• Reem Bazzari
  • 12
  • Jun
  • 07
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Once and Future Homeland

It’s set. I will be departing San Francisco on Thursday the 21st of June and heading over to Amman, Jordan. I will be staying in an apartment in a nicer area (Abdoon) but hope to venture off to the town center (Balad) and the old refugee camp areas.

They say that the most interesting journeys end back where they started. I spent my life between the Middle East and North America, putting on and taking off the appropriate spectacles to see the world through, depending on which world I’m in. This time, I intend to rely on my raw vision, maybe I will see something completely new.

Stay tuned.

  • Reem Bazzari
  • 13
  • Jun
  • 07
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Once and Future Homeland

“GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Moving Palestinians closer to all-out civil war, Hamas gunmen captured the headquarters of the Fatah-allied security forces in northern Gaza.” MSNBC News Services reported yesterday

Apparently, all you need is a “Strip” and two or more parties: One western-backed president and a militant group that formed to fight corruption and occupation with religion.

  • Reem Bazzari
  • 02
  • Jul
  • 07
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Once and Future Homeland

My cousin Lina took us to the newest and largest mall in Amman,. “City Mall” it was called. The Arabic letters phonetically spelled the name; they did not translate the title.

There we found the usual European shops, in addition to American brands such as MAC, Nike, etc.

More interesting than the mall was entering it. As we were headed towards the underground parking, we were greeted by 5 men in fluorescent yellow vests guiding us down. I joked about the overstaffing I see often in the service industry. Except it turns out that these men were assigned the task of gesturing us to pop the trunk of our car, and then quickly searching its trunk while we waited inside! Lina told me that since the hotel bombings in November of 2005 there have been increased security measures at establishments such as this mall. After we parked the car headed towards the mall entrance to be greeted with a metal detector and a man and woman to search our purses.

I have been visiting Jordan almost every summer and some winters since 1985 and have never seen anything like this.

This is a mall for the locals to shop. It’s not an embassy or a tourist spot where the target would be westerners ambassadoring all that America has done to damage the Middle East!

But it was…

The mall represented the gluttonous consumerism that the local people are learning to duplicate. The shops displayed clothes I cannot imagine seeing women here wearing… miniature shorts that aren’t long enough to begin covering an upper thigh, that cost, literally, half an underprivileged family’s salary.

People here don’t watch the news anymore. Jordan is surrounded by war-torn countries and death outside of almost every border. But everyone just wants to live. People with money live a very superficial life: they go to the same coffee shops and run into each other wearing the same brand names. People without money can’t sedate themselves with such a superficial life, so they work and try to live day to day, and at night, make more people without money.

This mall is a loud laugh at this country sent by Nike, Puma, and other American brands. American and European expensive things made with Asian cheap labor shipped with Arab cheap oil. And where does the profit go?

  • Reem Bazzari
  • 26
  • Jul
  • 07
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Once and Future Homeland

My time in Jordan was a time during which I temporarily removed myself from my life. A time to just sit back and let the play continue; miss an act or two. In doing so, I became the actress and audience of the play that is the colony of Jordan.

You see at the end of World War I, the territory now comprising Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem was awarded to the United Kingdom by the League of Nations as the mandate called “Palestine Trans-Jordan.” In 1922, the British, with the League’s approval under the terms of the Mandate, partitioned Palestine at the Jordan River and established the semi-autonomous Emirate of Trans-Jordan in those territories to the east.

Because these and other Middle Eastern borders have been drawn up by European powers, that did not take into consideration people, old tribal boundaries and history. As such the Middle East’s present-day struggle for identity can be traced back to imperialism and colonialism. Therefore, in “countries” such as Iraq and Jordan, leaders of the new state were brought in from the outside, tailored to suit colonial interests and commitments.

The British installed the Hashemite Prince Abdullah I while continuing the administration of separate Palestine and Trans-Jordan under a common British High Commissioner. The mandate over Trans-Jordan ended on May 22, 1946; on May 25, the country became the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan. It ended its special defense treaty relationship with the United Kingdom in 1957.

The installed leadership continued. The current king of Jordan, King Abdullah, was until lately a political unknown. But he was catapulted into the limelight when his father, King Hussein, pushed aside Abdullah’s uncle Hassan, who had been crown prince for thirty four years, to select him as successor in 1999. Educated in Britain and the United States, Abdullah faces the gap between the traditional Arab values of his citizens and his utterly westernized upbringing.

But this gap does not only exist between the king and his citizens, it is also apparent within the different social and economic classes and generations within the populace. In Amman, the younger generation is highly knowledgeable about the latest Hollywood trends, scandals and fashions. The more westernized fractions of society are enamored with Cosmopolitan, Starbucks, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, American Idol, sitcoms and reality shows. On the other end, people are disgusted with the western garbage broadcasted via satellite and the Internet and retreating deeper and deeper into a more religious lifestyle, rejecting more and more products of the West, equating democracy with reality shows and freedom with promiscuity.

In this state whose boundaries were so artificially drawn, there is a an evident identity struggle for the individuals and the population in general in trying to reinvent their historical roots after colonialism, not only by the British rule, but the Ottoman Empire prior to it as well.

This blind love affair with the West or complete rejection of it is the dilemma of developing national identity in the wake of colonial rule. People attempt to express and even celebrate their cultural identity, wanting to reclaim it from the colonizers, but at the same time seek to maintain a strong linkage with the culture of the ex-colonizer. The medium by which they attempt to find and celebrate an independent identity is an adopted western medium. For example, writing in the language of the colonizer. As a result of the struggle to even form an independent identity, there is a strong sense of inferiority to the West.

