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World Cup

dispatches from the Middle East - random stuff I thought about during Arg v Ned

I’m ruining my lungs here. Can’t help it, everyone smokes: argileh, cigarettes, whatever. I don’t do it too often, but the taxis here always ride with the window open so all the exhaust from the cars go into your lungs, which is pretty much like smoking. I don’t mind it too much though, plus Seattle has a lot of trees so once I’m back in the PNW it’ll be like a cleanse. Anyway, so after work I decided to hail a cab to al-Balad to people-watch and see the vibe during Ramadan. Plus I was hoping there would be protests against Israeli attacks against Palestinians, cause the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, sent out a statement calling that people should protest in public squares against the Israeli attacks. I heard they were gonna organize it Wednesday night after the Taraweeh prayer (a prayer that you only do every night during Ramadan, and it’s hella long compared to the usual prayers, I’ve been through it), but I wasn’t sure if that meant also carrying out the protests the same night. Other parties say they were gonna do it Thursday night. I heard there was a sit-in this morning though at the Israeli embassy. Good for people for taking a stand on the issue. Just the whole conundrum is taking and destroying too many lives. No one should have to ever live with that. Personally, as someone who grew up as a muslim and actually know firsthand what the teachings are, it makes me so sad how people are actually using those teachings to kill people, as if anyone’s any better than anybody. Being here, back in an environment entrenched in the religious and cultural values I grew up with, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about individual vs. collective religious identities, but I think I’ll save that for another post cause it’s a whole other can of worms.

But anyway, the crisis that’s going on all around me. Who knows when any of them’s gonna stop. And here I am watching the world cup. Here WE are watching privileged men kicking around balls to benefit a multimillion (billion?) dollar company, while people in the host countries are getting evicted, while families across the world are being torn apart. You feel so small and so helpless when you think about the calamity of the whole thing. On my end, I’ve been doing some reporting on my stories that deal with some of these, but things are going so slow. Literally everything. Not to mention that I’m kind of losing my motivation for work due to recent events. But of course, I can’t lose motivation, but right now I’m kind of stumped on what to do and what I can help with at work. I’ll see if I can catch the meeting tomorrow. The thing is, I don’t even know if the meetings are going on or not. Every time I go there, it seems like it’s never going on, so yeah, I’m stuck. I’ll probably try to find some community-based story ideas soon. I wonder what the Asian community here is up to, maybe I’ll visit al Buhturi street one of these days. It’s harder to just go up and talk to people on the streets, mostly cause I can’t speak Arabic and there’s not a good chance that people would know English, but I guess I should try anyway.

Anyway, earlier this month I was hoping to do something on informal-tented settlements, but apparently the government has been doing some major crackdowns on illegal camps, and the camps I was hoping to cover had been disbanded and the people sent back to Zaatari or Azraq, the official refugee camps from UNHCR. I’m so sorry for them. From what I’ve heard, they’ve been making progress — a Seattle and Amman-based nonprofit had been helping them earlier in June with water supply, herb gardens, medical things and all that. I hope that the refugees can still maintain their sense of community though, but the situation’s just so bleak. Anyway, let’s hope I can finally meet my sources tomorrow, I reaaaalllly need to get this story going.

Welp, I’m starting feel a little lightheaded thanks to this argileh (water pipe) that I’m smoking. I really don’t understand how everyone handles it. Like every night and every day just smoking? At this rate people will have crappy lungs by like age 30 or something.

You know, I took a cab here, and when I got in there was a kid in the front seat. I thought, “oh cute, little guy’s joining daddy for the ride.” The driver asked me where I was going, and I said Washat al Balad. He said “how much?” and I was like “um, just use the meter?” Well guess what, he decided to drop his son off first at another part of town and then stopped to smoke cigs and pick up stuff while the meter was running. When I told him to get me where I was going he was like “wait wait.” What an s.o.b. I  went out of the cab to get another one but then he came running and repeatedly apologized. Apologies my ass. I should’ve just gone ahead and get a different cab. I ended up paying 7 JDs. Seven fucking Dinars cause he left the meter on the whole time. That was after I argued with him for like 10 minutes inside the cab in my broken Arabic and his broken English. Fucker. Guess that was my first cab horror story. Ugh.

But anyway, I’m at this cafe in al-Balad, smoking argileh and drinking coffee, and of course I’m the only girl in the entire cafe. Why. Does. This. Always. Happen. #fuckpatriarchy #wheremyladiesat. Thank God the guys are at least somewhat respectful. They just gave me the once over and stare a bit occasionally, but that doesn’t really bother me. Plus the game was on, so I’m sure they have better things to worry about. Also the owners and waiters are really nice so I can’t really complain too much. Here’s a video I took of where I’m at.

The game tho. It’s halftime and still at 0-0. It’s like pulling teeth. It’s the second half now, and I’m feeling lightheaded from this argileh. OK I should stop smoking now. But honestly, people-watching is so much fun, much more fun than watching football. I love it, but I haven’t figured out how to turn the love into something yet. I’ll keep thinking in the back of my mind. I like people. I like getting to know them and hearing their stories, despite what my behavior toward people that might tell you otherwise. Sometimes I can be a little cold and standoffish, but that’s mostly cause I feel so awkward and get so insecure and it literally makes me so anxious to make the first contact. But I think I love places better than people. I get attached to places easily because they’re so fascinating. They’re like the silent witness that watches over the lives walking through them. The lives evolve with time, and then so do the places, but at the same time the place will always retain the history. For some weird reason, I really identify with that, being a silent witness to changing lives. But maybe I don’t want to be so silent about it, I want to convey how beautiful the lives are. I just don’t know what I can produce out of that yet.

I hope I can sleep well tonight, I haven’t been sleeping well for the past few days, and I usually go to bed around 2-3 a.m. so that’s not exactly healthy. But I’ll probably go to the meeting tomorrow and hopefully be able to meet with my sources.  Or maybe I’ll go on that photography trip I’ve been meaning to do. But now, my roommate’s cat is poking my toes for God knows whatever reason. He has a foot fetish. True story.

As it has been the case for much of my time here, there are so many thoughts in my head and a lot of things to reflect on. I’ve been meaning to post some of my reflections on traveling, religion, privilege, and shit like that on the blog, but for some reason I feel like I also need to document the mundane things too, like me watching football and smoking and drinking coffee.

I read somewhere recently that “stories are attempts to share our values and beliefs. Storytelling is only worthwhile when it tells what we stand for, not what we do" (Simon Sinek). But honestly, I think that this blog and you know, the whole Internet, is big enough to have room for all kinds of stories. Each one has its value, especially in travel writing.

-i