Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the Wrong Side of Freedom... (is overthrowing dictators really a great thing?)

People around the world are cheering on the Egyptians as they throw off the shackles of an allegedly corrupt government. And, at first glance, 30 years is a long time for someone who is supposedly elected democratically to continue in office. After all, I like honesty. Let's call it what it is and it isn't democratic elections. So, in that sense, I hope and pray that Egypt find its way to an appropriately elected government that will resemble the type of democracy that will work best. But, having said that we, as Americans, are a bit arrogant (no really, we are, didn't you know that?). One of the places that we can see that arrogance shining through brightly is the idea that we continue to espouse as part of our global propaganda that every country should be "free" like us. That they should all have democracy (by which we mean our type of democracy). Now forgive me, but I'm not cheering too loudly.

So, let me tell you why. Our American focus on a US-style democracy fails to take into account that we've had more than 200 years developing it. We spent hard won days and nights, the blood of brothers and cousins and endless energy discovering what an American-style democracy is. Is there any reason we think we could simply take it wholesale and implement it in other places? Even if it were possible to, is there any reason this would work in a place that shares nothing culturally in common with the US? I can't imagine a single reason we should think this will work. Why wouldn't it take other countries fighting their own battles to understand themselves as people to get to a democracy that works for them? Even the US, which broke away from Britain, did not set up an identical democracy.

And yet, we believe that we can influence nations in the Middle East into democracy ala America. This, I assure you, will not work. There are many reasons that this idea is a fallacy. One of the first, the most important in my mind, is that there is no core belief in the protection of the minority. Majority rule means, in this part of the world, the majority does what it wants. One of the most important tenets of America's democracy is the protection of the minority. Without it, the entire system would fail. As Americans, we are raised believing that the majority must take care of the minority. We take protect and serve as a sacred goal.

How interesting, then, that some of my American friends here see no irony in the fact that they rail against the pork butcher and the stores that sell liquor because they are against Islam. These ladies choose not to support stores that sell liquor, to which I say kudos! Vote with your feet. But some call for the banning of all such places. Whenever I'm faced with this attitude, I try gentle reminders that there are also others here who are not Muslim. Why should they lose the right to eat bacon on a Sunday morning? Why should they be banned from purchasing alcohol? These people who were raised in a country that protects the minority lose sight of the minority here in Jordan.

So, I ask you, given that one of the sole movements in the region that has managed to pool political will is the Islamist movement, why would we expect that democracy would lead to anything other than an Islamic dictatorship? We saw this in the Taliban, didn't we? They were democratically elected and then went about making everything else illegal. In Gaza, we see this as well. We don't see places where people who were raised without this protection-of-the-minority mindset find democracy a liberating experience for all. And that's what worries me. As a minority (well many minorities actually), what's to say that overthrowing the current less-than-stellar guy is going to make a positive impact on the lives of the minorities? Often those autocratic governments are the very ones that are protecting the minorities in their realm. Really, can anyone really tell me the Christians in Iraq are better off now? How about the Sunnis?

Until a Middle Eastern country finds a way to successfully build a model for democracy that works within its cultural context, all we are doing is hastening the road to internal strife and civil wars. I sincerely hope that Egypt finds its way out of this current situation with a more positive leader. I hope that Tunisia does not find itself in another de facto dictatorship. But, I also hope that, in each case, they find a method that works without shoving out, killing, and persecuting the "others", the "different", in short the minorities...

Happy Freedom?

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Moments that Crystallize Life...

So, today is the anniversary of the 25th year since the Shuttle Challenger exploded just after take-off. As the articles all say, it's one of those things that causes a Do You Remember moment. Only this one, for people in my age range, takes less than a second. This isn't like the Gulf War ( I was sitting in a Sbarro's pizza in Birmingham watching the surreal nighttime bombings). This was very different and very personal.

Although I hardly feel 25 years old these days, I was sitting in class in Junior High School watching the launch on TV. In fact, the whole school was watching the launch. Dare I say, the whole country was watching it? We watched in horror as the shuttle exploded. There was an unexpected silence as everyone tried to process what had happened. Honestly it didn't make sense. We all waited for the new that it was a hoax, a mistake, we wanted a miracle. That miracle never came.

