Monday, June 27, 2011


Something that really struck me during my visit to Jordan was the variety of fashions within the country.  The common theme was modesty (an influence of Islamic law), but modesty came in a lot of packages.  Some people (men and women) covered with head coverings and large robes over their clothes, but I also saw people in very modern clothing with no head coverings.  Then there was everything in between.  Something I rarely ever saw was short sleeves on the locals, but I even saw that once or twice (especially on the campus of The University of Jordan).  I'm pretty sure I never saw an Arab's knees or cleavage though.

Just a couple of group shots to show the variety of fashion.

Downtown Amman.  I saw every type of fashion here.  There is also a lot of fashions for sale here.  This is the only place I saw a woman completely covered so much so that she had to be led down the street by the hand.
Grocery store in Amman.
In Gregra--a Bedouin community in Southern Jordan.  Young ladies are usually asked to start dressing modestly when they hit puberty.  It's believed that dressing modestly keeps people from lusting for each other.  It is the women's responsibility to maintain the honor of her family and extended family (AKA tribe).  This is very important in this collectivist culture.
This young lady worked at a bazaar in Amman.    She's holding up a Muslim Barbie-type doll.  The doll is wearing a traditional robe/dress and a hijab.  None of the dolls were dressed like this woman, even though the majority of young women I saw in Amman looked like her (and not like the doll).
Women who dress in different styles are often friends.  The woman on the right is Rasha.  She told me that she started wearing the hijab in college and that it was totally her choice.

Nancy is Libyan and is a famous singer in Jordan.  Notice that she if VERY covered for a pop star.   She also very covered in the photos on the inside.
This woman is a Senator in Jordan and was one of our speakers.  Notice that she does not cover her head and is wearing short sleeves.
The first 3 people on the left are students at The University of Jordan.  Notice the variation in styles of dress.  Many of the college students told us that men feel that they can catcall women who are not dressed modestly enough.
This woman was one of our speakers.  She told me that she covers because she wants people to focus on her brains and not her appearance.  She also does not believe that Islamic Law calls for women to dress any more modestly than this.  In other words, she doesn't believe that women need to cover their faces.
The president of the Gregra community center.  Her face is covered in the presence of men if she is not related to them.  She is a Bedouin--the people native to Jordan.
This always struck me as a double standard.  A husband in in jeans and short sleeves with a wife completely covered.  I saw this pretty frequently.  (By the way, I know they are married because you never saw a man and woman together unless they were married.  Most of the time women hung out with women and men with men.  The only exception to this was the university campus).

A dress boutique downtown.
A lot of men wore the white robes because they are cool in the hot sun.  By the way, the red and white head covering indicate that a man is Jordanian.
A group of men hanging out in Amman.  Again, check out the variety of dress.  I saw far more men hanging out on the street than women.  I was told that a lot of men in Jordan are unemployed because they won't take jobs that they feel are below them and should be filled by immigrants.  Men (especially eldest sons) are made to feel very important by their families and tribes.
These guys are playing ball behind a walled area.  (I stuck my camera in between bars on a gate to get the shot).  I never saw any guy walking in the open in a tank top.
Me walking down the street in a hijab.  I had to cover my arms because I was wearing short sleeves.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

photos and books

I've put up a slide show and a list of books.  Both are in the right-hand column.  I've also updated links and the blogroll.  Feel free to look around.

My plan is to look through the blog comments over the next few weeks and try to answer some questions.  If you have a question for me, please post it as a comment on this blog.  Even if you've already posted it on FB, repost it as a comment on this blog.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

See you stateside!

This will probably be my last post until I get back to the states.  I still have plenty to say; I just need some time to process (and sleep).  Thanks to all of who have taken this journey with me.  I do appreciate all of your kind comments and support (even though I have to read them super fast).
Today we went to Jordan University!  Universities are one of the places that make me the most happy, and today was no exception.  The students were wonderful!  So smart and engaged.  It was energizing and gave me a lot of hope for Jordan.  It's been a common theme amongst our speakers that they are very excited about the young people of Jordan.  I now completely understand why they say that.

