Monday, July 30, 2007

Refugees Negitively affecting our Economy and National Security

Here's an interesting article a friend send me in response to the last article I posted. My friend is very worried that if we allow the Iraqi refugees into the US that we will have a economic and security problems.

I understand the fear, I really do. Jordan's biggest terrorist attack was in 2005 when Iraqi suicide bombers linked to al-Qaida in Iraq killed 60 people at three Amman hotels. Additionally, as I have stated in previous posts, Jordan is being greatly impacted economically by both the rich and poor refugees alike. The same for Syria. Neither country is large or as wealthy as the US, and most importantly, was the cause for the refugees. No matter how you feel about the War, it is our responsibility to start taking care of the refugees it caused.

As Milad Atiya, the Syrian ambassador to Jordan said, "the international community must be involved, especially the United States because its policy led to the plight the Iraqis are currently in and it bears responsibility."
Additionally, we have a large number of displaced, disenfranchised Iraqi people. People, who can't find jobs, or get an education because of their status. If we don't start doing something NOW, we will pay greatly later. This is exactly the situation that breeds the hatred and anger that one needs to become a terrorist.

Refugees Cause Worry About Michigan Economy

By JEFF KAROUB, Associated Press Writer

DETROIT - The area in southeast Michigan where 2,000 Iraqi refugees are expected to resettle already has 169,000 people out of work. Some fear the influx will push the state's unemployment rate even higher.

Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, is concerned that the area cannot support many more people without significant federal aid. He likened it to "bringing more passengers to a ship that is already sinking."

The mayor of Warren, which has a large Arab-American population, recently said the refugees will strain services and drag down an already struggling state economy.

But others, such as University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes, say the entrepreneurial attitude and advanced degrees of many Iraqis might help turn the ship of state around.
"It's one of the things that could help Michigan recover," he said.

Federal officials expect about 7,000 Iraqis fleeing the fighting in their homeland to move to the United States by September, with up to half of them eventually going to Michigan. The first few should arrive this month in the Detroit area, home to about 300,000 people who trace their roots to the Middle East.

Michigan's unemployment rate climbed to 7.2 percent in June — the highest in the nation. The rate hit 7.7 percent in Detroit and the surrounding area last month.

Kurt Metzger, a Detroit-area demographer, said there are reasons to be concerned about high unemployment and cutbacks in retail and service jobs, since many earlier Arab-American immigrants found jobs in small shops and stores or started their own ventures.
But he said local Arabs and Chaldeans — Iraqi Catholics — have a history of owning businesses and helping out newcomers.

"The immigrants are willing to put in long, hard hours at jobs that Americans will not take. ... (They) aren't coming over here to get on the public dole," said Metzger, research director of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Metzger said refugees can help revitalize aging communities that are losing population. He cited the example of Hamtramck, a city surrounded by Detroit. The population of the once predominantly Polish enclave grew by 25 percent between 1990 and 2000 — after dropping for 50 years.

"If you look ... at the main thoroughfares, there are Yemeni, Bangladeshi, Bosnian and Serbian communities developing," he said. "New restaurants, grocery stores and other development are being driven by these new immigrant groups.

"By and large what you're seeing is a rebirth of the city because of immigration."
Still, the state struggled to meet the needs of those who fled Iraq in the 1990s in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, Hamad said.

"Even with all the conveniences in Michigan, language and culture-wise ... I don't think that the state or social workers were fully ready and well-trained," he said. "The state received additional funds from the federal government, but not enough to address the needs of the influx of refugees."

Warren Mayor Mark Steenbergh doesn't oppose refugees, said his spokesman Joe Munem. He based his concerns about a surge of refugees on estimates that ran as high as 15,000 new Iraqi immigrants.

"People who have lived here their whole lives are having trouble finding jobs," said Munem, a first-generation Arab-American. "If you're going to have refugees coming here and you want them to be self-sustaining, why aren't we talking about sending them to Texas and Florida, which have a comparatively booming economy?"

Rafat Ita, who came to the U.S. in 1994 from Iraq and now helps other refugees in his job with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, said it's unfair to deny those who have been traumatized in their homeland from rejoining friends and family here.

Ita's agency is the local affiliate for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and Episcopal Migration Ministries, one of the main resettlement agencies working with the U.S. State Department.

"I know we're struggling with the economy, but we're going to reach out to the communities and other agencies to help out and serve those refugees," he said. "We're not going to back off from doing that."

Once resettled in Michigan, Ita said he worked two jobs and was able to buy a house after two years. He followed his brother, who lives in Warren.

"He's serving in the U.S. Army now, overseas," Ita said. "Is this a burden to the community or an asset to the country?"

News About Iraqi Refugees Hitting the Mainstream America News

It's nice to see that the news is finally getting out. You can't get more mainstream than Yahoo- Top New Headlines.

Iraqi refugees burdening neighbors
By DALE GAVLAK, Associated Press Writer Thu Jul 26, 2:40 PM ET

AMMAN, Jordan - Jordan and Syria complained Thursday they have been abandoned by the West to deal with the massive burden of more than 2 million Iraqi refugees who have fled the violence in their homeland.

Both countries issued urgent calls for help at a conference on Iraqi refugees, specifically expanded resettlement opportunities in the West and financial assistance.

Milad Atiya, the Syrian ambassador to Jordan and head of his country's delegation to the conference, said the international community "must be involved, especially the United States because its policy led to the plight the Iraqis are currently in and it bears responsibility."
Jordanian Interior Ministry Secretary-General Mukheimar Abu-Jamous argued that Western nations "relinquished their responsibility in shouldering the Iraqi refugee burden, and we urge them to rise to their obligation and resettle the largest number possible of those Iraqis."