I'm not sure how anyone else felt about it. You can ever only know your own mind, thoughts, and feelings, can't you? But after weeks, maybe months, of lead-up to the launch, I felt like I knew Christa McAuliffe. She was not just a teacher, she was MY teacher. At least, she surely could have been. She had young children left motherless. She had such a smile... the type that brightened a room. So, I felt like I knew her.

In fact, the tragedy touched my family more closely even than that. At the time, my dad worked for a supplier to the shuttle program. He worked for one that worked with the O-Rings. Needless to say, the next months were tiring and stressful as they conducted tests to see what had happened. In the end, the fault lay elsewhere, but it was a close-run thing. And, again, it made the tragedy more real.

And, do you know, although prior to Challenger I had been to see a shuttle launch, when I think of space shuttles, I still think of the Challenger disaster. In my mind's eye, that arc is never really gone. So, on this 25th anniversary, I salute all of the astronauts who have died trying to expand our human knowledge and understanding of our universe.

It's an interesting juxtaposition that even as man tries to explore and go further, gaining ever more knowledge, others here in my region of the world are experiencing Internet black-outs and cell phone stoppages. The one is ever pushing for greater knowledge the second is pulling it back. And yet, perhaps the greatest lesson for us from Challenger is that no matter the obstacles, the human will finds a way...

Thoughtful anniversaries...

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Little Slice of Merry Old England in Jordan...

So tonight the Beans and I went to a lovely high school production of Robin Hood. A very fine friend invited us along thinking that we would enjoy it. I enjoyed twice as much when I discovered (on arrival) that it was a musical. Each of the Beans had a favorite character, which I find adorable. Maid Marian was a favorite of both girls. JuniorBean enjoyed the Sheriff of Nottingham's wife (a very talented young man who performed his role in true Shakespearean tradition). JujuBean's second favorite was Friar Tuck, who was admirably rendered in all his (substantial) glory.

For me, my favorite was actually the Sheriff. The young man who played him was quite talented. As an exceptionally acted counterpoint to the Sheriff's sniveling ways, Lady Merle was in her element. This couple of characters were forceful stage presences. And, the best musical performer by far was, appropriately enough, the minstrel.

So to the young men and women who took part in the play tonight, kudos! You did an exceptional job and should be very proud of yourselves. I assure you, it was an evening's entertainment that was a bargain at twice the price!

Happy Anglophiles!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde... Mixed marriages, why do they do it?

So, I've noticed that there are a number of young Arab men who go over to America or Canada and find nice girls to marry. Clearly, having married an Arab man myself, I have no issue with this part of the scenario. But, here's what I really don't understand. Many men who head over to the West have very precise pictures of how men and women should interact. And yet, when they get to the West, they go out and find nice, normal Western girls. And while most Western women are not the promiscuous playthings that is popular conception here, they also aren't super-conservative in male-female dynamics.

Since living in Jordan, I keep coming across couples where the fellow went to study, found a wife and then brought her back. And, very often, these couples end up in marital discord and strife. Sometimes the wife finds herself pressured by husband or mother-in-law to don more conservative clothing (you know, "Put on the abaya, it's more comfortable."). Sometimes it's a desire to know where she'll be at every second of the day. Who is she seeing? What is she doing? Where is she going? Sometimes it's about observing religious practices that aren't her own (or appearing to anyway).

And what I don't get is, why? Time and again I hear, well I'm non-practicing and he's non-practicing so I thought... It's a tad naive of the ladies, for sure. But why does the man think this is a good idea, that's what I don't get. Why go to the US, not observe prayers, not fast during Ramadan, drink and eat pork then marry a girl there and expect her to fit into your cultural paradigm when you move here? I don't have any issue with wanting your wife to fit into your cultural paradigm generally, but if it's so radically different than the life you live in the West, you should have had that conversation long before moving to Jordan, no?

