Monthly Archives: June 2012

In America you should know whom you smile to

I promised to write this post long time ago in my previous post:

Do you know how to treat a Muslim to Pizza?

I grow up in Kuwait, a place where the average temperature during the summer is 120 F (48 C). In the emergency hospital rooms you see cases that you don’t see in other colder countries such as children suffering skin burns because of contact with metal objects exposed to the sun and daily huge number of collapsed construction workers working under the burning sun. Because of such burning sun my father used to give rides to strangers on the street.

I learned this act of kindness from him and got used to giving rides to people I don’t know in Jordan and students I don’t know on my motorbike in Malaysia. In my first year in America I tried to give a free ride as well but later found it could have been my biggest mistake ever.

Within two months of getting my American driving license I was driving back home from school under a heavy rain storm. Being from the desert land I had never seen anything like that rain. The rain was so sever I could hardly see the car in front of me. When I stopped at a stop sign I noticed two kids completely soaked. They looked like a sister and her brother. The sister was about 13-year-old and her brother was about 8 or 9. I opened the passenger’s window and told them to get in the car to give them a ride. The little girl said “No, thank you.” Seeing that they don’t have an umbrella and how bad the weather was I offered my help again and told them I will give them a ride to wherever they were going to but the girl refused again. I think I repeated my offer three times but every time the girl refuses. At that time it made no sense to me that they refused riding a car safely to their home. It turned out different cultures think different. Believe it or not but I interpreted their refusal to get in my car that they didn’t want to wet my car seats since they were soaked. Truly, this is what I thought. Yes, I was that naive back then

Years later, I found out how lucky I was that this smart girl refused to ride with a stranger. Of course when you live in America you learn that what I did was the stupidest thing ever. I can’t even imagine how stupid that move was.

In the U.S., I learned that a man should stay away from strange kids and teenagers under 16 or 18, as much as possible. Unfortunately, in the U.S. there are many sex predators, or sex offenders, who kidnap children. I believe it is one of the worst things here in the U.S. The police and other organizations provide a public service for people to check if your neighborhood has any sex predators. It is that big of a problem. Because no landlord let sex offenders rent a house or an apartment, sex offenders live together in one house provided by, I think, the government. The problem is so big some malls in America ban teenagers from entering the malls without being accompanied by an adult.

One of the many attitudes I like about Americans is that they smile to strangers including guys who look from the Middle East like me. But in the US you should know whom you smile to. The first time I went to Walmart to buy stuff for my new apartment I was happy to see the cute American children. They are very cute you just want to play with them. When my friend saw me smiling to a kid he told me to never do that again. Later, I understood why and I think unfortunately it is true that there are many bad men in the U.S. who kidnap children for their sexual weirdness sickness.

Because this is a big deal parents became very protective of their children. The number one rule parents teach their children here is to NEVER SPEAK WITH STRANGERS.

Like me when I came to the US, Arab families who are new in the US don’t know how dangers it is to leave their children play in the park without being watched by an adult. I have seen it many times. We go out to the park and I see the parents without their kids when I ask them where their kids are they tell me they are playing somewhere.

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“Insha’Allah” is not an excuse to break your promise

Insha’Allah is a conditional Arabic statement that consists of three words:

  • إن: If
  • شاء: Wills
  • الله: Allah

Therefore, Insh’Allah means “if Allah wills.” In Wikipedia, I found the following quote which seems very close to the Arabic meaning: ‘If it is the Lord’s will’” (James 4:13-15 NIV).

Muslims believe that any thing to happen in the future is destined only by Allah’s will. So, it became a habit for us to say Insha’Allah whenever we are talking about something to happen in the future.

And never say of anything, “Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,” Except [when adding], “If Allah wills.”

[Surat Al-Kahf (The Cave) , 23-24]

Some usage of the term are:

  • Insha’Allah, I will see you tomorrow.
  • Insha’Allah, you will pass your exam.
  • Insha’Allah, you will feel better soon.
  • Insha’Allah, peace is going to be restored once again in the the Middle East.

