Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why Jordan Needs a MeBeWeBe Program...

So, most of you undoubtedly did a big "hunh?" at the title. After all, mebewebe programs are not only US specific, they're governmental procurement specific. So, what IS a mebewebe, and why do they need a program? Good questions, and I'm going to take some artistic license in my argument, so this is forewarning...

Mebewebe clauses are typically added to US government contracts (all levels, city, state, federal), to help ensure governmental money is going to traditionally disadvantaged groups. the Mebe part is for minority-owned business enterprises and the Webe part is for women-owned business enterprises. Contracts will often specify that a particular portion of the overall contract must be let to a mebe or a webe. So, I worked on a project for a company that won a competitive bid with a local city government. They were required to give 15% of the total contract value to a mebewebe. Now what does that have to do with Jordan?

You see, many months ago, El 3atal and I went through the procurement process on a contract with GAM. The competitors were a few small local companies (like us) and a few large Dubai-based companies with no local presence. Eventually, we decided not to bid based on scope issues and significant risk. But, in the process, it became clear that the front-runner was one of the large American companies based in Dubai. This company has no local office. All of the proposed project team members come out of Dubai. So, if GAM (or the government) awards such a contract how does Jordan benefit?

The salaries go out of Jordan, the intellectual capital goes out of Jordan, the profits go out of Jordan. While some money will be coming in for travel, you know the company is going to minimize that as much as possible to keep their overheads low. So, dinars go out and IC goes out leaving Jordan poorer in many ways.

Around the time I started thinking about this, Nas posted about the rumor mill and it's sighting of Omar Maani for awarding contracts to small companies no one has ever heard of. Ours would be one of those (had we bid and won). Our company is new and small, but has world-class skills and talent. So, somehow it's a double edged sword for the government isn't it? If they give the contracts to big names, the money leaves the country. If they give it to capable smaller companies, they are accused of nepotism, kick-backs, and who knows what else. Is there any way they can win?

Honestly, the bid we put in for felt rigged. But, not toward someone with potential financial gain but rather toward big names. It felt like the committee members were interested in covering their hind ends by hiring the biggest name. In addition, we were hindered by a poor process. It's new to them so they aren't as transparent or as experienced as most federal, state, and local governments in the US when it comes to large contracts for services (they give you not only exactly the format for the proposal, but specific detail on how proposals will be scored... effectively, they give you a peek at their checklist).

At any rate, I propose that Jordan needs a new program, we'll call it the HeBeJeBe program. Some portion of large contracts (say anything over 500,000JDs) must have at least 10% of the contract value sub-contracted to a Home Country/Jordan-based Business. And, it can't just be supplying laptops and such on a services contract. We need to ensure that the thought leadership, learning, and institutional growth is building skills here at home. Let's build Jordan's primary real resource, it's people. And, let's make sure that large government contracts keep some of that money here at home.

Happy heebeejeebies!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Do Jordanians Even Know the Meaning of Empathy?

A week or so ago, El 3atal and I attended a very interesting session (okay he tells me it was interesting since the lady conducting speaks REALLY fast and my Arabic wasn't up to keeping up totally) on Emotional Intelligence in children. The speaker has her PhD from U of Jordan and seems extremely capable and competent. She's done research in Jordan and her intent was to expose parents to the idea of Emotional Intelligence and help give them some tools to build EI in their kids.

During the course of the session, she remarked on some of the challenges that instilling EI faces in Jordanian society. Some of you may wonder how this impacts me. After all, I'm American right? One of the side-effects of raising the Beans outside the US is that they will have challenge being culturally American. This is true in part because we chose to put our kids in schooling that's mostly Arab not mostly foreign. We also have family and friends from Jordan (naturally since El 3atal is from here). So, much of the local culture seeps into the Bean's upbringing. So, these challenges are of particular importance to me. I do art projects at home with the Beans to instill creativity (something that I find poignantly lacking in Jordan). We also spend alot of time on critical reasoning and making (and defending) a logical argument. Rote memorization won't go far in my house...