Now, El 3atal is not your typical Jordanian man. His mom worked outside the house from the time he was very young. His parents visited different locales around the world nearly every year. As a result, his outlook on life is fairly atypical. When he lives in the US and when he lives in Jordan, he lives in exactly the same way. There's no difference between US El 3atal and Jordan El 3atal (he wears shorts in both places, I assure you). And there's no real difference between America MommaBean and Jordan MommaBean. I wear the same clothes and approach life in the same way. Picking out a foreign wife for El 3atal makes sense given that his outlook on life has always been a bit odd for Jordan.

So, why would you knowingly pick a woman who will be terribly unhappy if you successfully mold her into the woman you think she should be in Jordan? I have a number of friends who, like me, chose wonderful Jordanian men. They span the religious divide. And yet, to a person none of them has indicated that they were pressured by their husbands to act and live differently. I suspect that's why their marriages are successful. So, does anyone have any insight?

To me, it's a bit like getting a nice scoop of ice cream and creating a lovely mansaf topping. Each is delightful separately, but putting one on the other will ruin both. Either appreciate the ice cream for what it is or go get yourself some mansaf.

Happy mixed marriages!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Life is Good!

Got tagged. That mean Kinzi person tagged me. And I'm sure I ducked. Sigh. Okay, she's a sweet Kinzi person, but I still don't feel super and wanted to be playing some Farm Frenzy to take my mind off of my aches by now. And now I'm forced to blog. So, with no further ado (or whining and moaning), here it is!

1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy doing this? If you aren’t anonymous, do you wish you started out anonymously, so that you could be anonymous now?

I'm perfectly happy as an anonymous blogger. I chose cyber-schizophrenia intentionally. Part of the reason is that being blond and obviously Jordanian in American already makes me stand out. But, even in the US I would have blogged anonymously. With three small children, I want to keep their names and identities quiet so that no bad people come out of the woodwork with enough information to find us... So, yep.

2. Describe an incident that shows your inner stubborn side

I'm not stubborn. Never. Ever. Or stubbornly contrary. Honest. Ask El 3atal, he'll tell you. Although, those Beans, man THEY are stubborn. Can't figure out where they got it... must be El 3atal. Oh, wait, you want proof. There is a particular street neat Junior Bean's school that is a one way street. It is clearly marked (very). It is only wide enough for one car to traverse its narrow length. It has no driveways. And yet, people will come down it the wrong way. I make them back up (sometimes the entire length of the street if there aren't any empty parking spaces) since I'm driving legally. I figure the more painful it is for them, the more likely they'll think twice next time ;). Oh, and so you know just how stubbornly committed I am, I have (one more than one occasion) taken the keys out of the ignition and held them up to demonstrate to the rudesby driving the delivery truck that I wasn't going anywhere and he WOULD be backing up ;).

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

I don't spend that much time looking in mirrors. But I can tell you, whatever is in that mirror isn't really me. I'm younger, thinner, and cuter than that matronly gal in the mirror ;).

4. What is your favourite summer cold drink?

Sweet tea. But then, you can't get that in Jordan ;).

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

Read, read, read. Oh, and sleep after I read a bit.

6. Is there something that you still want to accomplish in your life?

Of course, life's not over until it's over. Until then, you gotta be looking out for new things to try, right? I want to learn to speak Arabic better, watch my kids and help shape and mold them as they grow and develop. Hmm... so many things.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching?

Hmmm. None of those. I always had a group of friends who usually were like me. Not very rich, pretty smart but no over achievers, absolutely adorable and rather precocious. In high school I went to a smart kids' school. That was nice, I wasn't nerdy there... Teehee.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what would you see

Again, one moment?! Life is made up of these moments. The day the TwinBeans graduated from nursery school. The day ButterBean graduated from KG2, the day I realized that ButterBean was never ging back and I'd be a mom forever. So, many moments.

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog, or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people and events?

Well, I actually find that in writing about others, I'm usually writing about myself. I'm comfortable writing about myself but upon occasion self-censor so as not to hurt people I love with my random thoughts.

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read a book or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

Read a book. Or talk to Kinzi. But not so much on the phone. But really, read a book (you know I read like 3 or 4 a week, right?.

