Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm going to hell...but so is bureaucracy!

My apartment in Irbid...I'm always taking visitors!

Each day is full of something unexpected, as plans are virtually meaningless (ask Anne about that!). Yesterday, Will and I had this grand plan of studying and reading after class, maybe even relaxing (for once)…this was not to be. I attempted a nap, but was quickly woken up by Will, because our landlord wanted to hang out. This is one of the more random aspects of our time in Jordan, as he has taken quite an interest in getting to know us. He is actually a famous TV journalist here in Jordan. He does the type of program that uncovers government scandals, companies ripping people off, and things such as this. For example, he discovered that a village wasn’t being adequately supplied with water…he went there, it was on his program, and soon after, the village got that good water! He’s very famous in Jordan and maybe in other places of the Middle East. Whenever we tell someone who our landlord is, people are always shocked, and we get such responses as, “Oh Malek, he is beloved,” or “He’s a wonderful man, a real man of the people.” When we registered with the police, and the policeman saw our landlord’s name, he flipped out. Not only is Malek a TV producer, but he’s running for parliament this year and hopes to become the Minister of the Interior. I’m sure he can do it. He’s also a poet, having written numerous poetry books, as well as a genealogy-type thing for the late King Hussein.

I can’t exactly get a read on him, because on the one hand, he’s extremely committed to the people of Jordan. That’s why he does what he does, and he has turned down numerous offers for more cash. He lives a simple life here in Irbid, near his family, as opposed to going to Amman or a Gulf country. Despite his fame, he is genuinely a good, honest man, a man of the people. On the other hand, he is extremely proud of his connections, his ‘wasTa,’ or the way in which his connections/status in society help him to succeed. WasTa is everything here, and perhaps his desire to boast his own wasTa reflects the larger cultural normalcy. It’s odd though, because the reason Malek is a ‘man of the people’ is because he’s not the typically corrupt wealthy man. WasTa can certainly border on corruption, and Malek doesn’t take advantage of it to the fullest extent. But he remains proud of it. For example, he recently had a surgery at the hospital, and he loves talking about how he got first-class treatment the whole time, without having to pay for it. Of course, the hospital was afraid of being on his program! The way he married his wife is a great story, although it’s that same wasTa. He initially met her at some doctor’s conference and was immediately attracted to her. He needed a pretense for getting to know her, so he said he wanted to interview her for some program of his. Being the good headstrong Muslim woman that she was, she refused. He persisted, but despite all his efforts, her prudence continued. Finally, he discovered that she had a brother in Jenin who couldn’t obtain a visa to come to Jordan. After using his wasTa/connections at the Ministry to make that happen, her father asked him what he wanted…just lunch at their house. He laughingly told us how the meal lasted 6 hours, as he sipped his juice and nibbled on his food with painstaking care. At the end of the meal, the father told Malek that he wished he could join them again. Having met Malek’s wife, I can picture her rolling her eyes or kicking her father under the table. But Malek hopped all over that, she fell hard, and I guess the rest is history! Good story, but again, wasTa is not how we operate in the US. I am extremely thankful for this. It’s a problem in all developing countries, because it creates ‘the haves and the have nots,’ those who’ve got it and those who don’t. Malek is a rare man who doesn’t take full advantage of his wealth, and this is why he is loved. But it’s still an integral part of who he is.

Anyways, back to the story. Malek’s office is connected to our porch/viranda, and sometimes we’ll see him in there. Aside from working, he goes there to escape his wife’s religiosity (interesting how something can be attractive before marriage, but after a burden!), specifically to drink and snack during the fasting hours of Ramadan. One day, he made Will, me, and 3 of our friends coffee, looking around corners before sneaking it into our flat. Well, yesterday we spent the afternoon in there with Malek and a friend of his, talking about Malek’s past, the sexual promiscuity of Saudis (this other guy works there- wow is all I can say about that), and drinking more than a fair share of Scotch. Yes, Scotch. I don’t even like Scotch. But getting my buzz on with a local legend and future minister in the Jordanian government, talking about the sick relationship between Saudi women and their Indian servants, in the middle of Ramadan…now that constitutes a valid exception! It was pretty surreal.

