Monthly Archives: July 2012

Jordan’s Culture according to Lonely Planet

Jordanian people are extremely hospitable, with initial conversation inevitable leading to a heartfelt ‘welcome’. This traditional sense of hospitality is mixed with an easygoing modernity and wonderful sense of humour that make Jordanians fun to get along with.

… Islam dominates Jordanian views of the world, of course, as does the Palestinian experience, which is hardly surprising when you consider that 65% of Jordanians are Palestinian.

Being physically and ethnically close of Iraq, most Jordanians are often frustrated and at times angered by American policies towards Iraq but they are always able to differentiate a government from its people. You’ll never be greeted with animosity, regardless of your nationality, only a courtesy and hospitality that humbling. [from Middle East the lonely planet series, 2009]

A very normal scene in modern Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Being a Jordanian I like that we are hospitable and friendly people. I agree with the above excerpt but I have a comment about the cause of anger against American foreign policies.

Although it is true that “Jordanians are often frustrated and at times angered by American policies towards Iraq” but this frustration goes way back before the 90s. The main cause of this frustration and anger is of course not just because of Iraq it is because the United States foreign policy in general. The United States Always sided with Israel against the Palestinians and will continue to do so. And for this reason Arabs will always feel angered about USA continuous and unlimited support to Israel.

In his recent visit to Jerusalem, the US Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, calls Jerusalem ‘the capital’ of Israel and vows to move the American embassy to Jerusalem instead of Tel Aviv. A decision that is against the United Nations recommendation and a proposal by the new candidate that will escalate the Middle East conflict instead of bringing peace.

The United Nations recommends that Jerusalem be placed under a special international regime, a corpus separatum, but envisions the city eventually becoming the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine. [Wikipedia]

Toss and catch game at the Syrian border

“Life in Tadmur is like walking in a minefield; death can come about at any moment either because of torture, jailers’ brutality, sickness, or execution.” [amnesty]

The first months in [Tadmur] prison they hoped for an eventual release. Then one day, the guards set up the nooses in Courtyard 6. The periodical hangings began, and their optimism slowly evaporated. Each prisoner going to be hanged would cry out his name, so the rest would know of his fate. Families were often not told the status of their sons, where they were, or if they were dead or alive. It was up to the remaining prisoners to keep a record of the dead. Once, in a Damascus detention center, Bara witnessed a man from Idleb enter their cell. He had been “under investigation” in Tadmor for four years. He was shocked to see his father, an elderly man in his eighties, detained as well. The father wept with joy and sorrow, repeating over and over, “I thought you were dead.” [source]

In police states treating people inhumanly is not exclusive to the citizens it even affects visitors. Traveling to Syria by car is one of the worst way to enter this country. Nevertheless, Most Jordanians travel to Syria by car. The distance from my hometown (Irbid, Jordan) to Damascus is only 100 KM (62 Mile) and the distance from Irbid to Amman’s airport is about 90 KM (55 Mile), add to that the expensive ticket prices. Therefore, it is much cheaper and less hassle, than buying air tickets, to travel by car to Damascus.

At Syria’s border with Jordan the border patrol agents have to be bribed to let you in the country. Of course, they treat Americans and Europeans different than Arabs so I am not sure about the protocol when it comes to them entering the country. Anyway, the Arab traveler MUST put some green bills inside the passport for him to receive back his passport in a reasonable time. I will explain shortly.

In the 80s, many Jordanians used to go to Syria by Taxi not by their own cars because it was known that some government officials may steal foreign cars if they were new German or American cars. No kidding! Importing goods from non-communist countries is not the norm in this country. And since the criminal in this case is a high rank officer the car will never be found. Some of you unfamiliar with the situation their may ask how people knew that cars used to be stolen by some government’s agent and not just by a normal criminal? Because a Syrian citizen will be questioned of how he managed to own a Mercedes or a Buick when the country does not import such models, he can’t get a license plate for his car but a corrupt government agent can.