The influx of 750,000 Iraqis is costing Jordan $1 billion a year in basic services, Abu-Jamous told the gathering in the Jordanian capital. He also said the Iraqis posed security concerns for Jordan, which experienced its worst terror attack in 2005 when Iraqi suicide bombers linked to al-Qaida in Iraq killed 60 people at three Amman hotels.

Jordan has since tightened its residency regulations, and all Iraqis must undergo thorough background checks.

Some 1.5 million Iraqis have also fled to Syria and 200,000 to both Egypt and Lebanon, driven out of Iraq by the turmoil that followed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

By contrast, the United States has only accepted 133 Iraqi refugees so far, citing security concerns, but it recently announced it will resettle some 7,000 more by the end of September.
"The U.S. offer to take in 7,000 refugees is symbolic," said Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Haji Hmoud. "This is not a solution. Seven thousand is nothing."

Delegates from the U.S. and other countries at the conference declined to comment.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, about 50,000 people continue to flee Iraq every month, mostly to Jordan and Syria. An additional 2 million Iraqis are believed to be displaced within their own country.

Suzanne Saleh Mohammed, a Syrian clothing store clerk visiting Amman, told The Associated Press that her countrymen are "very angry that so many Iraqis are coming into Syria."
"They make many problems in Syria, they're opening up nightclubs, some of their women work as prostitutes and crime is on the rise," she said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Refugees International and a consortium of 36 international advocacy and aid organizations urged governments in a letter sent out Thursday to "dramatically" increase aid to countries hosting Iraqi refugees.

"We would also like to see the Iraqi government provide substantial assistance for the region," the group's Kristele Younes said.

In April, Iraq pledged $25 million to help displaced Iraqis at a similar conference in Geneva, but London-based human rights group Amnesty International said the money has not yet materialized.

Amnesty issued a statement criticizing Iraq for failing to follow through on its pledge, saying "this is a crisis that was made in Iraq, not in Syria or Jordan, and the Iraqi authorities have a duty now to help its neighbors meet the needs of Iraqis who have been displaced."
Hmoud did not respond to journalists' questions in Amman about the pledge.

Amnesty also called on the U.S. and other developed nations to increase their resettlement efforts for refugees.

"Their assistance must constitute a significant part of the solution to this terrible crisis," said Malcolm Smart, head of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Program.

The group said it visited Syria, where its delegates interviewed many Iraqis who had been tortured and in some cases raped. Most are traumatized, with little hope of receiving treatment, Amnesty said.

"Many refugees said they received no food and that their savings had dried up," the group said.
The statement said some Iraqi refugees have even resorted to forcing their daughters into prostitution to help their families survive.

No matter what side you're on, we made this happen, it is our responsibility to help take care of these displaced people.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Are You Safe- Thieving Arabs!

Thieving Arabs. I vaguely remember hearing that term as a child some where. I never gave it much thought, until the other night.

One night I forgot my purse at the cafe. In it was everything: my credit cards, my camera, my passport, my cell phone that can call anyplace in the world.... I didn't realise it until I was back in my room. Once I did, I walked back down to the cafe in hopes that at least there were people mopping the floor.

No such luck, and the sign on the door, after I translated the Arabic numbers into our numbers, said that they didn't open until 9 the next morning. (Yeah, I know we call our numbers "Arabic Numbers" but that is because of the zero. The Arabs were the first people to use a placeholder and so our numbers, which use zero as a placeholder, are called the Arabic numbers. The numeral system the Arabs use, also contain a place holder;a dot. But the symbols come from India and look very different than ours.) So I walked back to the hotel at about 1 in the morning with all the guards asking me if I was OK and why did I come back out so late?

The next morning I got up early and walked back down to the cafe again in hopes that they would be open early. They weren't. So I had to tell Garay, the leader of our trip, that I couldn't go on our big trip to the desert castles, Dana Nature Preserve, Petra, Wadi Rum..., and instead had to stay and cancel my cards, phone, get a new passport... .

He just looked at me and smiled. "It's OK. We'll call them from the road and they will hold them for you."

I'm sure I didn't look reassured, so he added, "Really, it's fine. You don't have this kind of theft in the Middle East."

Sorry to say, I didn't believe him. It's sad, but I've realized that I'm a jaded American. "I understand Garay. But I don't have money for the trip and I'm afraid that if I don't cancel everything right away, I won't have money to live off of until my next paycheck AT THE END OF AUG. ."

"Get on the bus. Everything will be alright. I promise. I'll cover your expenses until we return from the trip and then you will pay me back. If your things are stolen, don't worry, we have insurance."

I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was sure I was going to be homeless before the insurance money came in, but I did what I was told and got on the bus.

When we returned late at night three days later, my purse with everything intact was lying on my bed in my room. One of the guys from the cafe walked it to the front desk. He said he was going to hold it for me, but heard I was worried about it and thought it would be better for my "brain and Heart" if I found it safe and sound on my bed when I returned.

The next evening I went down to thank them for everything and they just stared. You could tell that they were surprised that I was worried about it and even more that I felt the need to thank them.

Thieving Arabs, hun? So much for ancient sayings.

Were You Safe? Bombs and Kidnappings

Yes, much more so than in Merced even. I know that it seems hard to believe, but it is true. I looked of the statistics. I'm seven times more likely to be a victim of violence in Merced than in Jordan, even as an American Tourist. Let me give you an example:

Almost every night I sat at this wonderful Internet cafe until it closed at midnight. I talked to the people, wrote posts for my blog, and drank strong Arabic coffee or Fukfukeena. Then, at midnight, when the place closed, I walked four blocks back to my hotel. Four blocks! Alone, at midnight! I would never do that back home.