Later that night Malek took us to a Jordanian wake, or something somewhat similar. I found the tradition, which I assume is present in most Arab-Islamic cultures, quite pleasant. First of all, it’s only men, as the women have their own observance at their homes. The close members of the family stand in a line outside the building, and every visitor greets them and says (or something similar), “If God wills, grant your loved one paradise.” Then, you go inside and sit together. The whole building is lined with seats/couches, where you sit side by side, and everyone shares the same cups for coffee, water, and dates. About a half hour in, the local sheikh chants a few verses from the Qur’an. In general, very little happens, but it is a symbolic showing of solidarity with the bereaved. It was cool, and it’s one of those important cultural traditions that I’m eager to experience. Hopefully, with Malek, we can do more of this type of thing, as well as share more Scotch, and maybe even meet some important people!

Today has been just the opposite, the pinnacle of frustration. Same plan for Will and I…after class, read, study, and relax. We decided, however, we would quickly get a university ID card. Of course, the process of getting official Yarmouk University affiliation has not been easy, to say the least, and we knew that unless we took matters into our own hands, we may never receive an ID. But this was absurd! We literally walked around for 3 hours like a couple of lab rats, from office to office, jumping through hoop after hoop, ultimately (in my case) completely fruitless. They know our situation, and they’re eager to have us. Why is this so hard?! So, we don’t have an official ID number- make one up, take my damn picture, and be done with it! This frustrating process, combined with the fasting, was about to make me bust out the ugly American card. “Your system is inferior to mine. Let me tell you how you should run your university.” The problem is that everyone is so nice. “Welcome. Welcome to Jordan.” “I don’t want your ‘welcomes.’ If by ‘welcome’ you mean, here’s a freaking ID card, then yes, I am welcomed. Otherwise, no!” One of our many stops was particularly awful (and I guess humorous in retrospect). We were handed a sheet to fill out, which was “necessary” in order for us to receive our IDs. The questions on this sheet were absolutely ludicrous. There were about 6 of them; some were relevant…like Name. That’s literally where it stops. Okay, maybe I’ll give them Nationality. Uhh, Father’s and Grandfather’s Name: that’s a stretch, but fine. But Father’s Occupation, Number of Family Members, and Monthly Family Income, WHAT?!! Okay, my father’s a narcotics dealer in New York City, do I not get my ID card now? Dad, according to official Yarmouk University records you live quite the strange life as an engineer in the military, with 12 kids. I bet they really wonder how you support us all on a meager $1,000 a month. Maybe I’m just an ignorant individualist, but I don’t see how this family information relates to obtaining an ID card. Ultimately, we were told it would take a month for the cards to arrive due to a plastic shortage. (What?!) However, we went against all that is right and good, using our American wasTa, and tomorrow, we should have the cards. Gosh, the bureaucracy here is unbelievable, and unlike many places (like France, I’ve heard- Sam?) where there are these unnecessary hoops to jump through, at the end of the jumping, you get what you were looking for- here, no!

That’s all for now. I hope you are all having a wonderful day and beginning of Fall. I always love hearing from you.



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Blogger Jazzy J said...

Enhance your wasTa! Embarassing FD in the M episodes getting you down?? Need to get back on base?? For just $179.95 a month, you could be living "la vida loca" in the US of A.
Seriously dude, I miss you. I can't believe you're hobnobbing with local celebs and future legislative chainsaws while the rest of us hack it out daily in the toughest job market in the country. Coward.
Seriously though, I do really miss you. Things here are going well, and your stories and the way you tell them get me through the monotony of (un-posh) corporate life.

10:09 AM


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