 Our group in front of the UJ sign.
 At the beginning of the student-faculty dialogue.
Who doesn't love a clock tower????

Monday, June 20, 2011

Speakers from Sunday and Monday

Asma Khader, the Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women.  She said there is a lack of female involvement in the economy in the region.  Men are responsible for spending, even when the women work.  Many women are working in Jordan because the family needs the money (Jordan is #4 poorest country in the world), and they are allowed in all jobs now.  Khader said there needs to be more family friendly employment policies (i.e., work from home, flexibility, child care, etc.).  Women retire when their employers tell them to do so—usually around the age of 45.  This doesn’t allow them to advance very high.

Maha Khatib, senator, said, “Jordan has no natural resources, but we have brains and we have dreams.”  She has lots of hope in the younger generation.

Abla Abu Olba, a member of Parliament, said, “In order to effect change, a woman should not play the role of the victim or the heroine.”  She also said that to work for change a person must love people.  She said the feminist movement has been occurring since the 1950’s.

Olba is in the center.

Rana Hajaya, mayor of Hassa, was only 26 years old when she was elected mayor.  She is 33 now and serving her second term. 

Eva Abu Halaweh is the executive director of Mizan, a law group for human rights.  They provided legal aid to 12,000 people in Jordan last year.  She won the International Women of Courage Awarded, presented by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama just a few months ago.

Rana Husseini wrote an awesome book “Murder in the Name of Honour.”  I highly recommend it.  She graduated from Oklahoma City University!

Dr. Dua Fino shared with us her interpretations of Islamic law.  She said that Islam views men and women as meriting equal treatment and it is up to men to make sure women are treated fairly.  I asked her about the veil and she responded, “The dress requires people to focus on my mind and not my body.”  She believes that covering the face is unnecessary and an example of custom and not religion.  She believes in freedom of choice but personally believes the hijab is in accordance with Islamic law.  Many of our other speakers did not wear a hijab (as you can see from the photos).

Leila Diab is a Christian in Amman.  She is the director of the general federation of the YWCA.  She said, “Christians did not come to the Middle East.  Jesus was not born in New York.”  There are about 2% of Jordanians are Christian.  Many Christians choose to migrate to the Western world.  She said that Christians enjoy freedom in Jordan and have 8 seats in Parliament.  She said that if peace doesn’t exist in the Middle East then it cannot exist anywhere.

Sahar Khalifeh is a very well published author.  She told us that it is important to have sympathy of men when it comes to women’s equality, but they should not be our leaders.  We need women writers and to listen to women tell their stories.  She believes that the Muslim Fundamentalist Movement is responding to the progress of women with oppression and this may be the reason we have seen the rise of head coverings of all types.  She said, “You can’t push a woman to be strong, but you can give her role models in literature, the classroom, etc.”

Samia Zaru is an AMAZING artist.  We visited her house, and I took LOT of photos.  She also took us to the Children’s Museum that her son designed and the King Hussein Park, where she created a couple of murals.  I made a BIG mistake at the park.  I was told it was the worst sin.  I need more time before I can write about it.  I do feel awful about it.

 The artist.
My favorite piece in Zara's home.

 Taken at the Children's Museum-One of my very favorite people in Jordan.
I'm trying to convince her to get a master's degree at NSU.
 The mural at the King Hussein Park.  This is about a fifth of it.
The Royal Family's family tree.
The Royal family is very important in Jordan.
I see King Abdullah's photo everywhere.

Two creators of .  The future of Jordan.

In the last couple of days, I’ve also had the opportunity to visit downtown and watch a couple of weddings from my hotel room.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday activities

marHaba from Amman!  Yesterday we visited some Bedouin people in far Southern Jordan.  It was about a two and a half hour drive.  We also swam in the Dead Sea at a nice resort!