That was actually kind of fun. My turn to tag. Only all of my old blogger buddies aren't blogging anymore. no more El 3atal, no more Um Farouq, boo hoo. How about I'm tagging Sojourney, Almond Joycie, and Emigrant2Immigrant. Love to know more about you ;).

Happy Tagging!

A Birthday Poem for Almond Joycie

Although it isn't my forte... today is the birthday of Jordan's preeminent limerick mavericks (okay she's the only one I know of, but still...). In honor of such a wonderful and blessed day, Joyce here's to you!

Jumping and running after her kids with
Octopus arms to control...
Yearning to hug them and protect them from harm
Capturing them with her love
Exceptional woman, mother, and friend. We're blessed to have her in our lives.

Happy 30th birthday AlmondJoycie!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

But, Do You Know What You WANT?!

By virtue of being a friendly mom and one who has friends in widely disparate groups, I get asked advice alot. I mean, quite alot. I get asked what the best birthday party places are, what schools are good, where to shop for various products, where to find the pork butcher, just the general information that makes life a tad easier. Each of these questions actually has the same answer (well except for the pork butcher)... Yep, such disparate questions all have the same answer. And it's often one that the asker hasn't considered. The answer to all three questions is, it depends on what you want. You know, when choosing a school you need to understand your goals and priorities for your kids' education. This question is, in fact, the one that I get most often from people who have no idea what their goals and priorities are.

So why is understanding what I want so important? Well, because Jordanian (and anywhere else) education is not one size fits all. Different schools have different strengths. Your child may fit better at one school than another. In fact, I was talking about this today with a mom who has her younger kids at a traditional Islamic school. Her older ones go to one of the well-known international schools. She mentioned that she has friends who would never consider the international school because it isn't Islamic. You know, I've got to respect that. At least her friend has considered what is most important to them. As has my friend. She has chosen a broader educational experience to challenge her kids. But so many people, say hey what's a good school around this neighborhood.

So, I always answer, it depends. Do you want a native level English program? Do you want a primarily Arabic education? (And no, these two are not mutually exclusive) What is your philosophy on learning? Are you willing to get a tutor? How much do you want to spend? All of these questions come together to form a different picture of the school that you need. But most parents get focused on one thing. Maybe it's Islamic schools, but are they willing to go that route at the expense of the education? Or do they want to seek one that is farther afield but offers better programs?

It's the same for birthday party places. The best option depends on your child and what you want to get out of the experience. Do you want a slides and ball pit kind of experience, very active and exhilarating? Do you want something somewhat educational where the kids do a craft? Is dress-up your kids favorite activity in the world? Does the space need to have both indoor and outdoor activities? How many children are you planning to invite? The responses to these pictures forms an answer to the question. We've done the Beans' birthdays at an awesome place that has a mix of outdoor and indoor space, plenty of room (we typically have invited all of the 3 classes), craft activities that serve as a major portion of the giveaway, and excellent staff who make the entire party experience better. But, it wouldn't be the right choice for someone who wants lots of slides and heavy energetic activity.

But how often do we, as parents, make decisions based on gut feel or the recommendation of friends without considering how well did my friends' needs match my needs? And then, how often do we end up regretting the decision? Each of us, as parents and people, should develop a habit of thinking through our needs and priorities before we make decisions like these. We need to know what we want so we can decide what works best for us and our family. I know this is something I continue to work on. El 3atal and I are currently rethinking our priorities for the kids' education. Not, mind you, the school. We're very happy with our selection, but rather the emphasis we place and what's of most value and importance to us. After all, 30 years from now, will I care if ButterBean's ability to express herself or tell a story in classical Arabic is limited? Or will it matter more to me that she is able to speak Arabic fluently? Where are my priorities because that has to inform where we spend our time and focus, now doesn't it?

Happy Decision-making!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

We Either Live Together or We Die Together: Human Shields in Egypt

A good friend posted an article on her Facebook that caught my attention today. I seem to be saying that a great deal lately, don't I? This article, in particular, was interesting. It was written to talk about one of the many responses to the church bombing in Alexandria on New Year's Day. You'd have to have been hiding under a rock (or maybe in America) not to have heard about the bombings. But, I expect most people may not hear about the various responses.

