Thursday, February 24, 2011

Talk About Curing the Symptoms and Not the Disease... The Plight of Domestic Workers in Jordan

The Jordan Times had an interesting article yesterday here that talks about the Domestic Helpers Recruitment Agencies Association's (DHRAA) dissatisfaction with the current situation in Jordan. Since the Philippines and Indonesia have banned their nationals from coming, the recruiters for these countries are facing serious problems. For some, the families have already paid and are expecting a helper. These two countries seem to have the lion's share of domestic workers in Jordan.

Unfortunately, the response from the DHRAA has been exactly what I would not want. They are trying to get the Ministry to actively open other countries to provide workers. So, it seems that if you get banned for mistreatment and non-payment the best response is to find more desperate poverty-ridden countries to send laborers. I shudder to think that, instead of proactive work to resolve abuses the Association would simply try to find people more willing to live with it. Oh, for an association that encourages self-improvement.

My personal view on this is that Jordan needs to more closely monitor the situation of these guest workers. Home visits, contracts signed and administered by the Ministry of Labor, and awareness campaigns would go a long way to making Jordan a more attractive destination for guest workers. Basically, set some standards, remove workers who are being abused, and ban abusive employers from receiving workers for a period of time. Each of these steps would help change for the better. Sweeping the issues under the rug won't help anyone at all. Sigh. It is amazing to have in-home help so affordable and helpful. Many moms depend on this to be able to go out to work and increase the family income. So, after all, let's do it the right way.

Happy Spring Cleaning!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Hate to Say I Told You So, But... Scanner Pictures Show Up on Internet

So, I hate say it... Really, I hate it when I'm right. Today I came across this article buried on Some of you may recall back in November I penned an article about America's McTravel options... In the article I warned that our options were full-bodies on the internet or strip searches. I suspect some of you out there thought I was being alarmist. Unfortunately it appears that not only was I not being alarmist but is wasn't even against the law for TSA agents to put our images on the internet!

Seriously, you wait until a sheriff's office that has similar scanners in place has issues with images on the internet? Really? THEN you put the law in place. I really hate it when I'm right.

Happy Personal Privacy (Oh, Wait, No....)!

The 2011 Tomato Wars, Where Will They End?

So last week I was reading an article in the Jordan Times here on farmer protests regarding "plummeting" tomato prices. I get that the farmers are in a very tight place, financially. But what I would like to know is why weren't they protesting the outrageously high prices they were getting paid back last year. You remember in September when heat waves and pests killed off the crops? Back when instead of JD .50/kilo we were paying JD 3.00. Okay, it may not have been quite that large a difference, but I'm certain it wasn't much better. And the quality of the tomatoes was awful. Instead of protesting that prices were too high or reducing their prices, farmers then were happy all the way to the bank, no?

What really smarts, though, is that the farmers have only one person to thank for rock-bottom prices... themselves. The article mentions that farmers "encouraged by the higher prices" planted extra stock. Then with the warm winter, they grew lots and lots and lots of tomatoes. Well, duh. Overabundant supply leads to decreased prices. So, let me ask you, why are they protesting? Unless they are protesting against themselves. I hope that the Jordanian Farmer's Union will take the following lessons from this experience...

Train your members that when times are good, they need to save for a rainy day. Teach them also that overplanting will lead to lower profits not higher. Because in the end, farming (like consulting) is a feast or famine world. If you don't save for a rainy day, don't come crying when the floods start...

Happy ketchup-fodder!

Lonely Hearts Club of Amman, Finding Friends as a Fabulous Foreigner...

Finding friends in Jordan as a foreigner can be really hard. It is really hard, in fact. I find it takes about a year to find a circle of friends and get comfortable in Jordan. To that end, here are some MommaBean (often tongue in cheek) recommendations of ways to jump start your Jordanian friendships.
  1. Wander aimlessly around the "foreigner" stores around the 7th circle (you know, Cozmo, Safeway) introducing yourself to anyone who walks by speaking English, because there's nothing anyone wants more than to be interrupted while shopping to meet people.
  2. Frequent educational places for your kids like the Children's Museum looking for other like-minded folks.
  3. Go to church. Most of them have an English language service and, surprising really, most attendees are not Jordanian.
  4. Join an e-group. There are lots out there. The one I'm on has nice people (but don't join it, we have enough people already, teehee).
  5. Take language lessons. Language schools are filled with people who don't speak Arabic. They are mostly foreigners ;).
  6. Go to the park. During the day. In the summer. Everyone knows that Jordanians wait until the sun goes down to go to the park with their kids. Just after the Beans' bedtime the parks get hopping.
  7. Find one person that you like who is foreign and latch onto them. Soon they'll find friends for you just to get you out of their hair.
  8. Make weekly visit to the fancy salons for nails and/or hair to rig "chance" encounters with other foreigners.
  9. Look for blond kids roaming the malls and seek out their parents. They're often foreign.
  10. Blog. If you're lucky you'll come to Kinzi's eye and she'll include you in a blogger event (like a cookie decorating party). Trust me, bloggers are the best people in Jordan bar none.
In all seriousness, it can be really tough to find your way in Amman. I'm kind of thinking that we need an Amman welcome wagon. You know, a group that comes to visit new folks moving into Amman. They would bring information on the city, commonly needed numbers, maps, whatever. And, they would provide a friendly face in a place that, while welcoming on the surface, is hard to penetrate beneath the shell.