The Bedouin people are native Jordanians and still keep up a very traditional lifestyle from long ago.  For the most part, they are nomadic and are sheep and goat herders.  However, the Bedouins we met are not nomadic.  They actually live in permanent structures and harvest thyme as a community.  We visited their community center where they keep the greenhouses, have a computer lab, do crafts, and have other community gatherings.  We were the first people from the states that have ever visited them at the center.  The children in particular were pretty intrigued by us.  The Bedouins pride themselves on treating men and women equally.  The president of the center is a woman.  The Bedouins have great favor with the King and visits them often.

The contrast between the Bedouins and the people of Amman is pretty amazing.  For citizens of the U.S. who have never visited the Middle East, it’s very likely they have seen many images of Bedouins and not many of the urban types in Amman.  I certainly had (and probably still have) many misconceptions before visiting here.

 Community Center
 Harvesting Thyme
Watching Craft Demonstrations

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are near the Dead Sea.  There is a natural stone carving sort of thing on top of a large rock one can see from the highway.  It is supposedly of Lot after he was cursed and turned into a pillar of salt.  It is believed that the Dead Sea is salty as a result of this cursing.  The Dead Sea is beautiful, but is it ever salty.  Something like 8 to 12 times saltier than any other body of water.  It is also the lowest point on earth.  Our tour guide told us that the Dead Sea could disappear in 50 years if something is not done.  He said the do have a plan.

I ended up with a little Dead Sea in my eyes and mouth.  Not fun.  Pretty painful actually.  There’s mud at the site for people to put on their bodies.  Like a mud bath.  Dilene put some on my face for me.  Well, I guess no one is suppose to wash his/her face off in the sea.  That’s why the showers are there.  Yeah, I should have watched the locals a little more closely.

Today we are visited The Jordanian National Commission for Women, meeting some senators, meeting a woman who won the International Women of Courage Award (presented by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama), and meeting an author and activist.  No big deal.  Just another Sunday for me.


Friday, June 17, 2011

What I learned today...

Our speakers today.  Rula is standing.

I posted some photos earlier but haven’t had much of a chance to share what I’m learning about the women’s movement in Jordan.  My knowledge is still minimum, but I hope to grow it over the next couple of days.  I imagine I’ll be processing this for years to come.  I am so struck with the parallel to U.S. women’s movements that I can’t shake it.  All of the struggles I heard about today have been and are currently mirrored in the U.S.  I wonder if this is true for other parts of the world as well.

Rula Quawas, a Jordanian professor and women’s activist, said that very little critical thinking happens in her classroom and in the greater society because independent thinking is discouraged.  She said that decisions are made by family patriarchs (and business owners) who make decisions based upon religion and their interpretations of the Holy Word.  I have faced the same issues when discussing feminism in the U.S.  It’s a bit more extreme here because it is much more collectivist here than in the U.S.  A woman must put her family and tribe first.  I’ve been told there is no Arabic word for I.  I’m not sure if the person who told me that was being literal or not.

Rula believes it is important to educate men (including religious leaders) about the oppression of women but said it’s tough because many of them see it as Western thought and a way to deculturalize the Middle East.  She mentioned honor killings and how women who stand up against such things are seen as loose and not religious.  (Same tactic used against feminist in the U.S.—except they’re usually called lesbians and man haters).  She also mentioned that there is apathy amongst Jordanian women and that women often don’t see that they’re being discriminated against.  That is a HUGE challenge for the women’s movement in Jordan.  Women have to have their awareness raised first.  Then activism. 

Many of the Jordanian women on the streets look sad and beaten down to me.  They are seen as “daughter of ______”, then “wife of __________”, then “mother of son’s name.“  They are not seen as individuals.  I see men out gathering together in town and having a few laughs but I’ve seen very few women together.  I’ve yet to see any laughing.  This made me think of Friedan’s concept of the “problem with no name.”  In fact, I asked if there was a common book (without mentioning Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”) women gather around in Jordan to discuss women’s issues.  The answer was no.