So, during this session, the speaker mentioned that one of the main challenges in Jordanian society is that Jordanians do not feel empathy. Wow. That is truly powerful to me. Since we moved here, I've been puzzled back the lack of community sense. I have had a hard time understanding the seeming inability to think of how your actions impact others. I put it down to not being raised seeing yourself as part of a community and not having respect for yourself and others. But her comment on empathy really grabbed me. It explains SO many things. So, to clarify what I'm going on and on about (I feel a long post coming), what is empathy?

Handy-dandy has this to say...

1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the
feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or
attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a
mirror of the self.

But really, what does that mean? I had an English teacher who explained this so simply that it has always stuck with me.

Sympathy is feeling for someone. Empathy is feeling WITH them.

Clearly, empathy is much stronger than sympathy. If you break your arm, if I sympathize, it means I'm sorry for you. If I empathize on the other hand, it means I feel the break myself.

Being able to feel empathy is what makes us able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and consider how our actions might affect them. In fact, being taught at an early age to empathize with others gives us the tools to care about our actions as we grow older. To a 2 year old the whole world revolves around them. Without ever developing the ability to empathize we remain in that self-centered 2 year old stage, don't we?

So, if that's the case and Jordanians aren't taught to empathize with others, no wonder it seems like a free-for-all. I never really thought about it, but the Beans and I spend lots of time while reading books (something we do every night) talking about how the unkind actions of others might make the characters feel. We talk about whether it is nice and would they like it. I frequently ask them to put themselves in the character's shoes. In fact, I usually ask them to put themselves in more than one person's shoes. I didn't think about teaching them about empathy, it just happens. Doesn't it? But if no one ever taught you, how do you teach someone else? This is SUCH a powerful realization.

And, now for the challenge, how do we integrate this type of thought process into the educational system? And how do we go back and teach adults this life-skill? Because life would run much more smoothly if people understood the concept of empathy. If people thought, "how will my triple parking my car and blocking the road affect other? How would I feel if I were trying to get through?" before they took an action, they'd think twice. And then, they'd move on and walk the 5 extra steps. So, this is the hard part. How do we turn this around and breed people who are capable of feeling empathy? I guess we could send everyone to my house to read books, but that might not be practical...

Happy feelings!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Does Your Vote REALLY Count?

So, I got my absentee ballot this week. That's right, I sent my request at the end of September and received the ballot last week. Well after the election. And it makes you wonder was it intentional? Well, clearly some one's asking some questions. MemeBean heard on the news that the State of AL and the Secretary of State (who is responsible for elections) is being sued by the Justice Department. There's an article on one of the Huntsville, AL TV station websites about it.

So, let me tell you about the Bean family experience with the absentee balloting experience. I went out to the Alabama website back in July to find out the dates, no way was I letting this election get past me. The information clearly stated that absentee ballot requests were due no later than 4 days before the election. While that isn't enough time to get the ballot, no worries from my end. I would apply as early as possible and then go from there.

Then in the last week of September, MemeBean heard the Secretary of State on the radio saying that absentee ballot requests had to be RECIEVED by the end of September. Now, I had checked the website and was certain of what it said. So, the last week of September I completed my application for the absentee ballot and mailed it using the fine postal system here in Jordan. I also advised El 3atal that he needed to go ahead and get his taken care of. We had had some issues with our registration due to mail forwarding and what-not in the US. So, in the first week of October he called the Voter Registration folks in Alabama. They confirmed that he was registered and updated the address. He asked about the registration process for the absentee ballot. The young man on the phone told him it was too late. Well, being stubborn and rule-conscious, I told him to ignore this guy and go ahead and submit the application anyway.

I had rather expected that Alabama would be recieving absentee ballot requests, processing them, and sending out the ballots as they came in. Clearly that isn't what happened. El 3atal had a trip to the US in the second week of October, so I quickly completed the Federal "Emergency" Write-In Ballot (thanks Overseas Voting Foundation for your easy process for this) and sent it with him to be mailed. I reminded him to do his while he was there as well. He did so and we went on with our lives knowing we had done everything we could. I also went on-line to check the dates one final time before telling him the exact details and they were gone... My oh my, well, we'd just go on what I had already read.

