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You know. And I know. And all of our friends know. We are all very knowledgeable people *

February 20, 2011

The ear of Petra

Things are pretty quiet here although since January protests have been ongoing in the ballad [downtown Amman] each Friday after prayers at al-Husseini Mosque.  People are angry over the extremely high prices of vegetables, gasoline, heating oil, and many other essentials.  Wages are low.  As I wrote on FB, the price of sugar in January was five dinars a bag, about $6.70 US dollars.  In the last month sugar prices have now come down to 2.99 dinars a bag.  Of course, things are more politically complex than just the price of sugar, but the government is working on the problems.  Just like in America, middle class people everywhere are scraping by, and just like in America, there’s a wide gap between rich and poor.  (Anyone want to talk about Wisconsin?)  Just like Americans, people everywhere want good jobs, food on the table, health care, and good educations for their children.

Crimony, watching American politicos and pundits on cable news networks blather about the Middle East is mind numbing.  Kinda like watching Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons.  For those who’ve never seen the series from Looney Tunes, each episode has Coyote scheming to cause the downfall of his “friend,” Road Runner, (a bird).  Over and over Coyote uses flimsy “Acme Corporation” devices to try and trick Road Runner.  Same scenario again and again in every cartoon.  And right now it seems to me that US politicians use the same weak narrative to try and disguise what they really want from the Arab world . . . See The Palestinian Papers released in January 2011.

You know.  And I know.  And all of our friends know.  We are all very knowledgeable people *

Perhaps there’s another analog even more appropriate to this discussion.  There’s a nineteenth-century American motto used by Christians and military men alike: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man[1].” If you haven’t read any American Indian history you should.  US federal Indian policy is a template for colonizers everywhere.  However, American Indian resistance to being colonized is a template that can be used for anyone trying to shake off the chains of colonialism.  “Kill the Indian and save the man” is also emblematic of the US policy to control our minds (and our lands) in order to “save us from ourselves.”  But for what?  And for whom?  That’s the 70 billion dollar question the Egyptians are now trying to figure out.

Ah-hum.  I have just more thing to say about US politicians before moving on.  Here is a special shout out to former Minnesota Republican governor Tim Pawlenty.  “Shut up, sir, you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to Arab peoples.”  (Sorry I had to get that off my chest.)  Pawlenty’s interview last week with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour really irked me the way he talked about all Arabs as ideologues.

The door is open

Jordanians are hospitable and generous.  They’re some of the most patience people I’ve ever met, except for maybe the Lakota, and I should probably include my own tribe, the Choctaws, in these sweeping generalizations.  For the most part, Jordanians are kind, even when they’re going through your UPS package at the airport.  Recently I had to go pick up a small box of books at the airport.  It had been tagged for “search.”  I was the only woman in the airport custom’s office, sitting with security officers, UPS and Fed Ex guys, and Muhaberat.  Everyone was very professional.  Checking international boxes for contraband is routinely done here, and I understand why.  So, I had to wait my turn, an hour or so, and eventually three men opened my book box to make sure it was only filled with books.  Someone brought in breakfast, and they offered me a falafel sandwich and tea, and I must say even with my bad Arabic, and their good English, we had an excellent exchange about American Indians, tribal sovereignty, Indian fast-pitch softball, and why I teach in Jordan.  I know, I know, I may have misread cross-cultural cues going on all around me.   Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong.  I did what I always do in these situations, I talked about sports, and soccer, er-r-r, I mean, football.  “Go Jordan.”  All in all, we exchanged information about our families, and ourselves even in strange places such as a custom’s office.  Like I repeatedly say to friends and family, via email: it’s safe here despite what’s going on in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  And I’m okay.  Come visit me.  Yeah, I mean it.

A change of point of view.

I’ve also learned that it takes a special wacky personality to want to live in a foreign place where you don’t speak the language or the cultural cues.  How to manage it?  You must start by replacing all you know.  Everything familiar must be broken, remapped, filed away in a coffin of former memories.  Living abroad is a brainfire, you burn off the old grasses so new ones can grow.  That’s what I’ve been doing these past five months.  My guides on this journey are the people of Jordan; the students at Jordan University, friends, bank clerks, pharmacy, and grocery clerks and yes, even the taxi drivers.  Inshallah, I learn.  I came here to research a novel about the 1917 Arab revolt, and twenty-first century American Indians.  At first it may seem like a strange combination to write about Indians and Arabs, but you’ll be surprised.  Of course, I’m revising my chapters set in 2011.

PS: The Flamboyant lives.  He’s still crowing every fifteen minutes of every day.

PPS:  I am not patient.

[Just FYI.  My comments here are my own.  I am not an official of the Department of State, and this is not an official Department of State website.  The views and information presented here are my own, and do not in any way, represent the USA’s William J. Fulbright Program, or the Department of State.]

[1] Studying the history of American Indian boarding schools in the US reveals how the federal government and various Christian denominations collaborated to “convert” and “civilize” Indian peoples. Under the mantle of “Kill the Indian, save the Man,” Colonel Richard Pratt founded Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879 and worked to make manifest turning “us” into “them.”

*Apologies for botching the excellent line from The Lion in Winter.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrice Hollrah permalink
    February 20, 2011 8:11 pm

    Great reporting and pictures. Will miss you so much at NALS this year.

  2. LeAnne Howe permalink
    February 21, 2011 6:36 am

    I am going to miss you all like crazy. I could not raise the money to bring the students which nearly broke my heart.

  3. Sandy permalink
    February 21, 2011 9:44 am

    Brilliant post–much to think about here– and wonderful photographs.
    Thank you for sharing commentary & ideas with us so faithfully.

  4. LeAnne Howe permalink
    February 21, 2011 2:43 pm

    tks Sandy. Hope to see you soon. hugs,

  5. February 28, 2011 11:19 pm

    Hi, I am reading Miko Kings right now, puts baseball in an entirely new perspective for a game I was forced to play at seven and never quite understood. Thank you for having this blog! Much love 😉

  6. LeAnne Howe permalink
    March 2, 2011 10:38 am

    Tks Auburnlights: Yes, me too. Same, same.

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