That was Belgium, this is Jordan

So this post is way late but I’ve been busy, so whatever. I’m home sick with pretty constant nausea, possibly induced by a bad egg sandwich, so I thought it would be a good time to post.

About two weeks ago was the tenth anniversary of King Abdullah’s accession to the throne. It was pretty ridiculous, with constant traffic jams, flags everywhere, and crowds of people gathered outside to greet the King and Queen on their royal procession. People wore red kuffiyehs and Jordan’s colors, painted their faces, and decorated their cars with flags. Kids would sit on truck beds or lean out windows and wave flags, and young men blasted nationalist songs out their windows at all hours of the day and night.

But despite all of the pomp, it all felt a little fake, and I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I’ll try. Maybe it was the dull expression on some people’s faces as they engaged in all this celebration, or my own realization that Jordan’s government is so actively and desperately trying to carve a national identity out of tribal loyalties and a large, marginalized refugee population, or the fact that during the course of the day I saw a guy decorating his car with a red kuffiyeh, finish his drink, and promptly throw the plastic bottle on the ground. What kind of nationalism or patriotism warrants that sort of careless behavior? That more than anything made me realize that there isn’t any sort of community involvement or engagement here or any sense of civic duty…people’s interactions with each other in the public sphere here are marked very often by selfishness. If you can get away with not following a law or regulation, you do, even though it might hurt someone else. You drive dangerously fast and bumper to bumper and switch lanes gratuitously just to get to your destination as quickly as possible. Any queue is marked by confusion and a cluster of people scrambling to be first to get service, instead of waiting their turn. People simply don’t respect their communal facilities–I saw this at the University of Jordan, where it’s really a struggle to find a decent bathroom, one that’s not littered with cigarette butts and has toilet paper and working toilets.

A typical scene in Amman, this one outside my window: a car accident probably caused by someone's careless driving. The man in the upper half of the picture irately yelled at the driver and my landlord for twenty minutes. I heard the Arabic word for "shit" a lot.

A typical scene in Amman, this one outside my window: a car accident probably caused by someone's careless driving. The man in the upper half of the picture irately yelled at the driver and my landlord for twenty minutes. I heard the Arabic word for "shit" a lot.

But, it’s not as if people don’t know how to behave. I had lunch with a professor from last semester, and she was telling me the Belgian ambassador to Jordan told her how the Jordanians he worked with in Belgium were really great and polite and knew how to follow all regulations to the letter. He was back in Jordan with one of them when he saw him violating some regulation. He asked him why he did the correct thing in Belgium and was now violating the rule, and the Jordanian replied, “That was Belgium. This is Jordan.” That basically tells you everything you need to know about the attitude here. It’s really quite frustrating, and it makes me think that as long as that’s the case, there’s no way Jordan will be able to create any sort of national identity that doesn’t hinge on excluding some group. I think the most patriotic or authentically nationalist thing someone can do is pick up a piece of trash or (on a larger level) doing any sort of engaged, systematic community service project, and both seem like the most unlikely thing you would ever see happen in Jordan.

–June

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1 Comment

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One response to “That was Belgium, this is Jordan

  1. Massoud

    Hey Junebug: I loved this post . In regard to all the hoopla surranding the royal family, now you see how it was during Shah’s regime in Iran, All the artificial and fony (spell???) celebration for bithdays, of royal family, accession to throne and so on and so forth. I loved your in depth analysis of the situation in Jordan which unfortunately it is true for the majority of middle eastern countries. This is the case because when people’s right are constantly violated and their natural resources are being thieved (is this the right word?), they just don’t give a damn anymore. Why should they? Untill the system and culture is completely overhaulled from the TOP, this is going to be the case. That’s why the guy in Belgium acts differently than in his own country, because he sees the whole society acts properly which by the way is promoted from the top, he adapts as well.

    Love.
    Dad

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