the land, so that .... people ... can live without feeling suffocated! So far from creating green belts in the desert that seem to go against the laws of nature, how about some in the concrete jungles we call cities?

I live on a Tel that is mostly residential in a quarter of Amman known for its banking and commercial services. My residential area stretches over just a few square kilometres, but it includes about six schools from kindergarten to College and two hotels on my side of the road and no park, nor open space for kids and parents alike. We have to cross a major busy highway with no working pedestrian lights to walk to the nearest 'open space' we have, a 'bird garden' and the Haya Cultural Centre whose 'park' is getting smaller and smaller by the year, through no fault of its own.

Our once green belt road, the dual carriageway that skirts the bottom of our Tel, is now being developed on both sides and for years we have endured noise pollution from the various projects being built. By the way, our 'Living Wall' project is on it's way up, a huge commercial project of more property for sale, hotels, offices and shops, similar to the one going up in Abdali ... yippeee ... another built space to avoid. And meanwhile, someone somewhere cries "but what about the water?" And this brings me to the green belt point.

I can understand the need to control desertification, to increase road safety, but to turn the desert highway from the airport down to Aqaba into an avenue of trees, oops sorry oasis, seems a bit off the mark.

how will 'creative enterprise' thrive in amongst the trees?
photo by z

However, the existing oases, or rural villages and towns that border the highway from Amman to Aqaba, need a bit of tender loving care, so why not put in a 'green belt' around these villages to curb rural sprawl and desertification for the people who actually live in this harsh climate? A ring of trees, otherwise known as a belt, would give the people, and the drivers on their way through, a real sense of an oasis of rest and food for the soul, preserving the rural and desert landscape in the process.

I personally love the unimpeded view of the desert, the lay of the land and the vistas of unrivalled beauty and space as we drive down the highway. I could do without the fields of plastic bags though! One of my favourite places in Jordan is Ras an Naqub with remarkable vistas over an ancient land. As you turn a corner after Ma'an, and survey the open space that greets you as the sandstone mountains meander down towards Wadi Rum, it soothes the mind., a form of escapism from all things 21st century. I would hate to lose the view. And as for drip irrigation in a dusty and sand filled environment .... I'll give those drip nozzles a few months before mother nature takes over and blocks them beyond repair. Now, how labour intensive is that? Life in the desert is not that easy, it is after all, a desert, but a silently thriving one all on its own .... J

Views from Ras an Naqub, southern Jordan, along the
Desert Highway

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A tribute to endurance

People grow weary
year in and year out
justifying their existence
since 1948;
living and breathing
an air and space denied,
with racism and hatred
so decried!
And yet there are some
who won't be denied
their inherent right
of birth, life and death
of dignity and all the rest
in their homeland
of the heart;
You can erase the bricks and mortar,
the tree, the orchard and the olive
the school, the house next door,
my neighbour;
but you will never win the battle of
the land, Oh Israel, because I am man, like you,
and hearts and minds remain
forever entwined with the
soul and being of Palestine. J

Sunday, July 27, 2008

For the love of music

Press Release
The Palestine Youth Orchestra: Concert Tour July/ August 2008
Palestine, Jordan and Syria

The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine is preparing for the concert tour of the Palestine Youth Orchestra by hosting a training camp for all its members from 16 to 26 July at its camp site, in Birzeit.
This summer’s event is carried out jointly with the Collegium Musicum Orchestra of the University of Bonn, Germany, under the leadership of Conductor Walter Mik, (born 1951) Academic Director of University of Bonn Symphony Orchestra since 1990 which consists of 100 musicians; He is also the Academic Director of Music at Bonn University. He has, during 15 years with this and other orchestras, held many concerts in more than twenty-five countries around the world including Egypt, South Africa, USA, Poland and Bulgaria.
Forty Palestinian musicians will join together with forty musicians from Germany, at the training camp in Birzeit in preparation for the concerts which will take place in Jerusalem on 27 July, part of the Jerusalem Festival organized by Yabous Productions; in Ramallah on 28 July, in cooperation with the Ramallah Municipality, part of the centennial celebrations; and in Haifa on 29 July in cooperation with Moussawa and Beit el Musica.
The PYO will then perform in Amman on 31 July; the concert is being organized in cooperation with Khaled Shuman Foundation/Darat al Funoun, and will be held at the Hussein Cultural Center, Amanat Amman. The tour will end in Damascus, and will perform on 2 August at Dar Al Assad /Opera House; the concert is organized in cooperation with the Syrian Ministry of Culture as part of the annual events, celebrating Damascus, Arab capital of culture.
The Palestine Youth Orchestra, a flagship of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, was established in 2004. It is a unique ensemble, bringing together young Palestinian musicians from Palestine and the Diaspora. Today the PYO is composed of about fifty five Palestinian youth between the age of 14 and 25 years, coming from Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Europe, trained by Arab and international teachers.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Moab musings

"As the saga in Gaza continues,
the noose of occupation broadens
deceivingly deepening, tightening
its grip on the land of Palestine
inviolate ...
yet grows smaller still;
and no-one notices
the insidious nature of oppression;

Rambling thoughts this morning as hubby and I had breakfast; felt like the last supper as I realised I had to drive him off to the King Hussein Bridge to cross over into Palestine, into the hands of the Israelis at the border. Well at least the drive would be pleasant down towards the Dead Sea.