Another seminar attendee mentioned that feminist in the U.S. learned from the Black Civil Rights Movement.  Jordanians have not really had a similar experience from which to learn.  I hope that maybe they can look to the U.S. for ideas on how to advance, but I feel very ethnocentric (and not very 4th Wave) for saying that.

An aside:  I cannot begin to tell you about all of my ethnocentric moments in the last day. People ask me where I’m from, I say “America.”  They say, “Which one?” I tried to shake an elderly Iraqi gentleman’s hand.  He looked at me like I was crazy, but he shook it.  I also don’t know one word of Arabic and just get into every cab like the driver should know English.  I’ve had a couple of them say to me, “Speak Arabic.”  I’ll say, “Do you speak English?”  They respond, “Do you speak Arabic?”  I’ve taken to looking for small boys and speaking to them to get directions, etc.  They always speak great English, but the family patriarch wants me to speak to him, not his boys.  The little boys also know their U.S. geography.  They know Oklahoma is in the middle. 

The laws regarding Jordanian women are pretty good, but there is a problem putting laws into action.  One of the speakers said:  “Women’s conditions are changing but not their status.”

A major critique that one of our speakers had about the women’s movement in Jordan is that the research and activism is done my NGOs.  She said that they are a part of the system that oppresses women.  I’m guessing the NGOs are partially or fully funded by the government?  She also stated that these organizations have taken on a patriarchal structure.  The speaker who talked about this was very critical of the advances of women in Jordan.  She feels like much more can be done.  This is the same type of criticism we hear from feminist activists in the U.S.  In fact, this criticism sparked every wave of feminism in the U.S. (and much of the fragmentation of the movement as well).

By the way, I think our speakers are too hard on themselves.  The feminist activists have made great strides in the last 40 short years.  She says a lot more can be done and looks to Morocco and Tunisia for how that can be done.

Rula mentioned in regards to gender equality activism:  “The price is heavy.  It takes a toll on you.”  She said a Jordanian is always presented with the false dichotomy of being a feminist OR a nationalist.  A person cannot be both.  You’re either with us or against us.  I’ve also heard this discourse in the U.S.

I’ve had a few chances to interact with Jordanian women who work in shops, but I haven’t seen one girl yet.  It’s probably best for their dads if they keep those girls looked up while I’m here.  Today we asked one of our cab drivers if his wife wears traditional dress, including the head covering.  He said, “Of course!” and without skipping a beat, he very proudly said, “My daughters do too!”  His daughters are 14 and 15 years old.

The people of Amman have been very kind and hospitable.   It’s hard for me to wrap my head around why they don’t treat their women better, but that’s a very ethnocentric approach.  They think that doing what the Holy Word says is what’s best for their families.  Women sacrifice in a collectivist culture.  Family and tribe first.  There is no I.  Hmmm.  There is no I in team, but there is in famIly and trIbe.  Have I just found the new slogan for the Women’s Jordanian Movement?

some photos

I will try to create a slide show in the future but for now I wanted to share some of my favorite photos from Days 1 and 2.  Yesterday was spent mostly in airports and in the air.  Fourteen hours of air time to be exact.  As you can see, I was intrigued by food and drink in the Paris airport.  That's a tiramusa below. OMG.

Today we heard from speaker about the modern day women's movement in Jordan.  I will share more about that as soon as I get my thoughts them down.  There's a lot to process.  I also went to the Citadel today and an awesome bazaar.

 View from my hotel room. Notice the dust on the windows. 
Everything is very dusty here.  No one seems to mind.
Lunch today.  Middle Eastern food is eaten communally and is awesome. 

Remiders of America everywhere. 

 Close up on Subway menu.

 Bazaar today.  Jordanian men do not tend to make much eye contact with me. 
And they do kind of just gather like this everywhere, including the street. 
VERY communial--with other men.
Turns out this guy didn't want his photo taken.