Sunday, January 28, 2007

Memoirs of a Dheisha

Palestine 1948
Memoirs of a Dheisha
31,010,400 minutes (and the clock is ticking)
Rated R

A sweeping tragedy set in the mysterious world of Palestinian ghetto. Based on the internationally abandoned true epic of Dheisha camp that was established in 1948 as temporary housing for 3,000 displaced people, most of whom were forced from their homes near West Jerusalem in 1948. Today the camp still exists except that it houses 12,000 people, 62% of whom are children.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ya Beirut

What is happening in Beirut is shameful. I am not talking of politics because I honestly do not understand it. What I understand is the series of visits I had starting the summer of 2004 until my recent visit there few days ago.

In the summer of 2004 I visited Beirut in order to go to Beiteddine festival to attend “Hokom al Rou’yane” (Reign of the Shepherds). The play was about a despotic king who refuses to submit to the will of the people. The elegance with which the event was organized was impeccable. “Hokom al Rou’yane” was an ironic foreshadowing to what was to transpire during the following few months.

At that summer of 2004 Beirut should have adorned an evil eye because everyone was envious. Why do the Lebanese do what they do so well and how do they do it? That was an enigma to me and I bet to all the visitors who were filling the streets, the hotels, the nightclubs, the restaurants, and every quaint corner of that magnificent city. The excitement was in the air. The Lebanese were happy to see their darling city back and the visitors felt privileged to be hosted by such beautiful people.

Few visits followed and the awe was always there until that ugly day in February of 2005. One of the very few role models that all the Arabs or maybe mankind could claim fell victim to the most brutal fate. Until that time politics in Lebanon was dismissed as a matter of passing headlines here and there. We never worried that our newfound refuge would deteriorate at the speed it did. The events that followed were similar to watching a loved one suffer from a sudden terminal disease. I watched helplessly, while my heart was filled with sadness and extreme fear of loss.

Don’t the Lebanese see what is happening to their country? Is it really a matter of a despotic ruler not following the will of its people? Or is a matter of despotic powers wanting this child to succumb to their will? Is the conflict in Lebanon today a dialectical fight between good and evil? Or is it a fight over dialects?

If it is a matter of dialectics, then the synthesis of good and evil will only result in more evil. And if it is a matter of dialects, isn’t it time we remember that we all speak the same language?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Aspects of folly

I still remember my surprise when I started working in Jordan after having worked abroad for quite some time. The first aspect that got to me was the “sidi” and “sitti” culture. I had come from a corporate culture that goes by first names. I must admit that during my days overseas I often wished I could call my superiors by “Mr” or “Ms”, simply to show deference and respect. Eventually I got over it.

It took me a while to get used to seeing people being glorified by the “sidi” and “sitti” titles. What really bugged me was that those who were (tacitly) basking in being addressed with such a glorious title, neither earned nor possessed it. They just assumed it.

This brings me to the other aspects of working, those of work ethic and the level of professionalism prevailing in both the public and the private sectors alike. As Ghawwar said many want to be and genuinely believe that they are “mukhtaar” (mayor). But very few are willing to work hard and go through the discipline required for it. My observation over the past few years is that unfortunately many of the young (and not the so young) assume a sense of entitlement that is stifling and extremely dangerous to personal and eventually collective growth. There is very little sense of ownership of one’s work, and delivering work of mediocre quality is just OK.

I recently read an article on “What it takes to be great”. A paragraph in that article stuck in my head. It did so because as far as having the proper initiative at work, we still have a long way to go. The paragraph reads:

“….it's all about how you do what you're already doing - you create the practice in your work, which requires a few critical changes. The first is going at any task with a new goal: Instead of merely trying to get it done, you aim to get better at it.
Report writing involves finding information, analyzing it and presenting it - each an improvable skill. Chairing a board meeting requires understanding the company's strategy in the deepest way, forming a coherent view of coming market changes and setting a tone for the discussion. Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill.”

Granted that excelling at work is predominantly an individual initiative. However, it is also a matter of culture. Corporate culture. A culture that treats its employees with respect, and that delivers the vehicles necessary for career growth and professional development. Investing in one’s employees is not an option but a must. It nurtures hope. Hope is by far the engine for success. Lack of it could be the culprit that is keeping us away from seeking greatness.