And then, last week, the ballots finally came. They were postmarked October 29, 2008. So, clearly they waited until the deadline before sending out any absentee ballots. Talk about trying to disenfranchise overseas voters... You might have noticed that Alabama went solidly for John McCain. You may not be aware that absentee voters typically vote fairly heavily Democrat. I have to admit, part of me thinks this approach was intentional.

I'm a little more savvy (and a lot less patient) than many. I refused to sit and wait on my absentee ballot, went on-line to find out how to vote without it and did so. So, on election day when MemeBean was working the polls at our polling station, she checked and saw that we were already listed as having voted absentee. But what about those who did wait on their ballots? How many waited too long and were unable to get their ballots in? Alabama is the ONLY state that does not allow express mail delivery of the ballot. The only options are in person or by US mail. I ask you, how many Alabama voters were stripped of their right to vote by this campaign of misinformation and late mailings? I'd sure like to know. I'm glad someone else is asking questions too... Maybe I should let MemeBean talk to the ACLU about filing that lawsuit after all...? Maybe Alabama needs to hear loudly and clearly that we overseas voters are here and WILL be counted. Stand up, fellow Alabamians overseas, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard!

Happy Vote Rigging!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

And You Thought Jordan Had A Corner on the Ridiculous Signage Market...

So, during our time in Rome, I got the same funny looks that I get in Jordan for snapping pictures of signs. Yes, I'm surely one of the only people bypassing fabulous works of art in the Vatican and snapping shots of the signage... You can imagine the tour guide's expression...

But, really, you'll have to agree, they WERE funny.

This first picture is, indeed, inside the Vatican. Is it just me or does it sound like they're restoring a restaurant (restauration, anyone?). But don't stop there. Look further at the admonition not to come "knoking." I have to admit that my very first thought on reading the second line was the Seinfeld episode when they buy a conversion van (if the van's a-rockin', don't come knockin').

My next picture is of the no-pedestrians-allowed-Ped-Xing. This picture was grabbed at night, but as you can still see, there is a picture of a little man with an X through him. This would be directly in front of the internationally accepted symbol of white lines painted on the road for pedestrians to cross... On the opposite side of the sign (back to back with this one) is a little man crossing with no X. Talk about mixed messages.

Now, let's move on to funny signs common across the city. My favorite is the Emergency Exit (or just plain Exit) sign. You see these everywhere. Is it just me or is there something distinctly shifty about this character? He looks like a thief running out the back door.

And this caution sign in the same vein has so much emotion... Who knew a blob guy could express so much? You can almost hear him saying Yikes! Hollywood should be taking notes.

Now, my last funny sign (not the last one I saw but the last one I photographed) is another of my favorites. I give you... the No Stop sign. Yep, this store is open not all day or non-stop, but no stop...

We saw one in the airport that I decided not to snap as I could see being hauled off to jail on suspicion of being a bomber... It was really very funny. It was a sign for a place that sold American-style hot dogs. They had very little in English and what was in English was in bad English... It invited you to come and try their hot dogs with ketchup, mainnaise, and relish. Then in English it said, very clearly, Don't Indulge. Reading the Italian (not that I speak Italian, but in some ways it's like Spanish drop the o the word's the same), it said don't be afraid to enjoy... Talk about mistranslations...

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the wold of silly Italian signage.

Happy Global Sign-reading!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cults: The Ugly Underbelly of Christianity

Today is the 30th anniversary of the mass suicide at Jonestown. Many of you may not remember when this happened. Shoot, many people in the blogosphere weren't even alive yet. In fact, I expect many people who have used the term (so prevalent in today's vernacular) "Just go ahead and drink the Kool-Aid" have no cultural reference for it. They don't know where it comes from. Now, I do remember Jonestown. I wasn't old when it happened, but I remember the horror that Americans felt hearing about more than 900 people who either drank the Kool-Aid (cyanide-laced grape Kool-Aid it seems) or were shot for trying to escape.

The horror of Jonestown is just a cultural reference point to me. It's a remembered tragedy not a personal one. And yet, I do have a personal story to tell here. It's about the ugly underbelly of Christianity - the Christian cult. Jonestown, Waco, these are catch words now. Things that bring immediately to people's minds crazy Christians who died in bizarre ways as part of a cult. So, how is this personal for me?