The only problem I ever had was the first night walking back. A guy saw me and came running over begging me to have coffee with him. I politely declined. He asked again. I declined again. I knew that in Jordan, most people ask something three times. It is considered rude to accept an offer before the third time it is presented, so I politely refused three times thinking that he would then know that I really didn't want to have coffee with him.

Ha! So much for the guide book. He asked a fourth time. This time I wasn't as nice, I shouted, "NO! I DO NOT want to have coffee with you! I am going back to my room. I have class tomorrow. " (I thought that maybe letting him know that I was not just a general tourist would raise his opinion of me, or at least deter another offer.)

Well, it didn't deter him. Instead he said, "Come sleep in my bed."

"THAT IS HARUM !!!" I screamed. (I've be told this means different things lately, from "misdeed" to "a great sin against the Koran". What ever it is, I've been told to scream it in case a man was inappropriate.)

The man ran away and people came from all over to help me. From that day on, no one, and I mean no one, bothered me. Guards at the hotels and cafes I passed even asked other seminar participants if I was OK if they didn't see me each night.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ambassadors of Our Country

Groups are hard. So many different personalities, so many different reasons for coming on the trip.

I really had problems understanding why some people participated in the seminar. It soon became obvious to many of the participants and the leaders of our seminar that some people saw this as more of a “tourist trip” and a vacation than an educational seminar. Initially I quietly tried to remind certain people that they were there to learn about the Jordanian and Arab cultures, Middle East history, and Islam and that as participants and guests in the country it was our responsibility to act with respect. Sadly, this did not go over well. I was called a “wet blanket”, boring, and uptight. My blog was spammed, (I just allowed two posts so that if people were interested they could see what had happened, then I started deleting the rest.)

One woman in particular stood out. She refused to attend many of the activities instead spending her time complaining about everything and partying late into the night. She dressed flamboyantly and always covered her head with outrageous scarves. It seemed to me that she was some how attempting to make a mockery of the Muslim head covering. I was embarrassed. When asked why she was doing it she responded with, “I’ll send out an e-mail when we get back.”

Well, the other night she sent the e-mail. Sadly I was even MORE embarrassed when I read her reasoning. Scathing, I wrote a rebuttal and just sent it off. I am now waiting for the masses of nasty e-mails that I am sure I will receive.

So why am I posting this on my blog? Many reasons.

One- to apologize to the Jordanians that we met. It has come to my attention that there are many are reading this blog and I want you to know how embarrassed and sorry I am for the behavior some of my countrymen exhibit when visiting your country.

Two- to apologize to the expats living in Jordan who have to deal with the ramifications of the behavior of those visitors. One night I sat with one of you listening to your anger and frustration. I so understood your feelings. I was once an expat too. I know how negatively tourists can affect your life in a foreign country. Eight years after I returned from my stay abroad on a small island in the Caribbean, I still wake up time to time with nightmares from the repercussions some tourists’ behavior had on my life.

Three – To remind anyone reading this blog and thinking about traveling to a foreign country that you are an ambassador for your nation when you travel. Your behavior abroad affects more than yourself.

When 9-11 happened people continuously spoke about the fact that Americans were hated overseas. “Why do they hate us?” they would ask. Why do they think we are all immoral? I tried to talk about American TV shows and movies. I tried to talk about tourists’ behavior overseas. Most people didn’t understand and tried to tell me that it was their “right” to behave however they wanted to. So I spoke about how individual rights were not as important in some countries as the honor of the group and that when you behaved in certain ways your behavior is not seen as a reflection of your personality, but that of the group you came from. To this I was called “a harped-wannabe liberal who can condemn others immediately for their actions”.

Can’t win, can I?

Oh well, below is the letter we received. I’m posting it and my response below it. It's interesting. Just by reading the e-mails I of course look like the bad guy. It's interesting how when you don't see the full picture, from whatever side of the debate you are on, it can be misleading.

I'm sure I'll receive more letters telling me what a horible person I am. But I stand by what I said, "We need to be respectful of the cultures we visit."

I want to thank you so much for the wonderful experience I had in Jordan. I learned so much. I know that you and I did not part company on a very pleasant note and I want to correct that. The trip was more than I expected and I saw and experienced things that I never would have seen, had I not attended the Teacher Training Seminar. I am hopeful that you can also share this letter with our local tour guide.

As you may or may not have known, I am Jewish. Not only am I Jewish, I have been a Zionist for as long as I can remember. I supported Israel, planted trees and at one time even investigated moving to Israel, under the Right of Return. I have lived as a Kosher Jew for the last 20 years. I was married under the Chupa and observed the marraige and family laws. I have studied Judiasm, the Torah and our laws since I was 5 years old. I was confirmed at 16 and I raised my 4 children as Jews. The boys had a "bris" and Bar Mitzvahs.

About 6 years ago my oldest daughter, attended San FrancsicoState University. She became involved with a Palestinian man and with an on campus group, which supported the Palestinians efforts to regain their state. My daughter and I had many heated arguments over this topic. I refused tosee the other side of the "Zionist" question.

This past June, I turned 60. I got the email regarding the trip to Jordan. I thought this might be the time to investigate the "other side of the issue." This is the first time I have looked at the Palestinian/Arab issue with an open mind. My family was terrified of my going to Jordan. My Jewish friends could not understand why I was going to Jordan and not Israel. I promised my children that I would cover my hair and keep my Zionist/Jewish identity under wraps. I'm not sure how well I succeed in this task, as I think our tour guide knew I was Jewish pretty quickly.

I want to thank you so much for helping me see the Arab/Palestinian point of view. I "lost it" during the film, My Kuffia, because I never realized that Palestinians had grandfathers. I never thought of them as having rights, families etc. When that realization hit me, I was overcome with emotion. I truly hope that film makes it out of Jordan. I want to thank you again for helping me see the other side of a truly heated and heartfelt issue. I hope to see Jordan again, possibly this December and I want you to know how much I appreciated you and our tour guide, the ultimate guides to a truly incredible country and an unforgettablelearning experience.

