Ten things I won’t miss about Jordan
Yesterday I listed ten things I will miss about Jordan. Here is the other half of the story: ten things I won’t miss.
10. The driving. There were nights I was just glad to make it home alive.
9. Government ministries. You have to push and shove through a mob of people to do anything; then you have to argue your way from office to office, trying to accumulate the 10 stamps or signatures necessary to certify what you just did.
8. U.S. government restrictions. I’ve beaten this horse to death. Let’s just say that I’m ready to live a little farther away from Big Brother, and I never want to fill out another country clearance request in my life. Alas, I know I haven’t seen the end yet.
7. Conspiracy theories. Did you know that Iran and the U.S. are secret allies, and jointly triggered the 2006 Lebanon war? Or that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was actually designed to counteract the EU’s rising power? Or that we engineered bird flu so pharmaceutical companies could sell vaccines? Or that we never investigated the September 11th attacks? Nothing makes for a good University experience like debating these things day in and day out, in Arabic (although, to be fair, this was only in a couple classes).
6. Unsolicited parenting advice. It’s sweet and well-intended. It’s also relentless and infuriating to every foreigner who has ever brought a child into the Middle East. We smile and bob our heads, while we secretly think, “The day that you stop letting your toddler ride on the dashboard of your car, you can lecture me about how my baby isn’t warm enough because she’s not wearing socks.”
5. Cut-throat politics. It seems to infect every institution I have experience with in this part of the world. Many Jordanians will be the first to agree. What we might think of as healthy organizational culture is largely absent here; in its place is a dysfunctional mish-mash of nepotism, personal agendas, and constant competition for power. This breeds anger, distrust, paranoia, and a sense of helplessness among many Jordanians.
4. Anti-Semitism. It’s real and it’s widespread. When a European guest lecturer at UJ used “Protocols as the Elders of Zion” as an extreme and absurd example of enemy “othering”, one of the students had to interrupt and inform him that most students in the class probably believed that the book was true. We did a poll on the spot. Not only did most believe it was largely true, they’d studied it in school.
3. Religious intolerance. Also real and widespread. Muslim Jordanians sincerely believe that they practice full religious tolerance. They need to stop and ask some religious minorities what they think. One of my friends faced apostasy charges in a local shariah court and nearly lost his children to enraged in-laws after his conversion to Christianity. Churches have difficulty getting building permits, and pastors are routinely called in by intelligence services. I have friends who converted from Islam who may never be able to marry, because it’s illegal to change their registered religion, and they have so many legal problems that Christian families consider them somewhat toxic.
2. Shame and honor. Many Jordanians will be the first to admit that the shame-honor dynamic in their culture is the root of so many other evils. I applaud the efforts of Jordanian reformers who want to change this dynamic, and who speak up on issues like youth violence and honor killings.
1. Despair. I love Jordan and its people. I really do. That’s why it makes me so sad when I see Jordanian friends lose faith in their future. They see that their economy is in shambles, their government is corrupt and inept, water and demographic crises loom on the horizon, and sectarianism lurks dangerously beneath the surface. Those who try to reform things pay a high price and often burn out. When I ask young people their greatest dream for the future, the typical answer is, “Leave Jordan.” That makes me sad, and really makes me appreciate those who choose to stay–or who study abroad and choose to come back.
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