Why, hello there, blog! Haven’t touched you in quite a while.

I live in Dubai, UAE, now. I am working in my first career-y job at a management consulting firm as an analyst. This is my apartment:

Maybe this will be the first of many more posts to come?


Israel-Palestine Conflict 102

Copied from “Knowledge News,” a daily email I used to get.  These three emails are copied from January 2009, and include really useful timelines.

The Roots of Arab-Israeli Rage, Part 1

Jerusalem under Ottoman Turk rule, 1860

We’ve surveyed Gaza. We’ve read the charter of Hamas. Now, it’s time to begin our 100-year timeline of the Arab-Israeli conflict, so you have the historical context you need to better understand the current fight.
In AD 70, the Romans crushed a Jewish revolt, sacked Jerusalem, and destroyed its sacred temple–the focal point of Jewish life. Jews were slaughtered, enslaved, or driven away. By 135, when another rebellion met with the same fate, no Jew could set foot in Jerusalem. The old city was rebuilt as a Greco-Roman one–complete with circus, amphitheater, and baths–and Judea was renamed Palestine.

When Rome turned Christian, Jerusalem followed suit, and churches went up around the sites holy to those in the faith. Pilgrims flocked in, and came for three centuries–until 638, when the city fell to a Muslim army from Arabia.

Muslims, too, held Jerusalem holy. Early on, they even faced toward it in prayer rather than Mecca. Within a century, the Dome of the Rock had been built on the site where Muhammad is said to have ascended into heaven, the Al-Aqsa Mosque had gone up next door, and Jerusalem had become an Arab and Muslim city. Except for a century or two of Crusader rule after 1099, Muslims held sway there almost continuously for more than a thousand years.

But then came Zionism, a 19th-century movement rooted in the idea that the Jewish people, dispersed and persecuted, deserved an autonomous home. That’s where the modern Arab-Israeli conflict–and our timeline history of it–begins.

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Israel-Palestine Conflict 101

Jordan borders Palestine and Israel to the West.  Though I don’t live in these countries, their politics are impossible to ignore.  I’ve read statistics stating that Jordan is comprised of anywhere from 60-75% of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.  In a sense, Jordan is a Palestinian state.  Queen Rania is Palestinian.  Jordan has interesting identity issues — the original inhabitants of Jordan, previously nomadic desert-dwelling Bedouin people, comprise a minority, while their Palestinian neighbors from the west make up a majority of the population and lead the economics of the country.  Amman, the capital, has mostly sprung up as a result of the influx of refugees from the foundation of Israel and the following wars.

With this in mind, I thought I’d share with the ten or so readers of this blog a great introduction to the issue I found on the web here.  I have copied the text below.  Read, learn, enjoy!

Queen Rania of Jordan

Queen Rania of Jordan -- considered one of the most powerful women in the world

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i’m on tour

don’t try this at home

Walking down the street, you might think it was Halloween, or that a United Nations meeting just let out. Around you people are donning the traditional garments of the Levant, the Gulf, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and others I’m not even sure of. Really, like many Americans or Europeans that visit Jordan, they’re just tourists. And while they may have come to see Petra, or the Dead Sea, or well-preserved Roman ruins, the primary purpose of their trip is to visit hospitals, clinics, laboratories and private practices. And walking down this street hosting many of these destinations, I am among them.

Jordan is a new nation, and early on it recognized that unlike its neighbors, it had little to offer in the way of natural resources, so it began to invest heavily in education and national security. Its citizens are highly educated, English-speaking professionals who are leaders in the region for banking, IT, advertising, medicine and law. Jordan is also a secure nation from which the US safely administers its war in Iraq, and many regional corporations headquarter their operations in Amman. Continue reading

there’s so much more to know! and I’m on the road to find out. — cat stevens (aka yusef islam)

wait, is this thing real??

I shook the department head’s hand, grabbed my diploma, moved my tassel, sat down and smiled. Another of life’s rites of passage completed, and I wondered what the next would be.

Since as long as I can remember, I always looked forward to that next bit of freedom. A later bedtime, for instance, or losing my training wheels and the growing legs that pedaled harder, better, faster, stronger. Upon high school I dreamed in red convertibles, awaiting the day I could go anywhere, do anything, I believed. To Wisconsin! …if I wanted. I got my license and bought lottery tickets and alcohol on their appropriate birthdays. At each of these milestones, I had more responsibilities, but more control over my life. I relish growing up.

For Americans, after 21 our subsequent ages don’t really matter the same way anymore, but for me, I still had graduation to look forward to. Until then I was living on my parents’ bill. A dependent. Sure, my parents had always been very liberal with me. I took the driver’s seat and they sat in the back, ready to correct me if I got out of line, but they let me choose the path. I appreciated this, and this is all to say that while I may have remained a dependent, I had felt fully in control of my life for a long time. Continue reading

dead2red race

11pm Thursday March 4th, 2010: Matt B., friend from Wisconsin / Yemen, arrives safely to my apartment.  We begin a year of catching up.  I drink 3 cups of coffee and smoke about half a pack of cigarettes as I prepare.

2am Friday March 5th, 2010: Team Honeybags calls; they are waiting outside and ready.  I bounce around the car, overcaffeinated, until

3am: Huge hidden pothole on the road to the starting line at the Dead Sea explodes two of our tires.  I change one while three army officers amusedly observe the white guy in biking tights in the whee hours of the morning change that tire in no time flat.  Other team members flag down cars and ask if we can buy a spare, but to no avail.