With Peace in our time,


Dear Suzi,

Thank you for the touching email. I'm sure that we all agree that the trip has broadened our understanding of the conflicts in the Middle East. I am confused, however. Whatever makes you think that being a Zionist and a Jew excuses your self-centered and boorish behavior?

You were not the only Jew on the trip or the only woman to raise her children to be Jews. Yet your peers decided that instead of being loutish and indolent, they would be engaged and culturally sensitive. They did not get wasted each night, sleep with the local men, and then loudly brag about it at a restaurant. They learned as much as you did while not fulfilling the stereotype of the impolite, sluttish American woman.

Garay tried to emphasize the following point when he made us sign TWO agreements stating that we would behave in a professional and culturally sensitive manner. But apparently not everyone was listening, so I'll summarize it: Western nations have different priorities than other countries. In the west we emphasize personal and individual rights. Other countries, however, emphasize family honor, tribal history, and society as a whole. When we come in with our, "I'm going to do whatever I want to do..." attitude, we insult our hosts' values and culture and feed the unflattering western stereotype. Western expats living in Jordan must suffer under the burdens of this stereotype every day, and they don't have the luxury of leaving after a month.

For one month you spent your time insulting the very people you profess to have wanted to learn about. You were loud and crass; demeaning both their customs and beliefs. I will never forget sitting in the coffee shop near the Intercontinental Hotel with you loudly exclaiming, "Oh, oh, oh!!! Look at this! Can I believe my eyes? It's not hummus! It's not baba gannouj! It's good old AMERICAN BUTTER! I'm so damn tired of not having good old AMERICAN BUTTER!". as the waiters looked on. Do you think that they didn't go home complaining about the ill-mannered Americans sitting in their café that evening? Now that you have sent this "heartfelt" e-mail to our group, do you think that they have changed their minds?


Not Updading My Blog in a While

Yes, I know that I haven’t updated my blog in a long time. You see, our days were VERY full during the seminar. Our academic day usually started at 8 am and went to around 6 pm, often even later than that. After returning to our hote,l showering, (Even days when we only had lectures I got so sweaty), it got to the point where I was having to make a choice, blog or spend time with the wonderful new friends that I made while in Jordan. It seemed silly not to actually spend time in the culture that we had come to learn about and so I chose to spend it with my new friends.

Now that I am sadly back in the states, sort of gotten over my jet lag, readjusted to being back home, I will now try to blog all of the information I received and answer the questions people have for me.

I hope you understand my decision and sorry that I worried some of you.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Answers to People's Questions- You seemed Sad at Times

It's interesting, all my friends and family send me e-mails instead of posting on the blog. There seems to be an underlying theme to all the questions, so I will answer these:

You seemed sad at times.

Yeah, at times it was hard. It is hard when you hear about the effect the war is having on Jordan and all the problems the Iraqis are having. (I know a lot of my friends and family don't want to read the next few lines, but tough, here they are...) And you know that a great deal of the suffering and problems are caused by American foreign policy. You can't help but feel weighed down.

Then the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is extremely tough for me too. Having friends on both sides, knowing their stories and seeing their pain can be overwhelming at times. The other day we had a speaker from Mercy Corp talk to us. When it came to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, she started crying. She spoke about her friends in Israel and her friends here. She spoke of being a peace activist and trying to promote peace, but was worried that the rift was so great, the hatred so ingrained, that there could never be a settlement.

I ended up in tears crying along with her. I too believed that peace in the Middle East was achievable; now, at times, I'm not so sure.

So yes, at times I was sad. I don't know how these realizations can't help but overwhelm you at times. But then again, this was not a carefree tourist trip. I knew that before I came.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Petra, the beautiful ancient Nabataean city in southern Jordan, was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World !!!!( All the old seven wonders, except for the Pyramids in Egypt, do not exist any longer.)

I'm so thrilled! People here in Amman were so happy when it was announced! They were honking horns and cheering; literally dancing in the street. I watched the announcement on TV and it was wonderful seeing everyone at Petra clapping and cheering while confetti was coming down. How I wish I had been there! The surrealistic thing was that we were, just the day before.

We took three days off from learning about politics and modern history and went on a Natural and Ancient History Tour of Jordan. It was WONDERFUL!!! We had our own private archaeologist, who along with our wonderful tour guide Jafar, made history come alive.

First we went to the Crusader Mamluk Castle in Kerak, I had a wonderful time poking my head into every hole and passageway imaginable. I haven't been caving in a long time, and this was the next best thing. Especially because these passage ways went places and with each turn I saw something new and different. This was the first castle that I have ever been to that wasn't little more than a pile of rubble and it was exciting to be able to see where gates, bridges and such were.

That evening we arrived at the Dana Nature Preserve which has got to be one of the most beautiful places on the face of the Earth. It's a system of wadis (valleys) and mountains which extends from the top of the Rift Valley down to the desert lowlands of Wadi Araba. Our group had rooms at the Dana Guest House which is perched on the edge of Wadi Dana. The Guest house is beautiful; made from natural limestone bricks and each room had a terrace with breathtaking views of the reserve. For dinner we had the widest assortment of salads that I have ever seen.

Then Stuart, our archaeologist, spoke about the ancient history of Jordan. Wow! I thought I knew a lot about ancient history, especially that of the Middle East, but I sure learned a lot. I'll make a blog entry about the whole history of this area another day, but let it suffice to say that Jordan seems to be in the thick of it all. Archaeological evidence indicates that Palaeolithic, Egyptian, Nabatean, and Roman civilizations have been drawn to the area because of its fertile soil, water springs, and strategic location. Additionally, Jordan, not Phoenicia, is the birthplace of our alphabet system!