So, let us see how a taxi with the driver and five passengers enter Syria:

  1. From Irbid to the Syrian border it is only 20 minutes drive.
  2. At Syria’s border travelers in the taxi hand their passports to the border patrol agent.
  3. The agent checks the passports page by page to see what countries these people visited. Countries like Israel and Iraq are questionable. The Syrian passport for example explicitly indicates that Syrians can’t visit Iraq. Although Iraq and Syria in the 70s and 80s had the same ruling Baath party, go figure.
  4. After the agent asks unnecessary questions he gives back the passports and let the car in.
  5. At the Syrian border, the driver parks his taxi in front of a very ugly building. All the passengers including the driver go inside the building to get their passports stamped for entry
  6. Inside the building, there are about five or six windows at the counter. One for Non-Arab travelers, another for Syrians and another for Arabs. The other two or three windows are to collect passports back.
  7. When entering the building Jordanians hand in their passports to the agent.
  8. The agent at the window collects about 50 or 100 passports and put them in a carton box then he leave with the box to another room inside and comes back with an empty box. Repeat.
  9. The officers or agents in that room do some thorough check up.
  10. Some travelers might be called inside for further investigation. That is asking many questions such as; Why you are coming to Syria? Where are you staying? Who are you meeting? How long you will stay, etc.
  11. While passports are being checked inside, travelers wait between 1 to 4 hours in the normal situation.
  12. Now for the fun part; the toss and catch game. Because Syrian government likes to make its border different than any other in the world border patrol agents pass back the passports like a happy American bride tosses her bouquet at the reception for all single women present to compete in catching it. After passports are checked and stamped, an agent from that room comes with a carton box and hand stacks of passports to the 4 or 5 agents at the window. Each agent calls a name. The traveler upon hearing his name shouts “I am here.” The agent then throws the passport above the glass window. The traveler then needs to jump and catch his passport.
  13. There are no queues and no first come first serve. The five travelers who share a taxi will never receive back their passports one after another. One may receive it back in an hour another maybe in two hours or may be more.
  14. So why this time difference between travelers in the same car? The first agent who collects the 100 or so passports throws them in a box then he turns the box over on the table inside that mysterious room. By now, the passports are of course not stacked rather scattered on the table. In that room, I guess there are 3 or 4 agents. Each agent will work on some passports. When they finish some of these passports they put them back in the box and send it to the agents at the counter to toss them back to the travelers.
  15. Inside that room bribe money is collected from passports. Passports without green bills may stay in the room for hours before they appear again at the counter.
  16. Next, the custom.

To be continued…

Picture America: Public Libraries

The public library building

The public library’s parking lot is full (This is on a weekday at about 4:30 pm)

New arrivals have easy access before they are shelved with other old books

First floor: Teens and children books

CDs and DVDs can also be checked out

Second floor

A convenient floor power outlets for the increasing usage of laptops

Neat floor power outlets near the coffee table

A view of the book shelves from the third floor

Lots of books

Beautiful and practical indoor architecture

Quiet reading room

A view from the third floor – the quiet reading room

Study room 7 in both English and braille signs

More books

Patrons scan their library ID at the big monitor to keep track of first come first serve queue for patrons who wish to use these computers

An easy way to find a book

I live on this same street. One block only from the public library

Old and young people reading

Why are there so many abandoned cars in Syria?

police state is one in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the population. [Wiki]

As bad as this may sound to many people reading the definition of a police state is nothing like living in one. Fortunately, I never lived in a police state but I used to visit Syria every year during my childhood and teenage years. Therefore, I at least partiality know how bad it is to live in a police state.

In police states, there is only one political party led by one man until his death. Citizens in police states are forced to believe that they eat, drink, work, live, marry and do their everyday livelihood safely only because of the father, police states call the ruler the father. And this is why North Koreans wept uncontrollably when their father died and why citizens of police states are forced to believe that they can only survive after the death of their father if his son takes control of the country and becomes their new father.

In police states, every wall and every column has the picture of the father and almost every roundabout has a statute of the father. There should be as many schools as possible that has the name of the father. All service projects (buildings, highways, schools, etc.) are established because of the father.

In the case of Syria, the Baath party went even further to call the country “Sorriya Al-Assad.” It wasn’t enough for one of the oldest cities in the world and the country that existed before the Biblical era to just be called Syria. The Baath party decided that although Assyrians, Akkadians, Phoenicians, Romans and Muslim civilizations and empires left their fingerprints in that historical place it is for the best interest of the citizens to be called “Sorriya Al-Assad.” After all what is Syria without the father?

