Monday, May 23, 2011

Back to Jordan and Onward to India

As I traveled from Damascus to Amman this morning, the landscape didn't change much. The desert from Southern Syria continued into Jordan. The only obvious change was the ubiquitous face of Syria's president al-Assad all over the country being substituted by King Abdullah II. Their pictures are very similar in style. The leaders of these two countries are usually shown wearing a suit, or military clothes in different poses and periods of their long regime. Sometimes their fathers are included in the picture. King Abdullah II's son is already making an appearance with his father, sending a message throughout Jordan that monarchy is well, alive and long lasting.

Abdullah II and al-Assad's power structure appear similar, at least since Syria's 1963 coup. Although the king recently appeased the masses in his country with promised reforms, the dictatorship he runs is similar to al-Assad's. The parliament is controlled by him and the majority of large local businesses are owned by his extended family and close supporters. Although there were elections in Syria, no candidates were on the ballot. The only choice was the Assad family, so it is the same as monarchy, passing the power down from father to son.

In response to the recent protests in Jordan, King Abdullah II blamed the economical situation on the prime minister who was replaced, as well as on his cabinet of ministers, also recently replaced. This is a common practice used by both leaders, to blame the problems of their country on someone els. But unlike al-Assad, King Abdullah II was quick in taking action. His new prime minister, Maarouf Al Bakhit,is a career military man with a reputation for maintaining order and stability. He was asked to lead the reforms, but given his background, it appears that the King is not really interested in real reforms, and is more worried about stability in his country.

People seem either appeased or too afraid to continue demonstrations for the moment, and the main power structure stays the same, although reforms have been promised. Syria's leader al-Assad would be better off if he followed King Abdullah II's example, but he seems unable to take action. Instead, he allows his brother, Maher al-Assad, Chief of the Republican Guard, to crackdown on protesters.

As I end my travels in Jordan, the country where I started eight months ago, I feel I have just finished a masters' degree in Middle East Studies. But at the same time, it feels that I have not even scratched the surface understanding this complex part of the world.

I have learned a lot about hospitality with the Arabs, and as Peter calls, “sliding scale” way of doing business. The prices are always negotiable, and the starting point is where the vendor things the buyer can afford or his assessment on how bad his product is wanted. It is a tricky game that I am starting to master.

I got first hand experience on issues around Palestine and Israel as I stayed in the area for two months, lived with local Palestinians, visited refugee camps, hung out with NGO volunteers, spent a couple of weeks at a permaculture project, and attended weekly seminar/films organized by a local NGO.

Being in Egypt during the revolution was also an experience I will never forget.

The next stop is India. I can't see another pyramid, temple, museum, or anything else for that matter. I am completely full of history, sites and experiences. I am so grateful that I had the chance to meet so many wonderful people which was more important to me than seeing any fantastic pyramid. From strangers on the street that added a little color to my day to people that lit a light on my soul and helped me see things in different ways or laid out mystical explanations in ways I have not been able to do myself.

I am also grateful to two women who shared their daily lives with me and showed me their world : Fayroz in Jordan and Majeda in Palestine. They welcomed me into their homes and introduced me to their friends and family who accepted me as as sister.

Specially in Palestine, we cooked together, ate ice cream, prepared heaps of Arabic coffee and tea, and sat for endless hours at relatives and friends' houses. I was also invited to engagements, weddings, religious parties, lunches and bread making parties. Let me not forget dancing together at the sound of some good Arabic tunes. Girls only of course! They taught me belly dancing and I taught them yoga. I hope Majeda's nieces are carrying on with their practices.

I come to the conclusion that traveling is about the people only. The sites are just wall paper in the background, but the soul is on the human interactions.

In India I will just get a lot of massages, rest and ponder on my latest experiences.

Middle East food is delicious, but my mouth is already watering at the thought of having Indian food.

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