After Stuart's lecture we had a choice as to whether we wanted to stay in the rooms or sleep on the roof of another hotel. 6 of us choose to stay on the roof, so we were walked down an ancient cobble-stoned street to the Dana Hotel. The Dana Hotel isn't as new the Guest House, but it has even more appeal, well, at least for me. I love the cobblestone floor and the quaint courtyard. It has so much "character". Sitting there, drinking tea, and looking up at the stars made me think of all the other people who have sat there also. Additionally, the men who worked there were so incredibly kind and excited to have us stay, that I felt so very treasured, carefree and blissful.

After tea, the men brought mattresses up to the roof and made beds for us with extra blankets and pillows because it was colder than usual for this time of the year. They kept on asking if there was anything else they could get for us, and before we could answer, they would run and get more herb tea or water. Never have I been made to feel so cared for.

After convincing our hosts that we were fine and truly didn't need anything else, we curled up in our beds and looked at the stars. I spoke about the constellations while pointing out planets and famous stars. I also told some of the Greek myths that went with the constellations. Then a band started playing music in the background. Oh, how I wanted to join the party, but the long day had gotten the best of us all, and soon we had all drifted off to sleep. Honestly, it was the best night's sleep I've had in a long time. But then again, my first love has always been the outdoors.

It actually was a good thing that I had gone to sleep instead of joining the party because the next morning we had the option of going on one of two hikes. The "hearty" hike that left at 6am, and the "nature" hike that left at 10. Denise and I got up at 5 and walked back to the Guest house for the "hearty hike". It was a 8 Km trail that contoured the huge escarpments of Wadi Dana. We climbed up and down cliffs and rock faces while taking in captivating views of the wadi. At one place we stopped for a tea break and explored ancient Nabatean tombs. Everyone laughed as I took out my caving light, but it came in handy as we looked at chisel marks and coffin niches.

After we returned we had another beautiful assortment of salads for lunch, and then drove to Petra. I have to admit that no matter how excited I was to go to Petra, I was sad about leaving Dana. The people there were just so proud of their preserve. I still think of our guide hopping from plant to plant showing us each of the different species and telling us what it is used for. Yes, you can learn scientific names and memorize trails through the desert, but you can never fake such love for everything around you.

Oh, well, I knew I shouldn't be too upset. The highlight of our trip was coming up. Petra, the beautiful, ancient Nabalean city caved out of sandstone, (and now rightfully one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.) was our next stop.

We arrived at our hotel just in time to take a quick swim, have dinner and go to the Petra Visitors Center for Petra by Night.

Now, I've been to a lot of places in the world. Mexico, Guatemala, Alaska, Hawaii, Panama, Canada, some Caribbean Islands, Israel, Egypt, Germany... But I have to say that, NEVER, and I mean NEVER have I seen people who go as out of their way to make tourists as happy as Jordanians do. Just as the people at the Dana Nature Preserve went above and beyond to make sure that we were comfortable, happy and safe, the people at Petra did more than then I could have thought possible to make sure that their guests had probably the most memorable experience of their life.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays the local people light the 1/2 mile walk through the Siq with luminaries (paper bags with sand in their bottom and a lit candle stuck in the middle of the sand). Starting at 8:30 pm- tourists silently walk the trail taking in the beauty and grandeur of the ancient entrance by candlelight. At the end is Petra's most ornate and elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (The Treasury)

In front of the Treasury are hundreds of lighted luminaries and a Bedouin man sitting in the middle of them playing an exotic string instrument. He soon begins to sing and his voice is echoed throughout the area. He sings and plays for about 10 minutes and you can't help but feel like you've been transported to another time. I swear I could almost hear the voices of past civilizations and see their ghosts wandering though the crowd.

Then, just as the man stops singing, beautiful flute music gradually meanders out of the treasury. Little by little its tune grows and gently envelopes the crowd of mesmerized people. Never before, in any ancient ruin, in any sacred area, in any natural area, have I been as awestruct as I was that very moment.

Then silently, a another man pours hot tea out of a large ornate brass pot. Tea and coffee in Jordan are not just refreshments, but a ritual ceremony in their own right.

As we sipped our tea, another man spoke of the ancientness of the place, the vastness of its history, and its preciousness to the Jordanian people. Aterwards we had a few minutes of silence.

My friends and I sat together in the silence for a while waiting for the crowds to leave. Afterwards we walked back alone, talking about the next day and wondering if our trip into the city in daylight could ever compare to that first evening.

It did.

Until I have time to write to you about it...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Jordanian Government

Jordan is a Constitutional Monarchy. This means that it is run by both a king and a Parliament. The Parliament has as much power as the king allows it to have. He can dissolve the Parliament or suspend its authority at any time.

Jordan's Parliament is broken into two houses.

  • A senate called the "House of Notables" or Majlis al-Ayan which has 55 senators nominated by the king from designated categories of public figures. They each serve four-year terms.
  • A House of representitives called the "Chamber of Deputies" or the Majlis Majlis al-Nuwaab. Jordan is broken into tribes and each tribe elects a representative to Parliament.

The problems that this 'Representative democracy" causes are often refereed to as "tribal mentality". Predominately it has to do with nepotism and the fact that the tribes often see women as too emotional to be good leaders. This is quite sad to the more liberal Jordanians because most of Jordan's voters are women.(People who are tied to the military are not allowed to vote so that the army remains neutral.)

Since all of the seats in Parliament were being filled by men, the present king, King Abduallah, put in a quota system. 6 seats MUST be held by women.

The fulfillment of these seats brings quite a debate among Jordanians. Some say that none of the women sitting in the Parliament were actually elected, while some say that there are a few. What does seem to be a consensus in opinion is that many of the men in Parliament are illiterate. They truly can not read or write, while all the women are active in NGOs and have Ph.D's.