My brother spent over 15 years as a member of a Christian cult. That's right more than 15 years. I can tell you, it was a long hard road.

My brother is a wonderful, wonderful person. He's sweet, caring, and generous. He's also self-conscious and socially awkward. This lack of self-confidence is likely what made him a target for the cult when he joined the Navy out of high school. Cults like people who are searching, they help them find something. They give them a home, a place to fit in, a group where they belong. For a seeker, that can be very powerful.

They also use more nefarious techniques. They help indoctrinate people by depriving them of sleep (requiring them to "cleanse" themselves by spending 20 hours a day in prayer and hard labor), food (my brother lost 40 pounds in the first year and he was already thin), and hammering the need for memorization of specific Bible verses from the "right" Bible (King James version only).

So, the first time we saw my brother after he joined the Navy, he spent long hours in the bathroom (they teach them to go to the bathroom to be alone without the distraction of "non-believers") praying and reading scripture. He ate very, very little and came home in what were, effectively, rags having given all of his clothes to the cult. He pushed us more and more firmly away as the Cult continually filled him with the belief that his family doesn't understand him, never loved him, shouldn't be part of his life. He worked hard and turned all of his money over to the cult, sharing a 3 bedroom townhouse with 9 other guys. Needless to say, we were very concerned. The weight loss alone was worrisome. Add in the rest and we really didn't know what to do.

My mother began to read. Books upon books have been written on this topic. Through one of these books, she found a young man who works with families to free people from these cults. She took a personal loan and funded a trip for several members of the family as well as the deprogrammer and an associate to Hawaii, where my brother was stationed. The associate had been a member of the same cult that my brother was in an had found his way out. The deprogrammer had been in a different cult and left it after many, many years. We went into this experience with very high hopes. We were not successful. It was heartbreaking, but God knows best.

So, we find ourselves more than 15 years down the line and my brother one day seems to have sort of wandered away from the cult. There was no big explosion, no painful break, no angry words, no big announcements. He simply moved from the Chicago area (location of one of their HQs and where he was brought in) back home to Alabama. He talks to people once in awhile, but doesn't have close direct contact with the cult members. And, he's found his way back into the family. He started that process by getting together with a cousin who had moved to the area. Finally, he has come to realize that many of the things the cult had told him were not true. He did not die because he left the cult (they actually convinced them that God would kill them if they left), his family does still and always has loved him, it is possible to be a believer and a person of faith and not hold to his one little sect's practices.

It has been a long, long road. Honestly, if you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have predicted that he would never leave the cult, likely never marry, and never be part of the family. But God takes His time and does things in His way. Thankfully, the prodigal son is home, hopefully for good.

And, at times like this, it's good for Christians to remember that we do have misguided souls in our faith. Sometimes they do commit crimes while exercising their "freedom" to worship. One of the big differences, I suspect, between them and the radical elements in Islam is that often Christian cults are trying to hasten their own joining with God (killing themselves and their followers) rather than killing outsiders. I'm truly glad we're out the other side. I'm glad my mother has her son back. And my heart aches for all of those of all faiths who have lost their sons and daughters, sisters and brothers to radical religious movements. I know their sorrow and pray that they, also, will be able to reflect on the sorrow of separation and the joy of reunion.

Happy Returns!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rare Pictures of El 3atal and MommaBean, oh and some pics of our trip to Rome...

Some of you may be aware that El 3atal (or should I say Sayyed Uscita) and I have been in Rome. Well, we're finally home! We had a great time and so, to make you all jealous, I've got pictures of the lovely and wonderful Rome. We had great weather for our trip (except one day of raging downpours) and a fun time walking all around the city. But, before we get to the pictures, I wanted to express a few thoughts.
I was in Rome almost 25 years ago and it's interesting to see the differing perceptions you have as a teenager and then as an adult.
  1. Big city: I came to Rome the first time from a small city of maybe 500,000 people. It seemed huge and sooo busy. Coming from Amman, it seems quite sedate and orderly, teehee.