Unfortunately, because some Muslims either don’t fully understand the meaning of Insha’Allah or they are misusing it many non-Muslims are confused of it’s usage and I fully understand their confusion.

The main reason for the confusion is how different cultures value time. Many Muslim cultures have no sense of time. For such cultures, the day is not categorized into 24 hours but to day and night only. For example, an American living in Jordan may tell someone, “Let us meet tomorrow at noon.” The Jordanian guy may answer, Insh’Allah. When the Jordanian shows up couple of hours late and when the same incident repeats again and again with every Jordanian the American guy meet he will think that Insh’Allah is an excuse for Jordanians to be late.

A non-Muslim Malaysian once told me that when a Muslim say Insha’Allah for a scheduled meeting and not show up the Muslim thinks he should not be blamed because God intended him to be late.

My friend’s American-born daughters have very interesting understanding of the term “Insh’Allah.” Whenever they ask their father for something and he answers “Insh’Allah” they insist he says “yes” instead. They understood that Insh’Allah means I may do the thing I promised or I may not.

Muslims should say Insh’Allah when talking about doing something in the future. But they should take full responsibility of keeping their promises. If you are not sure you will meet someone on time say Insha’Allah but I will be late. If you know it is not possible to take your children to a summer vacation don’t just say Insh’Allah and stop. You have to be honest whether you will take them or not. Don’t blame Allah for being late!

When someone answers me with just Insh’Allah I correct them to say “Insh’Allah, I will do it.” Muslims need to learn and teach their children that when we say Insh’Allah we have the full intention to keep our promise. Of course, there might be some circumstances that prevent us from keeping our promise but the time when we say Insh’Allah we should be sure that we will do what we said we will do. When we use the name of God it should be with complete openness and honesty.

An inside look at men’s toilets

Unlike women, men can’t do number one, when going to the toilet, without using their hands. Otherwise, things will get messy. I don’t remember when I learned to wash my hands after using the toilet but I guess it should be at very early age when my mother taught me how to go to the toilet without her help. It became a habit for me to wash my hands after going to the toilet. Then in school I learned we should wash our hands to keep the germs away.

All the toilets in American restaurants have a sign that says “Employees must wash hands.” The sign serves two purposes. First, reminds employees to wash their hands before returning to work. Second, gives customers a sense of satisfaction about the safety of how their food is handled.

Unfortunately, it seems not all men were taught to wash their hands after using the urinal. The first thing I think about when I see someone walk away without washing his hands is the fact that I will shake hand with someone who touched his penis without washing his hands.

Now, the problem is touching man’s most favorite body part is not as touching any other body part; it is not as clean as we hope to. The issue here is not whether a circumcised penis is cleaner than uncircumcised or not but that area of the body is hairy and prone to lots of sweat. It could be that some men don’t shower everyday. And even worse there could be some men who don’t bath when washing their whole body becomes a must*.

Saying that, here is what I propose:

  1. Health departments should change all restaurant signs to “Both employees and customers must wash hands.” Hopefully, the future generations will not need such sign to remind each others to wash hands.
  2. Regardless of your religion, women should not shake hands with men; many of us are not clean. Men, shake hand at your own risk.

In the following clip, Seinfeld notices his cook walk away without washing his hands:

* In Islam, taking a bath is a must after ejaculation. Also, urine is considered impure. If urine wets clothes it should be washed with water.

A shout out to Toot and Albawaba

Unfortunately, blogging in Jordan has been in decline for years. I would say it almost disappeared now. For some reason Jordanians are not blogging as they used to. Even top JO bloggers are rarely posting anything if they didn’t already quit.

Jordanian bloggers used to rant about customer services, lack of freedom of speech, politics, government’s controlled media and yellow newspapers, social and cultural weirdness. Nothing from this and many others is solved. So, why JO bloggers stopped? Were journalists right that blogging in Jordan is never a serious matter?

Living outside Jordan, I always enjoyed reading these blogs. In the Arab world, if you want to learn what is going on in a country you should read the blogs not the newspapers. Newspapers are either controlled by the government or owned by a political party.