There are many bad memories about how the Baath party controlled Syria. Everyone knows you don’t want to be called by the Mukhabarat (Intelligence Agency). In Syria, there is no such thing as keeping records of who is in jail. Once someone is called by the Mukhabarat and went missing after that there is no use of going to the police station or the Mukhabarat and ask whereabouts the missing person. This will prevent citizens of calling lawyers because there is no case. The Mukhabarat admits that they called the person, asked him questions but they let him go after that.

In front of one of the Mukhabarat buildings in Damascus there is a big park. The park used to be open for the public before the Mukhabarat decided to open their office there. For those who have never been to the Middle East parking cars is as chaos as the word means. There is no such thing as a dedicated parking for every resident building. The reason I am mentioning this because around this park there are hundred of cars parked there for years.  These cars are not for the residents of that area. They are for men called by the Mukhabarat and didn’t make it out of the building.

Of course in police states treating people inhumanly is not limited to the citizens it even affects visitors. Traveling to Syria by car is one of the worst way to enter this country. The distance from Irbid, Jordan to Damascus is only 100 KM (62 Mile) and the distance from Irbid to Amman’s airport is about 90 KM (55 Mile). Add to that the expensive ticket prices it becomes logic to travel by car to Damascus.

Next, I am going to write about my experiences at Syria’s borders with Jordan. Syria’s border is known to be one of the most notorious borders.

The Flag, Bill of Rights and 4th of July

Last week, Americans celebrated their, 4th of July, independence day. They treat this day with joy and pride. The 4th of July is a day Americans stop their common hard working ethics to celebrate their success. It is the day they pay tribute to their liberty and the Bill of Rights, “which guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public.” [Wikipedia]

The 4th of July festivities include four main activities:

  1. A day off,
  2. Display American flags,
  3. Family outdoor activities including BBQ, and
  4. Fireworks display

Unlike Jordan and many other Arab countries business owners in the U.S. need not display the American flag if they don’t wish to. Also, I have never seen any picture of G. W. Bush or Barack Obama hanged on any public office’s wall. In Middle East, the picture of the king or president must be hanged in every faculty member’s office in all universities. And no faculty member dare to opt out. I remember in Jordan that cities’ municipalities force business owners to hang a sizable flag in front of their stores.

But what does the flag of a country mean or represent?

What happens to the flag physically, symbolically, it is always protected by bill of rights. So we are allowed legally to do this [burn the flag] and it is okay because even though the flag is gone, the bill of rights remains.

This was a statement from the following interesting Penn & Teller clip:

The clip raises an interesting point that showing patriotism is not by displaying the flag rather it is what we do to comply with the Bill of Rights. There is nothing wrong with displaying the flag but the flag comes second to the country’s constitution. Something that unfortunately we, Jordanians, fail to recognize.

Here are some pictures of this year 4th of July celebration in Columbia, MO.

The right to refuse service

Although customer service in America is the best in the world they have their limit when it comes to serving irrational customers. Yesterday, I went to renew my driving license, which now became my yearly hassle, and found the sign below. I am sure the sign was posted after some encounter with an angry client. This reminded me of the extreme irrational behaviors at public or government offices in Jordan. These extreme irrational behaviors by some clients forced these offices to install thick glass between the government agents and the clients. Irrational behavior in Jordan can be physical.

Four Fabulous Looks for Men this Summer

Most American cities have a record high temperature that lasted for days and in some cities lasted for weeks. I have been wearing shorts almost everyday since Jeans would be uncomfortable in this extreme heat.

In America, it is very common for men to wear shorts. And in such hot weather shorts are a must. But then I thought what if men in America wear something else that also can beat the heat. Wouldn’t it be great to see men wearing other than just shorts?

Here are what some nationalities wear that I propose to be in men’s wardrobe and see more of in the streets.

American Shorts:

Arabic Thawb (a.k.a Dishdasha):

Although this garment covers the body it is very thin, light and loose. Since the thawb is light it can reveal beneath it so Arabs wear white baggy pants called sirwal made of Polyester.

Irish Kilt:

Asian Sarong:

I have all these in my wardrobe except the kilt. I would love to try one. But I will still be wearing my boxer though.

*Pictures copied from the internet.