  2. Sistine Chapel: before restoration and this time was much better. You could see the colors Michelangelo put on the ceiling in something like their original glory.

  3. Similarities to Amman: In so many ways (the good ones) it reminded me of Amman. There are no skyscrapers (hello, GAM are you listening? Abdali developers can you hear me?). It's a city of beautiful architecture and low buildings with sense, style, and glamour. It's a city of intrinsic and unique beauty. This is how I see Amman (with the notable exceptions of the blights on the landscape that are Jordan Gate and the Abdali project).

  4. Sense of history and sense of itself: Rome is a city that knows where it began and who it is today. Inhabitants of Rome are proud to live there. That's my hope for Amman, that it will find itself.

I have to say that the first time I visited I really didn't like Rome so much. This time I loved Rome. Rome is a lovely city and a great vacation destination.

Now to the pictures. I'll start with that most rare of things, the picture of El 3atal (second from the right) and MommaBean (far left) and our friends who were visiting with us...

Now, on to the lovely scenes out and about in Rome... Here's a shot of the Colosseum. The group (except me) universally was disappointed with the shape it's in. I think the movie Gladiator has much to answer for. People expect to see the awesome structure that Maximus sees and instead are greeted by an earthquake-ravaged, theft-damaged shadow of its formal self... But, it is still beautiful from a distance...

Here's a shot in the Roman Forum of the Arch of Titus (maybe). Anyway, pretty shot I thought.

This is a view from the top of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. We had to walk up 330 steps to get here. They were mostly inside the dome between the inner and outer dome.

The next picture is of the Swiss Guards that are posted outside the entrance to the tombs of the previous Popes. Their colorful garb is unique and fun. I thought the Beans would enjoy a snapshot of them (and I hope you do as well).

Finally, my last picture is entitled Floating Crowns. Again I grabbed this for the Beans hoping they would enjoy the eagles with their magical floating crowns. After all, we all need a little magic in our lives, don't we?

If you get the opportunity, I'd definitely recommend Rome as a vacation destination. The weather is lovely, the town is beautiful, the people are friendly and the food... please don't remind me of the food!

Happy Rome-ing!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes We Can: A Version for Jordan

Ahmad's post on the US election got me thinking. As many of you likely know, I'm a citizen of two great countries, the US and Jordan. I was born and raised in the US (or as the old bumper sticker goes, American by birth Southern by the grace of God) and adopted (and was adopted by) Jordan when we moved here two years ago. Those of you who read my blog know that I am equally critical of both my homes. I view each of them without rose-colored glasses. They each have their problems. More importantly, they each have their glories. And, as Ahmad posited, Jordan needs a Can-Do attitude. So, I'm dedicating this post to the Yes We Can of Jordan, as I see it.
  1. Yes we can: Have a country where we protect the health of our children, following smoking bans in all public places and calling each other to task when we fail.
  2. Yes we can: Have a country that protects its young citizens by following traffic safety laws and regulations, stopping the onward march of death from stupidity.
  3. Yes we can: Build people instead of buildings making it a national priority to train, educate, and enable citizens to be more than they are today, to achieve our unique potential.
  4. Yes we can: Use our voices to produce the change we want to see by following Gandhi's admonition to "Be the change you want to see in the world."
  5. Yes we can: Change the ills of society by taking each person as an opportunity to make a difference.
  6. Yes we can: Shed our cynicism to embrace making a difference in a positive and helpful way.
  7. Yes we can: Love our neighbors (all of them) and value their uniqueness, diversity, and beauty.
  8. Yes we can: Accept the challenge to become better than we are today and start with ourselves.
  9. Yes we can: Learn from others who have gone before us (regardless of where) and accept the good while refusing the bad.
  10. Yes we can: Become the voice of change in our world, both local and global, reminding ourselves of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

Please feel free to add your own thoughts of things that we can do, because like Ahmad I believe that Yes we can make a change in Jordan for the better.

Happy optimism!