Blogs should not necessarily be political to be effective. Blogs that talk about day to day events in a country, like Jordan, are as much valuable in the process of writing the history of the country. It is a shame that individuals will not participate in writing the history of our country via their blogs.

Nevertheless, there are still people who are working very hard to keep blogging alive. One blog directory I am very thankful for is Toot. Every day, Toot team features six blogs out of 193 selected blogs in Arabia. Luckily, many of my posts have been featured in their selection. I am forever grateful that someone or maybe more than one at Toot like my posts.

Another online site that is helping my blog spread the word is Albawaba. Their regular blogs roundup summarizes the best posts in Arabia. Luckily again, many of my posts have been featured in their website. How exciting is that.

Every time either Toot or Albawaba features one of my posts I have a big smile on my face. The feeling of excitement and recognition that someone finds what I write worth sharing with others is priceless.

That said, my blog is not attracting Jordanian readership. I know that I have very few faithful Jordanian readers but unfortunately my blog is not succeeding in increasing my Jordanian readership.

Anyway, for those few Jordanian and non-Jordanian readers thank you for keep reading my blog. Your time and comments are always appreciated and valued. Why would I keep writing if no one reads my  posts? Who knows I might one day be famous and you get to brag in front of your friends “Jaraad knows me. I used to read and leave comments on his blog. “

Keep reading and blogging Jordan!

The difference between protest and resist

Protest is when I say I don’t agree with something. Resistance is when I ensure that things with which I disagree no longer take place.

Ulrike Meinhof in the German movie The Baader Meinhof Complex.

According to the above definition, did Ghandi of India protest or resist?
Why some protests evolve into resistance?
When a protest is deemed lawful and when it is not?
Who decides a resistance is deemed legitimate or illegitimate?
What makes dictators not see their humiliating or horrible end?
Do dictators know they are evil or do they have a different mindset that alters reality?
What one should do if many protests never put an end to oppression?
Who is to blame when protesters who are beaten and jailed become violent?

There is no one answer to these questions and our answer depends on the cause and whether we stand with or against the cause. When Israel attacks Palestinians, some see it as a country defending itself against terrorists others see it as pure evil aggression. Talibans were never pro-women rights but this never stopped the American government from helping them resisting the Russian aggression. Nor Saddam was Mr. nice democratic leader when he was in war with Iran.

What makes some countries like China and Russia see Al-Assad as a leader who is defending the stability of his country? Do they really believe he is a good man or do they know the truth but are hiding it for their own interests?

The culture of ordering food

The Soup Nazi is a very mean but the best soup cook character that appeared in Seinfeld TV Show. If you don’t know this character then watch this clip before continue reading:

 

For those who don’t know the Soup Nazi character is a depiction of a real Middle Eastern restaurant owner in New York. Although, The Soup Nazi character is exaggerated but it has some truth about how business and customer service in the Middle East is conducted. There are stories about some restaurant owners refusing to serve people or telling them that they don’t want to sell some individuals anymore.

Ordering food in the Middle East is totally different than in America. In the Middle East, the customer looks at the menu and order. Neither the customer nor the server needs to say more. Some restaurants they don’t even have menus; the waiter tells customers what they have verbally. In Jordan, for example, you order a Falafel or a Shawerma sandwich without specifying what should be in your sandwich. Everyone knows what is inside a Falafel or a Shawerma sandwich. Although, not every restaurant have the same ingredients but we don’t complain. Rarely, a customer asks for one ingredient to be left out of his sandwich. In general, we all eat the same sandwich and we are very happy and satisfied about our sandwiches. It is nothing like ordering your sandwich Subway style in which you decide everything from the type of your bread to everything in between including the amount of salt and pepper.

On the other hand, in America ordering food in restaurants is much more complicated than in the Middle East and may cause lots of confusion for new non-American customers. Language proficiency is not always the barrier in communication sometimes it is the exposure to a new culture that causes the confusion. The first time I ordered food at an American restaurant I was bombarded with difficult questions by the server. Every time I answer a question the waitress would ask me another one, all related to my order.