"Did you know that America does not recognise dual nationality with Canada?" says me "a fact I learnt last night from a Canadian lady who just had her canadian passport cut up in front of her during the 'citizenship ceremony' ..... but that doesn't happen to Israelis ... apparently!"

"I wonder if that applies to Arab Israelis???"

"Didn't I tell you we should have taken Israeli citizenship," says hubby waxing lyrical about his impending trip to Nablus ...

We left early and approached the lowest point on earth where there was a rather pleasant breeze to counter the rather intense heat.

All smiles on the Jordan side; hope it lasted all the way over. "How long do you think they will have to wait on the other side?" asks me of the bus driver? "Fifteen minutes drive over, but who knows, one hour, two, three .... four" he said with a resigned air of someone who had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Hubby would be luckier than most, he had a 'samaritan' taxi waiting for him the other side .... a car with Israeli number plates that could drive anywhere it wanted, at least within a given time frame (illegal after 7pm in the occupied territories), unlike palestinian taxis, denied entry to the border posts and airport, subjected to constant stops, checks and often bullets of the infamous settlers or IDF ... occupation by administration ....

and the noose slowly tightens.

Couldn't get hold of hubby all day ... no news is good news you would think .... apparently not when it comes to the IDF and the paranoid conception of security. He left the Jordanian King Hussein Bridge at 10.30am .... and left the Israeli controlled border into occupied Palestine at 5pm .... sitting and waiting, sleeping and reading along with two young American men ....

Waiting and waiting and waiting .... for Godot perhaps, because nothing else makes any sense!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

my mother-in-law

My mother-in-law, Um Muwaffaq, lies at home at the end of her life with her family around her and it took me back so many years to when I first met her as a mother in her forties with eight children. She was from a poor background, born in Damascus and married my father-in-law (he died at the wonderful age of 91, still walking everywhere) early on in life. They lived in a small apartment hanging on to the side of Jebel Webdeh where she cooked and cleaned and managed her large family. She could not read or write but was determined that all her children would succeed and be educated.

Their balcony was covered in jasmine, majnooni and plants in tin cans and she cooked like an angel. Many the time I would go round and she and her daughters and sisters would be sitting stuffing and pickling maqdoos and making all the wonderful Arabic foods that are so labour intensive but good family times too. No ovens at the beginning and the pastries would be taken down the road to the local bakery for cooking.

She was very forward looking and bought a piece of land in the middle of the countryside (just by where the Marriott on Shmeisani would be built) and everyone thought she was mad, but they managed to build a small house and it is there that she is lying waiting for it all to be over.

Eight children, twenty two grandchildren and countless great grandchildren. The death of her eldest son, Muwaffaq, was the greatest blow in her life (a fighter pilot in the RJAF, he was shot down in combat with the Israelis in 1966) and the early death of her youngest son, Mahmud, was also a terrible time for her, but her faith has carried through.

We all wish her peace in the coming days. T

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Personal Memory of Glubb Pasha

Desert police on patrol in Wadi Rum - photos by J

The other evening my husband and I were talking about Avi Shlaim’s book, Lion of Jordan, and of the people in it who were familiar to both of us. Glubb Pasha was one of the first we mentioned. This honorable British military man, who was an advisor to the late King Abdullah and King Hussein, was truly an important and integral part of Jordan’s early history. When my husband attended the Bishop’s School in the late 1940s, he was caught up in the national fervor calling for Glubb’s ousting as the last vestige of British rule. As he was reminiscing about this period of his youth he made this most simple, interesting comment to me. “You know, Glubb started the Desert Patrol and was commander of the Arab Legion, but was having a hard time getting men to join the forces. So he devised those remarkable uniforms, and that did it! It was the talk of the town that the Bedouin soldiers were better dressed than villagers and the men from Amman!” I agree – those uniforms make stunning looking men.