Happy Fitting!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Country of Contradictions... How Do We Reconcile Them?

Living in Jordan has been a very interesting experience. I expect living in any country where you did not grow up inculturated is a similarly eye-opening experience. However, Jordan is such a set of contradictions. I find myself wondering, am I the only one who fails to see how anyone can reconcile them. With the drama unfolding in the region, much has been said about Jordan. In the US, as is often the case in this fabulously Muslim-fearing world, the news has focused on alarming demonstrations (far smaller and more peaceful than those back in 2009 over Gaza mind you). I posted previously the wish that Westerners would just call to a halt the scare-tactic laden discussions of my chosen home. However, no one seems to be talking about the challenges facing Jordan's King.

Jordan is a country with deep divisions. The gulf between East Amman and West Amman is wide. East Amman is the more historic part of Amman. The buildings are often older and the people tend to be more conservative. West Amman is marked by newer buildings, most of it having been constructed in the last 20-30 years. Walking down the streets of the bustling West Amman shopping districts, it is not unusual to find young ladies in outfits that would raise an eyebrow in New York. And the ladies are not foreigners. In a country where some women wear the niqab (the covering that hides everything but the eyes) and others wear shorts, sleeveless tops, and sandals it is hard to see how everyone can come together.

Reading articles like this one, which talks about how many different groups want reform doesn't help. Let's have economic reform, some are calling. Let's have political reform others shout. And yet, notice we don't see calls for social reform. Somehow people seems to think that by clamoring for the freedom to think, say, and write what they like other freedoms won't naturally follow. In a country where eating on the streets is illegal during Ramadan (regardless of your religion or interest in observing), let's have political reform and the freedom to write what we like. Somehow I think that the same people who are clamoring for change really want only the changes they want. They want financial transparency and at the same time a return to less privatization. One step forward, one step back. At the same time, there are many who want real economic reform and further liberalization of the market. How does one reconcile these opposing positions?

The splintering demonstrators of the last month failed to even agree to continue on. The Muslim Brotherhood/IAF and the other opposition groups found their aims and goals too far apart to maintain unity for more than a few weeks. How, then, is the King supposed to take concrete action upon which that all groups can agree? I certainly don't envy His Majesty this fine line he must tread. People want speedy reform, except that they actually need slow progress. Society will need time to change itself and keep up with the changes in both the political and economic fronts. For free and open elections, you would need a public that sees voting as a civic duty. That is not currently the case. It is also not a fast change to come. When I voted (in the last 2 elections here in Jordan), friends from Jordan were astounded. What?! I, who was not born and raised here, would actually go and vote? But why? You see, that attitude must change before Jordan is ready for free elections that actually represent the people, not a single politically active segment of the people.

I am part of an absolutely wonderful e-group of ladies here in Amman. We are mostly American (with other nationalities mixed in for flavor). And mostly hijabi (not me, of course, but...). Most of the ladies are very observant Muslims. They paint for me a realistic picture of the beauty of Islam. It is a very different picture than I see when I see terrorism in the name of Islam. I am blessed to have this counterpoint. And yet, these ladies have many of the same challenges inside their local families that I am talking about. The gulf between them and their families is not less (and actually in many ways perhaps greater) than that between them and me. So how then do we reconcile this disjointedness? How can the King architect a future that all Jordanians can get behind? I don't have any answers (a position I hate to be in, mind you), but I think the questions are worth asking. The one thing I do know is that King Abdullah II is an exceptional bright spot in Jordan's global image. His wife, regardless of what others may think, is opening America's hearts and minds to Muslims and to Jordan. As the face of Jordan, this couple is an inspiration.

The problem Jordan faces are not simple. In order to solve them, it needs real dialog among people who recognize that they are part of the solution. The King can not architect this on his own. It simply isn't possible. And, in order to solve these real and difficult issues we must each set aside ourselves and think about what is best for Jordan. Not our tribe, not our family, not our religion. We need to think about what is best for all Jordanians if we are to find a way through these terribly difficult global times. I wish His Majesty the very best of luck and my prayers are most certainly with him. I know that with wisdom and honest openness, Jordan's path can be a shining example to the entire region.

Happy Resolutions!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

And on a happier note...

The birthday season is settling over the Bean household with our first parties this week. This year, we will be having a super fun party for the TwinBeans that is Toy Story and Mulan. Somehow I have a feeling this will be more like the parallel play that the kids engaged in when small than the interactive play they engage in now. We'll likely end up with two parties running side by side. However, they insisted they wanted to celebrate on the same day ;).