As long as we qualify to fit in one of these three attitudes highlighted by Barbara Tuchman, our likelihood of getting ahead is highly unlikely: “Three outstanding attitudes – obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents, primacy of self-aggrandizement, [and the] illusion of invulnerable status – are persistent aspects of folly”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Shikata ga nai

Jenin is on my mind today. It has been on my mind for a while. I have been hoarding the idea of it for a very long while. I have been resisting thinking of it for years. It has been resting safely in my sub-conscience. I was comforted by the fact that it was there, but more so by having the thought of it pushed away. Today, uninvited and for an unknown obvious reason it forced itself out.

No one talks of Jenin or of those Tanks of April 2002 anymore. As if the massacre is forgotten. Or is the thought of it resting safely in the sub-conscience of so many who, like me, are feeling comforted by the fact that it is there, but more so by the fact that no one is talking about it?

I wonder do you feel the way I do? Do you ever wonder why no one did anything even though the whole world knew that Jenin was next while mass graves were being dug elsewhere in Palestine? Do you feel so overwhelmed by what is going on that it is difficult to prioritize your grief? Do you feel so confused that you no longer know the difference between mixed up and mixed emotions? Do you feel furious while being totally incapable of fairly distributing your anger among the many injustices around? Do you feel absolutely helpless that you hate hearing yourself talking about it? Do you feel like a hypocrite for showing compassion? Do you feel like a bankrupt mute who believes in putting its money where its mouth is?

The overall sense of resignation is suffocating. The air of defeatism has permeated through me that I feel it in my bones these days.

The cure, I have decided, will be by regaining consciousness and conscience. This cure is the easy part. The difficulty lies in where to start. I will do so by starting with Deir Yassin. Or maybe with Tall Alzaatar, or maybe with Sabra and Shatilla, or maybe with Qana, or maybe with siege of the Nativity Church, or maybe with the loss of beautiful Jerusalem! I think I better start with the most important massacre, that of my conscience. I do not claim innocence. My one and only defense is that it fell victim to the greatest massacre of all, that of the Arab conscience.

Let us at least remember lest we forget!

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Lady of Our House

I must admit that I am jealous of Condolezza Rice. Not because she has an army of staff at her beck and call. Not because she has the ear of the most powerful man on earth. Not because she is a great pianist. Not because she knows what make up to use. Not because I admire her accomplishments even though I am not fond of her. Not because she lies with a straight face. Not because she is fit. Not because she doesn’t smoke. Not because she is fluent in Russian. Not because she never looks sleepy. Not because of her slick suits. Not because she travels first class…well not even because she has a private jumbo jet at her service. But because she has managed to do what scores of Arab women over decades have failed to (no disrespect to Arab women at all).

Just one look at any meeting or any press conference with the male puppets behind her (or next to her) every time she visits an Arab country and you would know what I mean. Maybe if Arab men realize that there are many Condolezza Rices among them, they would spare us all the scene of seeing them so humiliated and humbled by Ms. Rice. This is not to say that she is a role model. But she is definitely someone who has inadvertently highlighted the mediocrity and double standards of the leading figures of our male-dominated societies. For once we get to see them "matronized" as opposed to the many patronizing postures we have grown accustomed to.

It seems that behind every Condolezza Rice is a bunch of very confused men!

Friday, January 12, 2007

I Love Jordan!

Few hours ago I had dinner in Amman, one of the oldest cities in the world, surrounded by Moslems, Christians, Arabs, Europeans, conservatives, and liberals. Dinner finished late and I had planned to drive to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. Given the late hour, everyone was telling me to be careful. Be careful not because of worry given that I am a woman driving alone at that late hour, but because all over the world driving at night seems to carry a risk with it.

On my way down, I drove across town. While doing so I received a call from a friend who spotted me at the traffic light. We exchanged a nice conversation and I continued my drive down to that breathtaking spot on earth.

On the way to the Dead Sea I was stopped by two army checkpoints stationed there to make sure that we Jordanians are safe. The soldiers could not have been more polite or pleasant. I finally reached my destination, which was one of the most beautiful hotels that one could experience. There I met three of my girlfriends. Two are married and one is single. They all had decided to spend an all girls day off at the Dead Sea.