The most interesting question in American restaurants especially for Arabs is when someone orders meat. The first time I ordered a hamburger in a restaurant the waitress asked me “How do you like it cooked?” Although, I heard the question very well I couldn’t understand what she meant. As far as I know people choose to go to a particular restaurant when they know that it serves good food. Hence, the task of how food is cooked should be determined by the cook not the customer. You will never hear this question when you order Kofta or Shish Kabob from a Middle Eastern Restaurant. Anyway, I found out that Americans cook their meat very rare, rare, medium rare, medium, medium well done, well done. The reason why Arabs find asking how we like our meat cooked strange is because our grilled meat is cooked one way; “well done” only.

Unlike in Arabia, ordering food is a long process. You don’t just order food; you decide how you would like it cooked, you determine if you want to add more ingredients and choose two sides among the many different sides offered. After I made my first crucial decision of how I like my hamburger cooked (unlike most Arabs I like mine medium or medium well) I was asked if I want to add cheese to my hamburger. This was trivial for me since I like cheeseburger. But when I thought I am done with answering questions another question came. “What type of cheese you like?” the waitress asked. Again, I learned that you can also determine the cheese you like on top of your hamburger. Typically, the cheese could be American, Swiss, Provolone, or Pepper-jack.

The first time I ordered a steak I was happy that I could answer quickly how I like it be cooked. But it seems regardless of what you order at American restaurants there are always more questions. After I answered “yes” to whether I want salad with my steak I was asked what salad dressing I like. Again, I didn’t understand the question since we all know that the only salad dressing exists is olive oil, lemon and vinegar. But not when you are in America. I asked what salad dressing you have and the waitress quickly recited more than ten salad dressings. I was able for some reason to remember Italian salad dressing which ended up on my salad. In the picture, Salad Dressings aisle at Walmart. Yes, infinite number of Salad Dressings.

Now, one could say that Americans are either very picky or that they have the best customer service in the world. In my opinion, they are not picky but they got used to been treated as royalties. And of course they don’t know it until they visit some other country, even a European country, that they realize the difference in treatment.

For my dear Arabs visiting the U.S. now you know what type of questions you will be asked in American restaurants. And for Americans visiting the Middle East although we have a reputation of bad customer services, I assure you the food you will eat there is out of this world. It is not just hummus and falafel as many Americans think. Think of your experience as ordering food from the Soup Nazi, excellent food but not so much good customer service.

Leaving Damascus

Today, my mother, my sister and her children arrived safely from Damascus to Jordan. I was very worried about them. My mother went couple of days ago to Damascus to see her family and to accompany my sister to Jordan. My sister and her husband live at one of the outskirts of Damascus and they have been cut out of communications (phones and internet) for couple of months. I used to talk to her once a week when she goes to her in-laws’ house.

The communications cutoff is a measure taken by the Syrian regime; for protection, concern and out of love for the Syrian citizens. Why else would they cutoff phones and internet? Imagine living in a place where you can’t call for help. If you have a home intruder you have to defend yourself and if a family member needs an ambulance you have to drive him to hospital, assuming you have a car or you can depend on the generosity of your neighbor.

I have been hearing many stories of Syrians denied exist for no reason. If my sister has a Syrian passport she would have been denied exit but because she has a Jordanian passport the people at the border tried to find excuses for not letting her leave the country. They told her that because she doesn’t have “the family document”*  with her they can’t let her leave the country with the children since there is no proof that they are hers. My sister’s children are of course listed on her passport with their pictures and this should be the only proof needed to travel**. But as I mentioned they try desperately and foolishly anyway possible to keep the people in Syria.

The situation in Syria is getting worse day by day while the world is watching and while Russia is providing the regime with arms. What make me very sick are the individuals who support this regime.

* Every family in Syria has a family document were all the family member names and birth dates are listed.

** My sister’s children don’t have Jordanian passports because the law in Jordan (and many Arab countries) permits the father only to pass his citizenship to his children but this is not the case for the mother.