This year we don't expect any people who are confused about why the party invitation for the birthday boy or girl they got was different from the new mom they've just met (has happened more than once in the past). We're chilling out and doing a smaller at-home party this year with good friends from school and outside. We'll see what the kids think of it as it's been a few years since we took this approach. As for me, I'm excited (and exhausted) just thinking of it. I'll be posting the cake pictures once they're made...

Happy Birthdays!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Forgive me, but could the rest of the world just SHUT UP already?!

Okay, so MommaBean's a tad hot under the collar just now. I've spent days hearing from presumably well-meaning family members (and that's not even talking about all of the pundits) about the situation in the Middle East. MimiBean's been advised by numerous friends and relatives to hurry home. After all, Jordan is just about to fall. And, if she doesn't agree she must be naive. After all, certainly Glenn Beck and his ilk of ill-informed fear-mongers certainly understand the situation in Jordan better than people, say, actually in Jordan, right?

One of these wonderful well-wishers informed her she'd be better off "reading the situation" at a demonstration than going to a girls' night party we attended on a recent evening. Because Jordan now has night-time demonstrations? Because we're in the middle of Tahrir Square here and I'm unaware? I mean really! What a boneheaded thing to suggest. Of course, I make it a practice of avoiding (by as many miles as I can) any and all protests here. After all, blond hair makes an easy target and mob mentalities around the world rarely bring out the best in people.

And, as if it's not bad enough that the family is alarmist and poorly informed, there are people out there like this woman at some website called Politico who cuts and pastes valid information (the King of Jordan did kick out his government) and misinterprets it (he did not dissolve Parliament). I mean really, can't you take the time to understand a system of government before adding your (clearly truly valueless) opinion? Please? Because conservative bloggers all over have started following her lead.

I just love being told that people who have never even visited Jordan understand the situation more clearly than I do. You know, I live here... by choice. And while we may, very well, suffer from the frog in the cold pot syndrome, I really don't think so. In pretty much all cases, there was some inkling on the street before the situation flipped. Even in Egypt, this has been a steady build-up. We have seen this clearly watching the American Embassy in Egypt's response. They started by sending home families and non-essential personnel. The next day they sent additional people to "reduce the diplomatic footprint". The following day, they "evacuated non-emergency personnel." It was a day-by-day change.

So, are we foolish for thinking that Jordan is different? Well, the Embassy here, which sends messages to alert Americans to celebrations for the annual high-school grade issuance (I'm not kidding here) has been conspicuously silent. So it seems to me that cautious observance of the situation is a better and more measured response than rushing out to spend thousands on a flight to the US. After all, the King has been taking many steps to help ensure that the situation here remains calm.

And, contrary to the relative who tells us that these regional issues are "part of the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda" which he "knows all about" (and is apparently centered around establishing Sharia law), I see a different viewpoint. Tunisia and Egypt are people's cries against abuses that have simply gone on too long. They are also an indictment of the global financial situation which was authored not in Egypt or Tunisia, but in the "democratic" US. And as for people in the US "knowing the Brotherhood's agenda", I'd love to know how they do it. I live here and I have no idea what their agenda might be. But I do know that since most of the governments in the region have legal codes that take their foundation from Sharia law that it is silly to spout that as the reason. They may be French or British or whatever trappings, but underneath the cultural values that make the legal system run are Islamic. So, the MB may want many things, but somehow I expect these gentlemen are smart enough to be looking for something farther out of reach than this. For a better understanding of the MB here in Jordan and its internal challenges, check out this very interesting post by the Black Iris, who is Muslim and much more in the know about the MB than I.

So, I guess my bottom line is this request... those of you who have no idea what you're talking about... button your flapping lips. No one in Egypt really cares how the US, Israel, or even Europe feel about their demonstrations. They aren't demonstrating for the world. And, to those family members who know more than I do...

All I can say is welcome. Come to Jordan. See my home. And once you've been here and seen it we'll see if your all-encompassing knowledge is still all-encompassing. Once you have first-hand knowledge of this amazingly rich part of the world. Once you've seen the treasures that abound here, both physical and human, maybe you'll understand that the political blowhards who get paid to scare you know nothing - and I do mean nothing - about Jordan. I once went to a lecture where the fellow talking said that he spent the four years of his Harvard education going from cock-sure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty and considered it the best money he'd ever spent. I wish political pundits, on both sides of the aisle, would make the same trip... it'd make the world a better place.

Happy Know-It-Alls!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

How much information should we share with the kids?

El 3atal and I have been having conversations, in the light of the people's demonstrations in Egypt about how much we should share on the topic with the kids. He is of the mind that we maybe should let them watch some on TV and talk about it. I'm not really sure. Although this is a historic time, will it worry them that this is going on where Baba was last week? Is it too old for them? I'm generally in favor of mind-broadening conversations, but... Any thoughts, dear three readers?

Happy conundrums!