The Badia Patrol of Wadi Rum - photos by J

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Personal Note

If I’m violating some kind of blog etiquette by injecting my personal life into this posting, I apologize. I haven’t written for some weeks, not because I was away, but because I had family here for our 50th Wedding Anniversary. For some it has been 20 years since they were here, for others only 10. Some re-visited Petra, Jerash, Madaba, and most went to the Baptism site to marvel again at Jordan’s rich history. However, the highlight of our time together was the evening in Wadi Rum. Of all the places in Jordan, this natural wonder is the most impressive. We began our evening with champagne at sunset watching the sky and sand change colors. Then we continued with dinner, dancing, and Bedouin entertainment at one of the camps that cater to groups such as ours. I know that everyone will take home great memories of that evening, and my husband and I will cherish that special time of shared happiness.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

sale of government land

I have been thinking a lot lately about the stories of the sales of government land. It seems to me that we have to push forward with the times and take advantage of the economic investment boom BUT there are times when money is not the most important reason one should take into consideration when selling land.

The King Hussein Army Hospital is one example. It is a symbol of Jordan and a matter of pride to most Jordanians. Although King Abdullah gave many good reasons as to why the sale could be an advantage to Jordan with the building of a new hospital complex and the investment of many millions of dinars etc, I still believe this particular sale should be a no no. We all know that the hospital is facing severe difficulties with out of date buildings, overcrowding etc and that many options are being discussed, but whenever I drive past I feel a sense of history and think it would be a great shame to lose that. Where do we draw the line? T

Monday, July 14, 2008

underpass/circle at the end of Mecca Street

Having just written a blog about the waste of water at the new circle and underpass at the end of Mecca Street it was interesting to read the following letter in the Jordan Times. I spoke to the Head of the Traffic police and he said it is so difficult when the designers of roads and circles do not take traffic and policing into consideration. It just means he is having to put more police in an area where he should not have to. T

'Dangerous and unbecoming’
An efficient, elegant underpass/roundabout complex was just put to good use, off Mecca Street, to make life for motorists easy and delightful.
Or at least that was the intention.
Unfortunately, a rapid, potentially dangerous intersection of lanes that should have expedited traffic and made it smooth has become a picnic area for citizens whose cars line the circle on either side and whose children, often unsupervised, find the aesthetically pleasing water installations the appropriate place to splash or throw stones in. In order for them, and the strolling grown ups, to reach the water, they step, with no respect for nature and the work of others, all over the freshly planted greenery.
Why would people choose such a highly trafficked place to breathe fresh air, when a few metres away, specially oraganised for this purpose, is the King Hussein Garden – away from harm’s way, from speeding cars and from spewing oil fumes?
Why don’t officials - police officers, more precisely - forbid cars from parking around the circle and people from leisurely crossing lanes, blocking the traffic?
It is a many-lane highway, for Pete’s sake, not a garden. It is meant for cars, not for nonchalant pedestrians. It is dangerous and unbecoming. Instead of solving the traffic problem, these people make it worse.
Hassan Wahbeh
14 July 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pampered to perfection ...

Went on a visit recently and met up with these wonderful creatures ....
a moment of bonding away from the maddening crowd ....
a dog's life isn't so bad when you are pampered to perfection like these amazing animals. J

Friday, July 11, 2008

... and the saga in Gaza continues ...

Gaza Fulbright scholars denied access to Israel meet US visa officials at Gaza border
Jordan Times 11 July 2008

EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Strip (AP) - US visa officials drove to the Gaza border Thursday to meet with three Fulbright scholars from Gaza - going to unusual lengths to work around an Israeli travel ban that jeopardized their prestigious US government scholarships.

Israel had denied entry to the three Palestinian university students, thus preventing them from travelling to the US consulate in Jerusalem to apply for their visas.

Instead, US officials, carrying fingerprinting equipment for the visa applications, drove to the Erez Crossing on the Israel-Gaza border Thursday and met with the Gaza students.

Students cannot apply for US visas in Gaza because Washington does not recognise the territory’s Hamas government.

Thursday’s complex procedure highlighted the difficulties faced by Gaza students who have been accepted at universities abroad, but cannot leave because of Israeli and Egyptian travel bans, imposed after the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza last year.

The US has been pushing to get the Fulbright students - in all a group of seven - out of Gaza, but prospects appear dim for those without powerful allies.

The Israeli human rights group Gisha estimates that hundreds of students registered at foreign universities are stuck in Gaza. It called on Israel to lift all restrictions on students. “The fact that the US has to jump through so many hoops to get seven students out of Gaza shows how draconian the closure policy is,” said Israeli human rights activist Sari Bashi. “The US should use its influence to change the policy, not just let a few lucky students out.” US Consulate officials and Israeli military officials were not available for comment Thursday.

The plight of Gaza’s university students made headlines in May, after US officials announced they revoked the Fulbright scholarships of seven Gazans because of the Israeli travel ban. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got involved, and four of the Fulbright scholars have since been able to apply for their visas in Jerusalem. The travel ban on the remaining three - those who met with the US officials at the border Thursday - remained in effect.