Bedouins, being very patriarchal and therefore against women in the government, then raised the number of seats in Parliament from 110 to 116.

So King Abduallah raised the quota from 6 to 12.

Dr. Abla Muleni and The United Nations' Millennium Development Project

The other day we had a meeting with Dr. Abla Muleni of the United Nations' Millennium Development Project. We will meet with her again later in the seminar to discuss other topics, but this time she tried to speak about Gender and Development Issues. I say "tried" since she had so much information and saw so many connections and interconnections that it was hard for her to stay on one topic. She was an amazing speaker and kept us completely engrossed for almost two hours. Below are the notes from our session with her.

At the 2000 World Summit 89 heads of state met and agreed to the following:

1. Halving poverty (Taking each country's 1990 population and halving it by 2015).
Reducing the number of people living in the country on less than $1.
Making sure that children fall within a respectable height/weight ratio

2. Reducing Illiteracy (Compulsory Education to grade 12)

3. Gender Equality

4. Addressing Infant Mortality Rate ( having a doctor present at birth and pre post natal care)

5. HIV-AIDS (reducing the spread of HIV-AIDS and caring for those who do have it.)

6. I forgot to write this one down.

7. environment (reducing Greenhouse emissions)

8. Global Partnership ( The Development of assistance for developing nations is based on them meeting the above goals.)

Before the War, Iraq was the one country that was going to achieve all of the goals. Now it will achieve none of them.

Jordan will achieve most of the goals by 2015 but not all...

  • 6% of the Jordanians are below the object poverty line. These people live on a breakfast of cold bread, falafal for lunch, and bread and salad for dinner. As Jordan takes care of these people, new ones arrive daily. There is no way that Jordan can continue to take care of all of these new people and achieve the first goal.
  • For the weight to height ratio. Jordanians naturally have a B-12 deficiency. This has been determined to be because of a chemical in the water that blocks the absorbency of the vitamin. Therefore taking vitamin supplements will not help. Additionally, the poorer people think that any and all supplements are either birth control pills or poison from America and refuse to take them.
  • 98% of the births are attended by a doctor, but the women in the poorer areas then do not come in for post natal check- up. The number of women who die in Jordan because of complications due to pregnancy and birth are very high, but an exact number cannot be stated since no one is exactly sure how many die because of complications and how many die from other causes.

Iraqi Refuges and Their Effect on Neighboring Countries

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in the first Gulf War the PLO took an oath of neutrality since there were Palestinian refugee camps in both Iraq and Kuwait. Kuwait saw this as the Palestinians being traders and so they kicked out 350,000 Palestinians. They all went to Jordan. Overnight poverty in Jordan increased by 10%.

Saddam Hussein was pro-Palestinian and so after he was removed in the second Gulf War, Palestinians were considered "pro-American" and were kicked out of Iraq. Lately Syria sees the Palestinians as pro-American also. (Ain't that a hoot?!)

The US continuously refuses to recognize the Iraqis as refugees since it now considers there to be democracy in Iraq. Therefore Jordan and Syria do not receive any help from the US to help them take care of any of the Iraqi/Palestinian refugees. Additionally, both the UN and the World Bank have labeled the Iraqi refugees as "passerbys" and refuse to help since they are not "refugees".

Sweden and Australia have taken the worst of the cases, such as children horribly crippled AND completely orphaned by the war, but the help is very limited.

Israel and Egypt have received millions of dollars in US aid to help support immigrants and people living below the poverty level in their countries, but neither have taken in Iraqi war refugees.

The New Iraqi democracy also has received millions of dollars in AID to help the poor and starving in their country even as 10,000 Iraqis continue to be killed each month. This money comes with "no strings attached" which upsets the Jordanians even more. What money they receive from the US for "Development Aid" comes with great strings attached; mainly 50 to 80% goes back to the US government. With any money they receive they must:

  • contract to an American company,
  • use only American workers, and American trainers
  • use only American carriers

(Sounds like the No Child Left Behind Laws and the Reading First Grants to me!)

AIDS In Jordan

There are 385 recorded cases of AIDS in Jordan, but in reality the number is 10 times higher. This is because most of the cases come from married men having extramarital sex. Since Jordanians see themselves as a religious and pious nation and do not want to admit to anything otherwise. Therefore Jordanians see AIDS as predominately a "gay disease". Taking care of these AIDS patients costs the Jordanian Government $1000 American a month. More money is going into AIDS awareness, but since people don't want to believe it is actually possible for them to get it or give it, it is spreading.

Human Development Report

Looking at the average life expectancy at birth determines the "Standard of living" for each county.

To determine life expectancy they look at a country's average income, education, and life expectancy.

Out of 170 countries Canada and Scandinavia came in first. Jordan came in 70th.

Living Under Economic Sanctions

  • When a country is placed under economic sanctions it can only import basic food and school supplies.
  • Countries under economic sanctions cannot import more food, basic health supplies, or military parts.

Even though sanctions do allow advanced medical help, people end up dieing of basic problems because of the red tape.

  • Water purification products are not allowed under economic sanctions and so people end up with diseases such as malaria and diarrhea. Since these diseases can be curred by basic health supplies which are not allowed under the sanctions people under sanctions end up dieing from these very curable diseases.
  • There are documented cases where people are not allowed to import a piece for a dialysis machine since the same part could be used in military equipment.

Naaaa, Naaa, naaa, naaa, naaaa, You don't really exsit!

When my students are mad at each other they often pretend that they don't see or hear whomever they are angry with. I've often had kids cross their arms and turn their back when someone they are angry with is talking to them. Girls often do the,"I'm not inviting you to my party deal..." Sometimes I can't help but feel the same is happening on national scales here in the Middle East.