3:30: Team Honeybags is jammed into a car driven by an employee of Bike Rush, our team sponsor, and another employee stays behind to “figure out the tire.”  We speed to the starting line, for if the team is not registered and does not begin with the rest of the participants, said team is disqualified.

4:00: With minutes to spare we register and start.

4:02: Despite shouting all the advice out the window we can, our first biker just can’t get the gears on the bike to work correctly.  From all the jostling on the ride over, something has come undone, and we begin the race like tortoises.   Poor Lydia is pedaling like crazy but only inching forward.  We stop to switch bikes.

The Next Twelve Hours: Dude used rocks to hammer the rim of the wheel back into shape, speeds forward to switch cars with us.  We are now 4 people in a roomy car and one on a bike instead of 5 in a tiny coupe and one on a bike.  We face packs of wild dogs jumping from the side of the road to chase the biker down.  We face a 2 hour sandstorm in which we barely pedal in place, cannot see, breathe, or stay optimistic.  We see teams around us cheating.  “I’m coming up on someone! I’m going to pass them!  Damnit, this is the fourth time I’ve passed them….” They put the bike in the back of their trucks and drive past us.  By the grace of God we reach Aqaba and think we are almost done, but they picked the most outlying hotel for the finish line.  Here is the final stretch, video by Regina:

(Most of the race was through the desert: sand dunes framed by distant mountains, nearby Bedouin villages, and the empty expanse of the soul.  The trees and traffic were quite the change in Aqaba after twelve hours of sandy monotony.)

We finished. 12 hours was the alloted time, we made it in 12:30. We finished. We didn't cheat.

rest my tired legs

One of my complains of Amman has been its lack of public space.  In Cairo, I couldn’t walk a city block without finding a cafe with chairs on the sidewalk, inviting you to sit down for tea and shisha, to read the newspaper, hang out, shoot the shit.  Damascus feels full of lots of tiny little coffee shops with character, and in Yemen, well, they just sit on the street.  In Amman it’s much more reserved, much more private, and its public spaces d0 not invite the passerby to stop and hang out, unless to purchase something.  Coffee shops and other cheap, relaxed atmospheres are harder to come by.  I think this is due to the fact that Amman is basically a new city, and mostly sprung up to accommodate housing for the floods of refugees that now call this place home.

Looks like developers here have noticed that as well, and have plans to change the urban landscape here.  Article below.

Downtown Amman -- from NYT

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not in kansas, part i

Sometimes I forget how far from home I am.  I walk around and feel as though I could be in Indianapolis, if you turn a blind eye to some of the more glaring differing details.  I think a lot of west Ammanis, and west Amman establishments, appreciate and strive to assimilate to many things American.  Sometimes I tell my friends they are more “American” than I am – reminding me, in near-perfect English, that the Grammys are on tonight as we sit at Burger King eating Big Macs wearing Gap.  Have you seen Avatar in 3D yet?

I think this is actually in Saudi, and most signs in Jordan are in English

Often my life in Amman feels like I moved to a new American city, rather than abroad.  I suppose a lot of this sentiment comes from having living in Yemen for a stint, which, quite the opposite, makes one feel as they had moved to another century on another planet.

I’ve lived here for over 6 months now, which means I’m probably just so accustomed to this place that it feels “normal” to me.  Throw me in Chicago or San Francisco and my jaw might drop at the ‘craziness’ of it all.

Then, I get messages like these from the Embassy.

Subject:   Tawjihi Celebrations – February 6, 2010

On Saturday, February 6th, the Jordanian Ministry of Education intends to release the interim results of the high-school exam (the Tawjihi).  Families throughout Amman often celebrate when the results are announced, and for some the celebration is exuberant.  Groups of young adults may drive around in cars blowing horns, and some individuals may shoot into the air.  The direct threat is minimal, but traffic can be congested.  Please do not be surprised if you hear shooting.

Wait, am I in the Middle East, or is this just another one of those family vacations in Arkansas?

this blog is cold

Let’s warm it up a bit!

I believe that when many people unaffiliated with the Middle East conjure up a mental picture of it, they see arid deserts, maybe an oasis here and there, a bunch of camels, and dark men in turbans.  This isn’t a post  listing and  breaking all the stereotypes of the Middle East.  This post will address just one of them: the weather, and more specifically, the temperature.

Jordan is a desert.  It’s the fourth water-poor country in the world, according to some documentary I watched here a couple of months ago.  There is a lot of sand.  There are cacti and little scrubby greens gripping pebbles hoping to eke out an existence.  Despite this desert, I am freezing my toes off at the moment.  It is snowing outside, has been since I woke up, and should be snowing until two days from now.

I didn't take this. Thanks, whoever you are.

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mother of the world

Cairo is known as “Um al-dunia” – mother of the world. It’s not hard to realize why. Cairenes inhabit a space present in millennia of literature. They live amongst the pyramids, the only remaining ancient wonder of the world. Glorious empires sustained themselves on the riches of the fertile Nile valley, a sliver of abundance on a map of hostile sand. Cairo served as a metropolis of learning and culture, the seat of empires, and today, is home for anywhere from 20 to 30 million people, depending on who you ask, depending on the time of day. I’ve heard 5 million people enter each day as they commute to work.

Karnak Temple

The city doesn’t sleep. While there, we got swallowed up in the excitement, and often crashed well after the sun had risen. When crossing the road, I can’t tell if it’s better to do so with your eyes open or closed. You literally have to walk into oncoming traffic if you ever hope to cross. The pedestrian crossing lights show a little green man running for his life. Amazingly enough, Cairo has a metro system. You need to position yourself in the middle of a wave of people, and shove your way onto the car. The smog is so thick it soon forms a blanket on your tongue.

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