Unyielding Hope: Reflections on a Long Election Season and Why I Even Bother to Vote

Sitting in Jordan more than 30 years after my birth in a small city in the heart of the American South, today marks a unique moment in history - America's and mine. I'm going to be openly honest and say that I did not really expect, in my lifetime, to see an African-American President. Let's call it hold-overs from the continuing racial divide in the South. I also did not expect to be casting my vote from a place so far removed from my home in Alabama. Who would have foreseen that I would live in Jordan, I certainly didn't. And, although my candidate carried the victory in the end, he didn't win in my home state. My vote for him would seem to be meaningless. And so, this morning, I'm left with reflections on this campaign, on this season, on this moment in history. I hope you'll let me share them with you.

Unyielding Hope
Obama garnered my vote over 3 years ago, before he was a candidate for President, before he was a household name, before I'd even seen him. I heard an interview with him on one of the many excellent NPR programs. I went home and told El 3atal that very day that he was exactly what the Democratic party needs, someone who sees hope in the future. Unyielding hope, as he called it today in his speech. He's selling hope, a rare commodity in a US still recovering from 8 years of peddling fear and one that is sorely needed. Now, however, he has the greater challenge of actually delivering on this promise of a hopeful future.

I saw this unyielding hope in action late last week as I went to the Embassy to pick up some paperwork. There were probably 20 people, all Arab-American (in other words raised here) in the Embassy to cast a ballot. What an experience, to see those who may not have had the opportunity to vote before going out to the embassy and making their unique American voice heard. I saw hope in all of their faces, regardless of their candidate choice. I saw reflected hope that the outcome of this election will change the world.

In the spirit of this, here are my hopes for the change that is coming to America:
  • I hope that we will refocus on being Americans rather than red-state or blue-staters, Democrats or Republicans, wealthy or middle-class or poor.
  • I hope that Obama will reach out, not only across the aisle, but around the world to forge new connections and build bridges instead of breeding hostility and war.
  • I hope that my new home, my adopted nation will be able to trust that America is a leader once again in the good sense of the word.
  • I hope that I can, once again, be proud of my country and even my government, that it will make the right choices for the world.
  • I hope that smart people on all sides of the issues will come together to present their arguments - and that Obama will listen and consider each carefully.
  • I hope that the US government will come to the realization that Palestinians are a great and abused people who need justice and will act with understanding, sensitivity, and balance in resolving the situation.
  • I hope that Obama will make careful, considered decisions rather than hasty, poorly thought-out ones.
  • I hope that all Americans with the right to vote, regardless of location, will see that voting is not only a right, but also a duty and register so that next time they are ready.

In short, I have very high hopes. I am optimistic about the future (and after 2 job losses with 2 accompanying decreases in salary during the George W. Bush era that's saying something). Now, I hope that Obama will capitalize on this historic opportunity.

Demonstrated Leadership
I have never been more impressed with John McCain than I am today. His speech was the speech of a leader. He congratulated his opponent and showed respect. He spoke with dignity and and honesty. And, he accepted the failure as his own. How often do we see politicians who want to place blame with everyone else, the campaign manager, the strategists, anyone but themselves? And yet, McCain clearly said to his supporters that it was his failure. That's leadership.

On the other side of that coin, Obama clearly indicated that his supporters were the reason for his victory. He was also gracious, acknowledge the worthiness of his opponent and the fact that the country is better of for his continued service. He continues to be a class act.

The bottom line for me is that these two men showed both sides of the coin, accepting the responsibility for loss and sharing the credit for victory. Kudos to both.

One Vote Makes a Difference
My good friend Kinzi and I sat on opposite ends of this election. She was for one candidate and I was for another. Each of us voted absentee and each of our states voted for the other guy. Now to some, this seems futile. And, yet, each one of us is given a voice, a vote, a chance to be heard. If we stand idly by and let others make the decision for us, we've lost no matter who wins. It goes back to that hallmark of American philosophies - one man CAN make a difference (and the ant can move that rubber tree plant). I vote not because my state will go my way (it rarely does) nor because it's fashionable (and boy has it seemed fashionable this year). I vote because this is my right to complain. If I didn't vote, then what gives me the right to be upset with the choices made by the leader? Not voting is saying I don't care if I'm heard. If I don't care to be heard on election day, then why should I be heard any other day? I vote because it is the right thing to do. There's a reason it's called a civic duty. It more than just a right, it's a responsibility.