I remember sitting with my friend Moti one day while in Israel and saying the term"occupied territories" when referring to the West Bank and Gaza, to which he replied, "Here we call them 'liberated territories' ". I also remember going to Arab towns with Israelis who deliberately wore tight and reveling clothes. "This is Israel" They would say. "This is a secular country and they have to understand that. They want to have their customs validated, then they need to go to an Islamic Nation." I chalked these incidences up to " The Israeli Sabra attitude" that I saw all the time until I was in the Dead Sea Museum here in Jordan last week reading an exhibit.
"The Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea are moving north in relationship to the shores on the western side by a distance of 0.5 cm every year." one exhibit said.

The next exhibit said,"You are standing on the Arabian plate that is moving northwards compared to the Palestine Plate on the other side of the Dead Sea."

Another exhibit was a 3-D map of the area. Jordan was outline and labeled as well as the countries of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. There was also a large blank area directly to the west of Jordan.

Na, na, na, na, na.... If I don't call you by your name, if I leave your flag out of my poster, if I say you are liberated as opposed to occupied, if I ignore you customs, if I don't label your country on my map, then I am not accepting your right to exist and therefor proving my right to exist???!!!

I remember being a child during America's "Cold War" with Russia. I was quoted the number of ICBMs each county had and the number of times they could blow the whole earth up. I was told about Russian leaders taking their shoes off and banging them on the desk in front of the whole UN. I was told of men, little more than young boys, with fingers on the bombs being pointed towards NY, or LA, or Kansas City. I was told about the threat of communism, and I remember being petrified of the Russians. But I knew they existed. I not only knew they existed, but I believed that the only way to ensure our safety was to work with them. So I wonder about all the children here in the Middle East that are being raise in the atmosphere of hate, fear and non-acknowledgement. I wonder about the collective psyche of all the nations of the Middle East raised refusing to accept even the existence of the other. How do you work with someone to promote peace when you don't even accept their right to exist?

Catching Up

Today is my day off and I've made myself a promise that I am not leaving here, (te Internet cafe a few blocks from the hotel I'm staying at), until I am all caught up. We've been doing so much that it is hard to keep up with blogging it all and I want to get it all down before I forget something. This is not as altruistic as it seems since I am also getting over a case of "travelers intestinal flu" and need to be near a bathroom at all times. But it is a good excuse for sitting here for hours and not be tempted to run off and see "Iraq al Emir" (Cave of the Prince) which has been calling me since before I left Merced.

Therefore the next few entries aren't in chronological order. They may be about activities that we have done, notes from a lecture, or just observations or answers to questions people have writen to me (interesting that people just write to my e-mail instead of posting to my blog).

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Effect of the War in Iraq on Jordan

Jordanians continuously ask me, "Why did you spend 5.7 billion dollars to kill people? What did it accomplish? Yes, Saddam is out of Iraq, but what is there now is even worse. Wouldn't it have been better to just put the money into education, health, and infrastructure?"

Don't worry my conservative friends and family, some people in the seminar responded with, "If we just gave the money to Saddam, he would have kept it." To which they have responded, "Would that be any worse than what there it is now? What have you gained by wasting this money? Their people are dead, your people are dead and now we are hurting too."

So here's the deal according to my Jordanian friends...

Iraqis are leaving Iraq. Saddam was bad, they say, but what is happening there now is even worse. 1,000,000 Iraqis have fled to Jordan since the US led invasion on Iraq, more are in Syria. And yet the US refuses to take in any of the refugees claiming that they aren't refugees. The US stance is that the people aren't leaving because of war, they are leaving on their own accord since Iraq is now a democracy. The Jordanian stance is that it doesn't matter what you label them, they are now in their country taxing it to the max.

Iraq was a secular nation. Not that Saddam was a good guy by any stretch of the imagination, but there was acceptance. Sunni and Shite Muslims, Assyrians, Sabians (also called Mandaeans- followers of John the Baptist. Similar to the Essines who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls), Davidics (who are followers of David), Yezidies (who worship all angels), Druezians (a hybrid of Judaism and Islam), and a myriad of others all lived in Iraq. But under the new government they are being killed by the thousands. No longer feeling like they have a home in Iraq, and fearing for their safety, they are leaving. They enter Jordan and Syria because they believe they will be safe there, but neither country has the money to care for them. They may find safety, but they also find poverty and unemployment because the Jordanian and Syrian governments are unequipped to handle this mass exodus. Additionally each government is worried that there will be no place for these people to go and are petrified that without other options, the Iraqi refugees will stay in their countries and drain their health care, education, and economic systems.

There are people who are trying to help. They set up schools and health programs using funding from interested parties. Iraqi refugees themselves staff the schools and clinics, since before Saddam, Iraq had the highest level of literacy in the Arab world. Yet, the schools are often shut down by the Jordanian government. When you are mostly desert, have little water, no oil except for olive, and are poised to double your population by the year 2015, (because most of your population is under the age of 30, and the average family size is 4 children per family), the last thing you need is 1,000,000 Iraqi refugees staying around too long.

The war has other less tangible effects.

In Petra, the beautiful ancient Nabalean city carved out of sandstone Bedouins who make their money escorting tourists through the sites or selling them tea, coffee, and trinkets, complain that business is down 95%. They believe that the war has scared people away from visiting the Middle East.

Iran, by collapsing the Iraqi government we have opened it up to the Iranians who are exploiting the people and creating even more mistrust and violence among the peoples of the middle East.

Jordan's Educatonal System

Over the last few days we have gone to many lectures about the Jordanian Education system and visited different types of schools. Here is an over view of these lectures and visits.

95% of Jordanians are literate. 2/3 of the illiterate are poor women in the back country.