Israel’s restrictions on the students have drawn widespread international criticism.

Israeli officials said at the time that as part of Israel’s policy towards Hamas, only humanitarian hardship cases would be allowed to leave Gaza, and that students didn’t fall into that category.

However, Maj. Peter Lerner, an Israeli spokesman, said at the time that the cases of some students would be reviewed, and that priority would be given to recipients of foreign government scholarships. Late last year, Israel had let out several hundred students in special convoys.

The journey of the three Gaza students - Zuhair Abu Shaaban, Fidaa Abed and Osama Daoud - began Thursday morning in Gaza City. They got into a van for the 30-minute ride to the Erez crossing. They got out at the last Palestinian checkpoint, several hundred metres away from the Erez terminal, built into the wall-and-fence complex ringing Gaza.

After Israeli officials gave the go-ahead to their Palestinian counterparts via walkie talkie, the students - along with a few other travellers - walked along a destroyed road to the terminal and after security checks reached the Israeli side. There, sitting on plastic chairs in the terminal building, they were called one by one for their visa interviews.

Once the visas are approved, they will be allowed to travel through Israel under US escort to catch flights from Jordan.

Abed, 23, smiled after emerging from his interview, saying he was told he’d receive word on his visa in coming days.

Abed is headed to the University of California at San Diego for a graduate degree in computer science. Abu Shaaban, 24, plans to study electrical engineering at the University of Connecticut and Daoud, 25, is seeking a doctorate in civil engineering at Utah State University in Salt Lake City.

Daoud said that after his degree, he hopes to return to Gaza to teach at a university and work to solve in Gaza’s environmental problems.

Article that appeared in the Jordan Times today, 11 July 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jordan Festival

It is marvellous that the Jordan Festival has started in such a successful way. But I am a bit apprehensive after reading in the Jordan Times that the audience in Jerash exceeded the capacity of the theatre by 1,500! Does this mean that they sell more tickets than the capacity? And what happened to the extra 1,500?

I am going to hear Placido Domingo and others next week and just hope that the organisation is well done and my friends and I get our seats. T

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

don't do as I do just do as I say

Driving along from Carrefour to the 8th circle I noticed a huge new water feature - 3 large and long waterfalls. Having done a nice job with the trees and landscaping I could not believe this misuse of water. Added to that one can hardly see as it is only visible whilst driving through the underpass.

We are asked by the authorities to save on water and they then turn around and put water features all around the place. T

Monday, July 07, 2008

victims of war

Two little Iraqi girls with one thing in common - they have both been injured by American munitions. One has a leg that may have to be amputated and the other had her skull blown off. They are on their way to the USA for treatment, not courtesy of the US Government but of one American who started . Cole Miller saw pictures of child victims of the US Armed Forces and decided that he had to do something about it. Since then he has managed to take many back to the States for treatment.

Watching those two little victims of war playing here in Amman with their fathers beside them just brings home yet again the madness of this world. I also met this evening some wonderful Japanese who are doing fantastic work with Iraqi victims in Zerqa; an American lady psychologist also working with Iraqis; an amazing Iraqi psychiatrist stuck in Jordan and some Jordanians. Amongst all the grief and tragedy there are some shining lights around. T

Saturday, July 05, 2008

making a statement to the police & what can happen next

When you make a statement to the police your personal details go at the top. If you are a victim or a witness, the offender's lawyer can take a copy of the statement and your personal details are then open to the offender's family. They can then phone and harrass witnesses and victims to try and make them change their minds or drop charges.

This is illegal but most people do not know their rights. I have been involved in a case recently when a witness has been so frightened by phone calls and harrassment. She did not know she was protected by the law (to a certain extent) and could go to the police and complain and they will bring in those who are bothering her and make them sign a pledge not to do so again.

I know that this is not an absolute solution but at least one can feel slightly protected and those who are bothering you know what they are doing is illegal and that they can face prison. I think personal details should not be given to the opposing lawyer. I have not discovered the law yet that says that these details have to be shown on the front page. I would like to see them put on the backs of statements (like in many other countries) so when photo copying the papers these details are hidden. T

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

War what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

'Drum beats of war' like we are hearing now from the great leaders of the free world, have a habit of bringing out the most creative of writing .... whether for an article, a musical score or a piece of satire .... but they rarely effect change once a political decision has been made. So much for democracy then! The only thing about these masterpieces is that stay around for a while, resurfacing when needed to continually hit us with a moral code that questions our sense of patriotism ..... why is it then that we never listen and learn?

Here are some words that simply will not die .... so who's the patriot now? J