On this day of change, a new era is coming. What will be written remains to be seen. All I know is that I am a part of the story. And the story I'm writing is a hopeful one. My hope for each of you (me dear three readers) is that your story is equally hopeful and optimistic.

Happy hoping!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Is That a Terrorist Training Camp?

You know, so much of our perception of events depends on our background and our baggage. In addition, it depends on the words we use to express our experience. Let me give you an example. Some years ago, El 3atal, MimiBean, and I traveled to Jerusalem. I was a little bit concerned because the situation had been a bit tense, but when we got there I found there was nothing to worry about. At one point, we passed a small protest being held by the Palestinians. We didn't know what they were protesting, but it was a simple peaceful protest with people holding sign and chanting. Nothing worrisome. My self-preservation radar didn't go onto alert. The next day we picked up the paper and saw a photo of the protest under the headline "Rioting in Jerusalem." Hmmm... Such a difference between those two words. Sitting in the US, I read about rioting (the very thing that made me concerned about going on the trip) and assume that since the new media chose the word they know what it means. Apparently not.

Well, each morning when I drop the Beans off at school, I'm close enough to hear a government school beginning their day. And, boy do they do things differently (both the government school and the Bean's school) than my school when I was a wee one. When I was a kid, each morning we stood next to our desks reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in unison with the intercom. It was piped into each room. it was used for making announcements, reciting the pledge, and for calling people to the office. And it was in each room (very convenient). But Jordan is a different place. The construction is different, the needs are different, the practices are different.

The first time I noticed the government school across the street, it realized that for your average American, it called to mind videos of Al Qaeda training camps. First, the beginning of the day routines take place outside (as do those for ButterBean). They use a loud speaker system installed in a courtyard (parking lot) outside the school building. And, instead of calm, bored voices reciting the pledge, you have lots of young kids shouting at the top of their lungs. I thought, now what American wouldn't find this unusual. The cacophony coming from these kids is amazing. I haven't hung around to hear the entire routine, but at some point they play the national anthem. The kids shout along (in case you are unaware, Jordan seems to have 2 volumes loud and shouting).

**Warning tangent in progress**
I'm not sure if this is accurate, but it seems like the national anthem of Jordan is only one or two paragraphs long. I have to say I think it's genius. It's simple to sing (or shout), should be easy to remember, and fits into short period of time. This is in contrast to the American national anthem which is generally regarded as extremely difficult to sing (lots of highs and lows and quick breaks between them), is very long with convoluted, often mis-sung verses that requires at least five minutes of standing around. Hello, US, take note our anthem is too hard. We need a new one, teehee.
**Tangent complete**

Once I noticed the school's morning routine, I realized that part of the reason that it sounds so "terrorist training camp-y" is because the shouting kids sound angry. Of course, when El 3atal and I first married I thought he and his folks were always angry at each other when they spoke Arabic. The normal decibel level is so much louder (I blame wedding receptions and kids' parties with ridiculously loud speakers causing hearing damage at the youngest of ages) that it really is shouting to our tender American ears. (By the way, Hispanics are also always angry based on their volume level and hand gesturing.) So, then I started to listen. I realized that it really sounded like they were counting. Maybe they are. That would be pretty smart at this little school (I think it's only KG and maybe one or two grades). Since you're spending the time in the morning, use it to reinforce in-class learning... At any rate, it's funny how your perspective is colored by what is "normal" for you. In the end, the difference between a protest and a riot or reciting and shouting is in the eye (and agenda) of the beholder.

Happy Indoctrination!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Thought for Kinzi

This is rather unusual for my blog, I know. But, I wanted to drop you a little note of encouragement. You are handling your current cancer woes with dignity and grace. You've been showing us how to deal with adversity. I wanted to say, we love you and pray for your daily (okay many times daily). And then, I saw this picture and thought of you...

This is a reminder that even in this barren, dry land, rain does come. And, when it stops, you may be blessed with the beauty of the rainbow. And, while I know it's raining right now for you, the rainbow is coming, I know it is. Love and kisses from the whole Bean family!
Happy rainbows!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

MommaBean's Best Of: Only in Jordan

Alright, so today we move away from the signage-heavy pictures on to sights that are so exceptional that they qualify as only in Jordan...