Jordan has compulsory eduction for all Jordanian children from grades 1 through 12.

In government schools English used to be mandatory starting in 3rd grade, but now it is mandatory for all 12 years of school.

There isn't a formal teacher training program in Jordan.

All students in Jordan take Arabic, math, English, science and history. Islamic religion is also taught in all government schools, but non- Muslim children are excused from the classes.

In the lower grades science is integrated throughout the curriculum, in High School each field,(biology,physics, chemistry, earth science) is taken each year! (Most students study until midnight each night.)

From first grade on, all teachers specialize in a subject. Unlike in America, there are no self contained classrooms. Even first graders will have a different teacher for each subject.

From the 1920's to the 1960's teaching was considered a prestigious occupation and teachers were given a great deal of respect, but since the 70's this has changed drastically. There was an economic collapse in Jordan. Educated people looked outside Jordan for jobs and found that teaching positions did not hold the same respect as other professions and this changed the perception of the public towards education as a profession. Teaching became a low priority. Today teaching is so poorly respected that only the lowest passing students become teachers. The average Jordanian teacher makes 2 to 3 hundred dollars a month. Most take second jobs such as driving taxis or tutoring at night.

There are two types of education in Jordan, public (government) and private. 95% of the middle and uppercase Jordanian children go to private school. There are many private schools, some follow the Jordanian curriculum while others follow the GCSE system ( more about that later). Private school tuition ranges from 500 dinars to 5000 dinars a year. ( 1 dinar is worth about 70 American cents at the moment.)

Public schools have an average of 40 students per class. Private schools average about 20.

Children are rarely held back in the public schools because there is no money for them to repeat the class. There are also no "special education" classes. Children with special needs are mainstreamed in the classroom and teachers are responsible for helping them, although no action is taken against the school or the teacher if these children do not succeed.

At the end of 12th grade all children government schooled children take the Tawjihi (pronounced Tou-gee-hee). It is a comprehensive test given over the course of four days. One for Arabic, one for English, one for math and one for science. The test is purely rote memorization and children are given a book on all the information to memorize before the test. All names and grades are published in the newspaper. This is a left over from the British system. It is similar to the "A levels" that students use to take in Britain and very similar to the "Common Entrance" that students take on the Island of Dominica where I worked in the late 90's.

The only thing that matters when applying to a Jordanian school is the grade one gets on the Tawjihi. A 98 or above-you go to medical school, 95-97 you become an engineer, 90 - 95 you become a pharmacist and so on. Teachers are 65-75%.

Private schools in Jordan can be broken into two categories, the ones who focus on Tawjihi prep and the ones that focus on GCSE. (General Certificate of Secondary Education) Those which focus on GCSE do more integrated exploratory lessons and focus on multiple modality, differentiated instruction. Students in private GCSE schools can get their GCSE scores translated into a Tawjihi score if they want to attend a Jordanian University.

45% of the students fail the Tawjihi.

There are state and private preschools. Queen Noor was a big proponent of the Montessori Method and most follow the method to some degree. (Can you
see me smiling?)

Because of the war in Iraq, almost over night Jordan's population increased by 20%. Iraqi refugees are not educated in the Jordanian system although at this time this is under great debate. Pretty much the same arguments we hear in the states on educating illegal aliens can be applied to the education of Iraqi refugees. Besides not having the money to educate at least half a million people, there is worry that if they do, many will stay and put a continued strain on Jordan's very few resources.

An Emotional Time

Last Friday we had a day off. I got up for breakfast(Most Middle Eastern Restaurants offer a free Middle Eastern Breakfast) and then went back to sleep. We've been on the move all day and then I try to blog each night, so sleep is limited. I know that I don't have to blog each night, but if I don't, I will forget so much and I really don't want to do that.

So I enjoyed my "nap" and then wandered downstairs to the lobby where some of the staff was discussing politics. I know that politics and religion are topics that one does not discuss lightly in the US, but here they are openly discussed. "Why did your country bomb Iraq?" is usually something asked 5 minutes into the conversation. This time it took less than 1. So I sat with these men, like I have with so many other people here, and discussed, 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Husein, and weapons of mass destruction. We talked about the demonization of Arabs in the American Mass Media and the god-less perception of Americans in the Arab Media. It overwhelms me how they are so able to separate American politics from American people. We do not do the same. I think of the terms "freedom fries" and "towel heads" as examples.

But then the "Palestine Problem" came up. It seems to me that they cannot do the same with Israeli foreign policy and Israelis. The hatred is just so great. So I sat and listened to their stories. Stories of towns burned, children killed, homes lost. I listened to person after person tell me how they are not allowed to visit family inside Israel or the Palestinian Authority. One had a wife that was an Israeli Arab and the grandchildren were not allowed to visit their grandparents, another was a doctor who has spoken all over the world, but not in his home town in the West Bank. Their hearts ached, and mine ached for them.

After the conversation, I went back to my room. I just couldn't go out. So I sat there and cried. Not little tears, but huge hiccuping ones. I cried for all of these people and for all of my Jewish friends. I know their stories just as intimately as well and they are equally horrifying and heartfelt.

I called Asa and wailed to him, "They hate you so much!" To which he responded, "We do our best to give them reason to." I never realised how overwhelming this problem is for the moderate and liberal Israelis. They, like everyone else in the world, are concerned for their safety and yet are angry and sickened at many of the actions their government has taken.

David Coe, an Israeli author once wrote about the conflict, "It is a case of right vs. right." To which I must add, "... and wrong vs. wrong." The wrong doings of our ancestors and our governments today can be hard to admit, for all of us. Yet, wounds on both sides will never heal and a true peace never brought about unless people on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict accept wrong doing in the past and work, not to revenge that wrong doing, but to ensure that it doesn't happen, on either side, in the future again.