I hung out with them until 3:00 am and then it was time to leave. I drove back alone to my place next to the Dead Sea at the Jordan valley, one of the most historically rich and agriculturally fertile and diversified areas in the world. The road was dark and empty, but not for one second did I feel anxious, worried or scared.

This made me realize why I love Jordan. In a matter of few hours, I got to experience how lucky we are to feel safe and free here in Jordan. In matter of few hours I got to experience the cosmopolitan side that one finds in a big city. In a matter of few hours I got to experience the familiar side that one finds in a small town. In a matter of few hours I got to experience the loving side of Jordan. In a matter of less than one hour I got to experience temperature change of 10 degrees. In a matterof less than one hour I managed to be at 700 meters above sea level, to being at sea level, and then finally reaching to the lowest point on earth (400 meters below sea level).

My point is that here in Jordan we find tolerance, diversity, respect, security, history, uniqueness, freedom, and lots of love.

Today I realized how easy it is at times to to take fundamental things for granted and how eay it is to forget what a beautiful place our country is. And by the way I am a Palestinian. But I never thought that I needed to make that distinction. In fact I am now sitting 10 minutes away from Palestine. Does this make the people of this area so alien and so different from those sitting 10 minutes away from here that we have to make a point of it? I think not!

A Bridge and a New Gym

January 10, 2007

My one and only resolution for 2007 was to write in this journal at least one observation a day starting January 1st. The lack of resolutions is not because I have nothing to be resolved about. In fact this lack was due to the fact that I had too many things to resolve that I did not know where to start. Few minutes ago, just like its many previous ill-fated sisters, this lonely resolution looked like it was about to go down the drain before it even started. I have already skipped 10 days. With this in mind, I decided to keep it for as long as I can. So here I go. Let’s see how long it lasts.

Today’s observation is about a conversation at a dinner thrown by a very nice couple that I hardly know. I was glad I got the warm welcome I did (maybe because I was not invited :-)?). One recurring topic of conversation was how the talk in Amman these days is about the "new bridge" and the "new gym in town". This got me seriously thinking. The Amman I live in is talking about shortage of gas cylinders, skyrocketing fruit and vegetable prices; skyrocketing prices PERIOD, another anticipated hike in fuel prices, and the now almost forgotten hanging of Saddam Hussein. Small talk is refreshing at times. But I must admit that the feeling of guilt over the many miseries brewing around made me feel awkward to even take part in that talk. I know some might say that I need to chill...but it is too cold outside and I can’t help but think of how lucky I am to be warm while many people have to suffer the cold. And these are not strangers sitting in some remote areas where no one sees them. These are not invisible people even though some would like them to be. These are people we see, we probably work with, we buy stuff from, we greet on the street, and maybe ones we hardly suspect that they might be struggling in silence.

Building bridges is great. But the greatest one of all is the one that helps bridge the gap between those who are fortunate and those who are not.

Are we becoming too complacent that living in our own paradise has made us blind to the hell right next door?

She calls out to the man on the street
sir, can you help me?
Its cold and Ive nowhere to sleep,
Is there somewhere you can tell me?

He walks on, doesnt look back
He pretends he cant hear her
Starts towhistleas he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there

Oh think twice, its another day for
You and me in paradise
Oh think twice, its just another day for you,
You and me in paradise

Become the light

In 2007 -- Become the light

January 4, 2007

This is my new journal. I am hoping to use it in opening a dialogue with friends and in sharing ideas and insights on the many events, trends, and absurdities that are taking place these days.

I have chosen my first journal entry on a hopeful and a positive note. No matter how bad things might have become, it is still in our hands to make them better. To whom much is given much is obliged. The givens are many, let's make now the time to do the right thing.

I want to wish you a very happy new year and to wish you a 2007 that elevates all of us to the best that we have to offer. My wish in 2007 and the many years to come is that we become the person we look up to, that we do unto others the things we like done unto us, that we continuously feel the joy of evolving from one plain to a higher one. May all of us become the light!

“No mirror ever became iron again;
No bread ever became wheat;
No ripened grape ever became sour fruit.
Mature yourself and be secure from a change for the worse.
Become the light.”