The first entry is actually part two of the Scre Vale fire extinguisher picture. With hydrants like this, it's a good thing that there are rarely fires in Jordan (and a miracle seeing the way wiring is done...)

Old satellites around the place, never fear... this guy and his Lada are up for the challenge!

And, in the range of creative car parts... I call this one Emergency Brake (check out the white car).
And, this one is entitled replacement parts on the cheap (alternate title, Fire Bomb my car, please). You will note the very safe item pressed into service as a gas cap...

This one comes from our snowy days and continues the car-related theme. As you will see, when we got 12" of snow in my area, the guys who ventured out weren't those with 4 wheel drive SUVs, they were the guy in the vintage 1980s Mercedes and the guy in to the tiny sub-compact car. Is it any wonder they got stuck?

This one goes along with the theme, although the items of interest aren't the vehicles in the roadway, but rather the table and chairs ready for coffee! Talk about a street-side cafe...

This snapshot is of another road hazard we encountered on our way to visit one of the ruins outside Amman. Never fear, he still has the chain and stake attached :).

Now for my final offering in the roads and driving category, I call this masterpiece Gratuitous Circles.

Finding things in the grocery stores can seem like a scavenger hunt. You never know where items will turn up. Yeast on the baking aisle, baking soda on the laundry aisle... it's an adventure. Who would expect, for instance to find diet bars on the candy aisle? Only in Jordan...
This one I find mind boggling (along with the chocolate flavored toothpaste that I have not gotten a picture of). Can you imagine stinky babies? Apparently, local babies require perfume.
Here's some tastelessness that I found positively breath-taking...

And this last one is the second instance of my blog post embarrassing someone enough to make a change. This sign no longer exists. The establishment in question has apparently decided they are no longer in doubt as to their offerings. They now offer Shawerma and more.

I hope that you've enjoyed this small selection of scenes available only in Jordan... I'm only sorry I didn't manage to get a snapshot of the sheep using the pedestrian bridge over Airport Road while their shepherds ran across the street at risk of life and limb.

Happy Urduni moments!

MommaBean's Best Of: That's SO not what they meant...

Following on the theme of yesterday, I'm highlighting the unique, striking, and funny things I've snapped photos of since moving to Jordan. Today, I'll be including pictures of signs and such that just plain went awry.

For my first offering (and back by popular demand, might I add), is Libby's Ass Juice. You know, enough said on this one...

For my next offering, also in the signage arena, just how would one restore fish and chicken and why would they do it on a wood pile?

Now this is a sign that I'm actually hoping they didn't men what they said. I'm hoping they are grateful for donations rather than being nice when accepting them (although perhaps some of both is called for?).

The next entry for your consideration is living proof of what NOT to do when printing instructions on something as necessary as a fire extinguisher. After all, combine this grammar and spelling and the extreme pressure of a fire and, well, can we say toast?

This one falls into the trying-to-be-cute-but-failing category. After my blog post, one of my readers stopped in to ask the question I posed in my blog (if they're open 25 hours, which 25 hours exactly are they?). The answer was that the owners were trying to say they go beyond 24 hours a day all the way to 25 hours?!

Now, I know the employment in market in Jordan is rough (not always getting paid, abusive bosses), but really, they need REFEREES? Do the striped shirts and whistles come as part of the package? Just what sort of organizations do they think you've worked for in the past (ones like theirs I'd guess)?

Here we have homemade signage that is nearly incomprehensible... I first assumed these were the times the shop was opened (silly me). I discovered that in fact (thanks Salam) these are dates of a sale. I SO never would have gone there...

Okay, and the last offering today is an ad that I definitely hope they got their money back for. Either this is a clever test to determine which students will make it in your program (those with a mirror or the ability to do extreme mental translation) or someone really goofed.

These are some of my favorite "we had a target, but we missed it by a mile" moments. I hope you've enjoyed them. Join me tomorrow for my "Only In Jordan" pictures!

Happy misinformation!