Reflecting on Six Weeks in Jordan
It feels like I haven't blogged forever since my last post was written during the last hours before I left Amman for Washington D.C. Now that I'm back I hope to be posting more often than I did during my vacation. The long trip across Europe and the Atlantic was very tiring and the recent events in London made things all the more stressful.
We worried about what was allowed on the plane and what wasn't. Thankfully, we were allowed to bring electronics onto the plane (laptop, cameras, phones, etc), but we had to forfeit anything that we had which was made of a "fluid substance." I'm not sure how hard it is for men to do that, but I know it was very inconvenient for me to have to give up my lotion, perfume, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, lip gloss, anti-perspirant, etc. Of course I wasn't stupid enough to throw all that away because I packed some things in my checked luggage, and other things that were banned from the plane cabin I put in a bag that was sent down with the rest of the checked baggage. Although I am usually satisfied with KLM's service, I wondered why they didn't provide us with hygienic essentials that were taken away before boarding. I heard that some airlines were providing passengers with snacks and drinks since they were not allowed to bring on their own. They could've done the same with things like toothpaste, lotion, deodorant, etc.
In any case, we landed safely in one piece and didn't have any trouble at the airport where most employees were surprisingly nice and smiley. Then it occurred to me that I was possibly just looking out for anyone being nice and smiling since much of that was lacking in Jordan :)
On the way home, it took some time for my eyes to adjust to the lush green scenery, the orderly streets, and the generally homogeneous look of suburban Virginia. When I got home, it also took some time for my ears to adjust to the extreme peace and quiet in my neighborhood. No pick-up trucks were roaming the streets honking their horns selling gas and vegetables, no children were to be found yelling and screaming in the streets, no rowdy teenagers were blasting music in their cars or overly aggressive middle aged taxi drivers obsessively honking their horns. It was so quiet that it took me a while longer to fall asleep.
And over the past week since I've been back, I can't help but think about everything that occurred in my month and half stay half way across the world. Nothing had to "happen" per se, just what I observed and heard from Jordanians truly saddened me.
I don't like sounding extremely negative and pessimistic, but it is really hard for me to find something good to say about the state of Jordanian society. Speaking to my cousins about their college experience is utterly depressing. They spoke of incompetent professors, lack of facilities, apathetic students, corrupt administrations, lack of "campus life" and active student organizations, etc.
If colleges were that bad, what was to be said of high schools then? Of course, one cannot speak about high schools in Jordan without considering the Tragedy of Tawjihi. On one side we have families pressuring their children to ace the final 12th grade exam so they can be doctors and engineers. Schools and teachers overload students with work, encourage them to blindly memorize text books and regurgitate the information on the test paper. There is no thinking or analyzing; just memorizing and reciting. And when the results appear, all hell breaks loose. Your final score is announced to everyone, and I mean everyone. If you ace the exam, your life will go on. You will apply to be accepted into any university that takes you, under any major that will accept you with the score that you have, and you will take that road to medicine, computer science, or Arabic studies, whether you like it or not. If you fail the exam, you are doomed. The whole world will know that you are a failure. Even if you were an "A" student your whole life, and you messed up on that one exam, you are a failure. You parents will lock you at home, lower their head when they walk out of the house, and avoid situations where they will be embarrassed to reveal your failing score. If you didn't fail, but didn't score high enough, you will most likely be forced to accept a major you are not passionate about or remotely interested in. You will go on to university lacking the enthusiasm required for students to produce and achieve. You and your peers will not be innovative or creative, and will be afraid of the day you graduate to face the horrors of the job market.
Away from the ailing educational system, you will see a country where as the cliche goes, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. You may stumble upon a neighborhood in Amman with guarded villas, majestic gardens, lavish pools and fountains, and German cars roaming the streets. There is nothing wrong with this picture of course, until you realize that most cities and neighborhoods across the country could not be further away from this image. On those streets, Jordanians worry if they will have enough food and water for the next day. They worry if they will be able to pay the ever increasing taxes on every possible product and service their government provides. They wonder if they will be able to pay for the books or uniforms their children will need for the new school year.
On these same streets, you will encounter some people who pretend to not know anything about law, order, ethics, morals, or common courtesy. Of course I would not want to generalize here, but one too many "incidents" and "encounters" with such individuals makes you wonder if there really is anyone who has respect for the law or maintains any ounce of respect for their fellow human being. There is not much regard for traffic regulations which is evident in the horrifically high rate of fatal accidents in the country. The concept of standing in a line is nearly non-existent, and if one attempts to form one they are easily cut off from every possible direction. The idea of customer service is also a few decades ahead of many institutions and businesses in Jordan.
This is not to mention, of course, the unmentionable: the sad state of political "reform" and political awareness in the country. I don't want to delve too much into this category because it would simply take too long to discuss. What bothered me most about this is how rare it is to find young Jordanians who are interested in or aware of the domestic, regional or international political scene. These 20 somethings can't be bothered much with issues of parliaments, freedom of speech and expression, national agendas, a couple of wars next door, etc. Knowledge of or interest in politics and/or social movements appears to be superficial. You don't find many youth "dedicated" to a cause, whether it be political, social, environmental, or economic. There is a certain segment of young citizens active with religious organizations but it is not a majority by any calculation. I naturally find myself comparing college students in Jordan to those in the US, which is probably an unfair thing to do seeing the huge difference between these two countries. In the US, you'd be hard pressed to find a college student who is not involved in a student organization such as sororities and fraternities, social justice clubs, animal rights clubs, religious studies clubs, cultural clubs, and academic interest clubs. I realize that the environment in Jordanian universities is not as welcoming of this type of activity, but it is also clear that many students are too lazy to take the initiative to push for these programs at their colleges. They would rather not deal with the bureaucracy and trouble it would take to start one of these clubs, but they also do not realize that if they commit to making this happen then it will be easier for students after them to do the same and benefit from their efforts.
To be honest, my intention is not to highlight all these negative aspects of Jordanian society that I witnessed just for the sake of it. It really hurts me to see that we are so behind on many issues despite the potential that our countrymen and women have to make things better. It's not easy to bring about change into society but I strongly believe that if each person becomes aware of the ills of their society and has the will to make it better, then they will find a way to do so, one at a time. I really do hope that the next time I visit my beloved Jordan, I will witness a change, even the smallest positive changes will be good enough for me. As long as I don't come back to reflect on the same problems without any improvements, I will be satisfied.
Here's to hoping.