Personally, I've been heartened by the responses we've seen from the Muslim world. The leaders here have been unanimous in denouncing the bombings and those who carried them out. Our own, King Abdullah, was one of the earliest to speak out against it. For those who may not be aware (most of the world), yesterday was the Eastern church's Christmas. The Eastern churches (including the Orthodox and Copts) celebrate both Christmas and Easter on a different schedule than the Western church. The response of the Muslim community in Egypt to the Alexandria bombings gives me some measure of hope.

As you can read for yourself, the Muslim community came out and made a wall of human shields to help protect those going into churches for their Christmas day services. The man who championed the idea, Mohamed El-Sawy, is quoted as saying, "We either live together, or we die together." And in the spirit of that, famous actors and every day people from all walks of life took the streets by the thousands to show solidarity with their Christian countrymen. El 3atal's perennial favorite, Adel Imam, was there as were two of the President of Egypt's sons.

I wonder how it must have felt to the Copts and Orthodox heading out to church, uneasy and uncertain. They went forth to celebrate one of their most holy days knowing that they could have been risking their lives just by going to pray. How must it have felt to find your church surrounded by Muslims there to help protect you? I will admit that the mere idea brings tears to my eyes. In this region, we hear talk, talk, talk about extremism. We see a squeezing out of the Christian population through hardships, both large and small. And, as a Christian in the Middle East, I can assure you I often feel marginalized and somehow second class. Seeing these people willing to stand for their fellow countrymen, their fellow humans, is moving. I would like to see more of this. Across religions and across cultures we need to realize that "we either live together, or we die together." There really aren't any other options, now are there?

Happy Human Shields!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Joy in the Face of a Wetting...

Being from Alabama, I'm used to rain. Lots and lots of rain. Weeks of unending rain. And the desire to sit warmly in my little house watching it outside is not new to me. Nor is the complaining at the unending sameness of the rain unusual. I recall birthdays hoping it wouldn't rain, prom nights praying for clear skies, and other activities that require sunshine.

Living in Jordan, however, give a different perspective. In a country where windows in new construction can be left open for seven or more months with no fear of water damage, rain takes on a new meaning. Here you don't take rain for granted. Most of the year we get none. I don't mean very little, mind you. I mean no rain. For months. On end. So, when it rains in Jordan, people celebrate. People are more lighthearted (no Seattle-style depression at the lack of sun) and no one grumbles on complains about the rain.

I love that Jordan makes you thankful for the rain...

Happy Rainy Days!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

I am better mom than you are, nyah, nyah, nyah...

So, some friends have got a whole Facebook status thing going on where they will make a handmade/homemade item for the first five commenters. There's just one catch... the commenters have to make this their status too. I personally think that this whole idea is terribly skewed toward those skilled in domestic arts. The friend I saw it first on even specified homemade that YOU made. Now how is that fair? Those of us who are domestically-challenged are at a serious disadvantage.

The topic rather got me thinking about being a Mom. We Moms worry. All the time. Is my kid fitting in at school? Are her friends being nice? Is he happy? Did he eat well? Is she learning? We worry. And we compare. It's human nature. And, frankly, I think there's good comparison and bad comparison. In the business world, good comparison is called benchmarking. It's reviewing a number of organizations and determining what they're doing that you could be doing better. That can be very helpful. As a mom, I learn from friends. I learn from people on the street. Some of the things that I learn are what to do or how to do it. Many of the things I learn are what I don't want to do. But the key is, I'm looking with the view of improving myself.

Unfortunately, lots of people, in their own insecurities about who they are as a mom or the sacrifices they are making (and trust me we ALL make sacrifices, whether we admit it or not), take the negative form of comparing. This would be the, "I'm a better mom because I breastfed my child for 4 years" or "I'm a better mom because my kid is getting all A's" or "I'm a better mom because my kid eats liver" approach. And this comparing is not helpful as a mom. Not at all. Not in any way.

