Friday, September 16, 2005

Why I'm here

Sorry to overload you with posts, but it's finally beginning to feel like things are happening. I wanted to give some cultural reflection, and perhaps some deeper stuff...

First, CULTURAL. The whole apartment searching process was fascinating to me, especially as a reflection on the larger Jordanian, Arab culture. The importance of 'wasTa', or connections, is beyond anything I see in the States. This can definitely be nepotism, especially in a modern society like Jordan, but traditionally, it reflects the emphasis on doing business on a personal level. Kamal's eagerness, which would border on awkward if you weren't used to it, stemmed from both the culture of Arab hospitality and the fact that he really liked us. However, more important was the fact that I knew his brother in the US. After he went home, he later called twice to make sure I found a hotel, and eventually, him and his brother came to the coffee shop I was at to take me to a hotel. I told him that I had no problem finding one, but they insisted, out of a deep moral conviction, "No, we can't let you do this alone. You know our brother Tariq." Also, by Kamal telling this landlord that I knew his brother, it seemed to really add weight to the whole deal. Hands down, the best way (or perhaps the only way) to get things done here is to talk with someone with whom you have a mutual connection. Does that make any sense? Of course, this is a mixed bag. Nepotism sucks, but it's refreshing that even the smallest of business transactions here must involve relationship, especially in the more traditional settings. Part of this is the 'wasTa,' but it's a way of life. Americans tend to be success-oriented, while Arabs tend to be relationship-oriented. We couldn't get an apartment until we sat down and shared coffee. It was the same way at the University and also at the other apartments we saw. Again, this is a mixed bag. That lack of business drive is certainly not 'good for the economy,' but it's sad to some of the cultural derision in areas of West Amman. It's a tension. My buddy Jimmy recently wrote this in his blog from Guatemala (sorry Jimbo, you didn't copyright it!):

'''If compelling people to participate in the global market in order to climb out of poverty requires a transformation in culture, tradition, and personhood, then it seems that democracy is being abandoned in the apparent pursuit of democracy. It seems to me that the challenge is, when thinking about the solutions to poverty and injustice, to always keep a dialectic between autonomy (of tradition, culture, beliefs, etc.) and "progress" (accumulation of wealth, distribution of the benefits of modern society, etc.).'''

Second, PERSONAL. If you believe in God, have you ever thought about when you feel God the most, or maybe where you are when you have the easiest time believing God exists? For some people, it's nature; for some, in a community. About a month ago, a friend (hi Jack) asked me this question. I experience God most when I'm engaging another culture, completely basking and thriving in the beautiful diversity of language, sights, sounds, smells, histories, and worldviews; yet somehow, despite all those real differences, connecting on such a fundamental human level. It always blows my mind. Last night was one of those times. I went to a coffee shop in Irbid to read, drink tea, etc. Initially, it was just nice to be sitting in Irbid, reading the Jordan Times, taking in the place with all my senses, and knowing that this is where I will be. Well, I ended up introducing myself to these older men who were playing backgammon. They were extremely nice, kind of like those pleasant old men you would see in a movie who have been friends for forever. We had a truly wonderful time, as they opened themselves up to me, teaching me some backgammon, as well as relevant Arabic words, like "lucky" and "cheater." They were from Iraq. They fled Baghdad one month before the war started. This gives me goosebumps. I know I am not doing this justice, but that small connection is just what I'm talking about. There's no reason why a young American and a couple of Iraqis should've enjoyed each other the way we did; it's almost counter-intuitive. We are completely different religiously, culturally, and perhaps most important, historically. We are at war with Iraq, and they fled their homes because of that war. There's absolutely no reason I should be able to connect with them; but I did, and it was beauty I can't describe. It literally brings tears to my eyes. It's a seemingly small event of no relevance. I may never see them again. Yet, it was so much bigger than myself. That's why I'm here.


Blogger Jazzy J said...

That's interesting that you met two Iraqis. It must have been surreal. Did they say anything about the way things used to be there?
It's interesting that you said we are at war with Iraq. When so much of the message we hear in America is that we're there to spread freedom, its easy to forget that many of the people we're fighting are Iraqis, though not the established government. Did the two men comment on how they viewed the war? Do they make a distinction between the ousting of Saddam and the ongoing insurgency/civil war?

9:22 AM

Blogger Robin Bobo King said...

Actually, they said they were Iraqis, and that's all. I made some comment about the war and they smiled and said, "Oh, we don't talk about politics." Later, I found out they arrived to Jordan from Baghdad one month before the invasion. One of the men's family is still in Baghdad. They clearly weren't thrilled with the situation, but they made some comment about how governments are governments and people are people. I'm sure I will have another opportunity to engage them further about it. It'd be interesting to know, for example, whether they are Sunnis or Shi'as. Speaking of war and being a traitor, how's Japan?

11:28 AM


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