What’s different now? In this era of globalization, people do not have to travel to the West to be exposed to others. The West does not have to come as a colonizer to impose its culture or economic rule. What fits and what does not fit is adapted and very rapidly. There are more McDonald’s restaurants than mosques in every neighborhood. The Arab awkward versions of trashy reality shows mirrored by the awkward adaptation of fashion and pop culture. All this counter-parted by more extreme religiousness and unrealistic nostalgia to a secluded Arab world.

There must be something in the middle, an identity for this former colony to embrace and a new way of life to help people progress forward, not follow like sheep.

  • Hala V. Furst
  • 02
  • Jun
  • 08
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Once and Future Homeland

I’m going to put it out there right to begin with: Americans, no matter what their actually nationality, secretly all consider Ireland their cultural homeland. Why else would we pepper our streets with faux Irish Pubs serving faux Guinness? Why else would we attend Riverdance? Why else would we trek to the Emerald Isle in droves equal to those that fled it shores following that pesky potato shortage? Because we all secretly long to be Irish, even just by proxy, even just by adoption. And why not? These are a quirky, warm, bright, funny people. They also speak English, which can come in pretty damn handy, I’m slightly ashamed to admit. But more than that, they seem to have a handle on what they want out of life- a bit of fun, some hard won freedom, and a safe country for their families. Basically all the things we used to say we wanted out of this country. Thus, Ireland has become for us the nostalgic homeland of our past. Never mind if you’re really Dutch, or Polish, or Chinese, if we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, can’t we all be Irish the whole year through?

No, no we can’t. They are their own country, and while they find us amusing, even interesting, that don’t need us coming over here claiming that our great great grand uncle’s seamstress was a Connor, so hey, we’re practically family. We ain’t. So just enjoy your vacation and embrace that which you are, a loud, obvious American. It’s okay. Actually no one cares. Surprisingly, we are not the center of the universe, and people don’t just long to hear about the elections and how much you too hate Bush. Sure, tonight in the pub someone asked me why we gave a shit about Puerto Rico’s primary vote, and I had to briefly explain the electoral process and the whole ‘taxation-without-representation’ issue after having downed several pints (I did the system proud, I tell you), but generally they care as much about our political process and social issues as people in our country care about theirs, which is to say, not at all. A few people want to hear about our participation as global citizens, and that is when the conversation really gets interesting. I had a long chat with the owner of an art gallery in Kinsale about the democratization of art via the internet, and how similar capital forces are at work here and in Ireland. It seems capitalist pigs the world over want to keep the proles down.

This is my second trip to Ireland, the first being when I was much younger, and did all the requisite historical and sightseeing outings. Which were lovely, don’t get me wrong, but now I’m on my cultural tour of Europe (which to the untrained eye might look like my ‘drinking tour of Europe’, but seeing as how the weakness of the dollar has reduced me to only the beers I can flirt well enough to get for free, it’s a bit hit or miss). For the first time I am realizing how much Ireland is its own country – it is easy to mistake its uniqueness because they speak English and because things are vaguely familiar, but the further west you get, the more it becomes very unfamiliar. For one thing Gaelic is still spoken fluently, at least in Galway, and the cultural tenacity of the people tends to be stronger the further from the UK or the Continent they get. There is a real feeling of being on the edge of the world out here, and people cling tightly when hanging off an edge.

So this time my goal was to seek out cultural institutions, talk to people, listen to music, eat the food, shop at the markets, do everything but get on a bus tour with other tourists. Not that I fool myself into thinking I’m anything but a tourist, of course I am, but I don’t have to hang out with them, do I? In Cork we sought out a trad session (traditional music jam session) at a bar that was trendier than all hell. It was fantastic, watching these urban hipsters grooving along in a completely unironic fashion to the music of their ancestors. It would be like someone walking into the newest bar in town and boogieing on down to the greatest hits of 1776 (which would be what, like Yankee Doodle? I have no idea. The metaphor has gone off the rails).

Tonight in Galway I went to listen to yet another Trad session and met up with a group of Galwegians, Scots, and Polish (the immigrant population in Ireland right now is largely Eastern European, so you often hear these eerily familiar racist jokes, complaints, etc. Like, substitute ‘Pole’ for ‘Mexican’, and you’d think you were back home). We ended up talking about a variety of things, but largely about the new Lisbon Treaty that Ireland votes on in June. The Lisbon Treaty, as I understand it, has been signed by every other country in the EU, and Ireland is the final vote. All the major politicians are behind it, but Sinn Fein is against it, and every person I’ve talked to is against it. The feeling is that the Treaty will take away the very dear autonomy which is at the core of the Irish identity. There are signs up all over that say ‘People died for your freedom. Vote No.’ There is a sense that agreeing to this Treaty as it stands will be signing over the government, which was fought for so hard and so bloodily, to a greater Europe. The United States of Europe, is what they call it. The funny thing about the Treaty is that no one has read it- apparently it can’t be read, it is too dense and convoluted, and 1500 pages. So people know it is vaguely about trade rules, and vaguely about security issues and even vaguely about abortion, but no one knows for sure. And this in and of itself is seen as a reason to be distrustful.

So this is the state of Ireland these days. Real Guinness, real conversation, real concern about the future of their country. And Riverdance-free.