I was in the car earlier and was thinking about how it might be fun to start a group of moms who get together to talk about techniques for raising kids. I'm not picky about who might come, foreigners, locals, whomever would be fine. It would be nice to learn about nutrition options from someone who is aware of the things that are available in Jordan. So often we get information about healthy eating with lovely recipes that call for 20 ingredients not available in Jordan. Nice, but no so helpful. But, the worry I have is finding people who would each be able to contribute something to the group without trying to find an "I'm a better mom" angle.

If you gather 20 ladies in a room, I am certain that each of them is a better mom than me in at least one way. Some of them might be in 20 ways. Mind you, I'm a pretty good mom, in my own humble estimation. My kids are nice, socially aware, polite, healthy. Generally they're great kids. I imagine I can take some small amount of the credit there. But, even so, there's so much I can learn. Each of my friends teaches me something new. From one I learned strategies for treating boredom among kids (offer chores as a boredom combating measure, suddenly books don't seem boring). From one I learned food adoption measures (dip it in chocolate, they still get the nutrients, but may like the taste better).

And, after all this learning, I still don't do typical "mom" things. You know, cooking, cleaning, sewing and such. I hate those things. With a passion. I wish they would all go somewhere and die. Teehee. Some years ago, when ButterBean was maybe a year old, MimiBean said to me one day wonderingly, "You know, I didn't know you could be a good mom and not do "mom things"." Ah, and that's the thing that it's greatest to learn, I think. That, as a mom, I'm not in competition with others. I'm not a better or worse mom because I can't cook gourmet meals. I'm a different mom. My style of mom is the kind who'd rather read a story than play with a Barbie. I'd rather find a fun kids restaurant than cook a fancy meal. That's my kind of momming. And I do the very best I can to become the best possible mom that I can be.

So, I'm passing on the Facebook homemade/handmade challenge, it's just not my thing. But it did get me thinking, for which I am grateful. Being here in Jordan exposes you to all sorts of moms. It's a rich environment for learning from others, things to do and not. I'm grateful for that experience as well. I see so many different styles in so many moms, each of whom I admire. What a great opportunity. I hope that maybe you'll start thinking about what kind of mom you are (or want to be). What's important to you? What's valuable to you? How do you feel about other moms? Do you often find yourself thinking about how much better a mom you are than Mrs. X? Or do you try and learn something beneficial from Mrs. X?

Happy Mommies!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Don't you hate it when... (and an excuse to blog about my 5 Jordan happy things)

I just finished a long post the other day. It was really interesting, I swear. It was a look into the "other" side of Syria. You know, the side that ISN'T axis-of-evil, crazy Arab weirdness. THAT side. What? Some of you didn't realize there was such a side? Well, thanks to mean blogger (which swore it was saving as I went) that died as I tried to post, you'll have to wait and see when I feel up to tackling the topic again. Maybe, though, I should take it as a sign that the post I wrote just wasn't good enough... Sigh.

So, anyway, I'm going to post an I-love-Jordan-post! Here are today's five best things...
  1. The cute young lady trainers at the gym who call me on my cell phone to express how much they've missed me and ask when they'll see me again when I hit the 2 week mark of not going. How awesome is that?! Who needs a New Year's resolution when they'll poke you with a very gentle stick in the metaphorical eye?
  2. My kids' school which held first semester exams prior to Christmas so now they can do such remarkable things as pick a topic of focus and study it in-depth during January. Junior Bean's English classes have picked The Giving Tree. Each of the teachers will be taking a different focus (you know creative writing, conversation, and so on).
  3. The fact that people who have never even left Jordan know about and have some opinion on most world issues. Now, I didn't say they were KNOWLEDGEABLE opinions, but...
  4. Lovely friends from all walks of life who make living here an enriching, expanding experience.
  5. A full time helper who cooks and cleans. Honestly, this is the biggest blessing in my life these days. HelperBean keeps me sane in so many ways.
So, what can you add to my list? What great things are going on in your life today? Anything you're thankful for? Join the conversation... I dare you!

Happy Days!