‘Live from Jordan’ reviewed in The Jordan Times

Live from Jordan cover Here is a link to a book review I wrote for The Jordan Times. The book, Live from Jordan: Letters home from my journey through the Middle East, was written by Benjamin Orbach who was based in Jordan for almost a year. As a Jordanian and fan of travel writing, I enjoyed this book and recommend it. Here is my conclusion:

It is no secret that Orbach’s book is intended primarily for Western readers. It is written with the aim of giving the Western audience a glimpse of life in the Middle East. The Western reader is given a fairly accurate accounting of life in modern Amman and some neighbouring Arab cities. To Jordanians, though, the book offers a chance to reflect back on pre- and post-Iraq invasion sentiments, and is a dissection of the lifestyle of modern Amman with all its complexities and the social and economic disparities of its residents. While the Western reader will have a great deal of material to digest, for Jordanians, the book primarily serves as an avenue for contemplation and critical self-examination.

Read the whole review here

American tradition: Backyard camping

Westwind in the backyardIn preparation for our much anticipated camping trip up amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Skyline Drive [pic] at the end of this month, the husband wanted to try out a brand new tent (one he’d bought years ago but never used) by camping out in the backyard at his parents’ house. He told me the idea and I liked it. So, last weekend, we brought our gear (two sleeping bags, two pads) and headed to the Shenandoah Valley, where we got the tent out of the attic and set it up in the backyard.

To increase the camping flavor of our adventure we decided to watch the documentary Grizzly Man while settling into the tent before we slept. It was fun, well except for the fact that the movie freaked me out a bit. It’s a real-life story about a man who gets eaten by a grizzly bear while camping in the wilds of Alaska. I’m pretty sure there are bears where we are going to camp but, according to the husband, they are "small bears" that you try to ignore if you ever run into them. Of course, this did not make me feel any better about the possibility of a bear attack, but I’m up for adventure.

I was also surprised when the husband told me that backyard camping is pretty common, often done by children seeking an escape from their parents’ house. Mom Tynes shared her backyard camping adventures from when she was young; she’d even craft a stove and cook! I had no idea. The American lifestyle never ceases to amaze me.

Horror at Prince Hamza Hospital and the power of the blogosphere

As are the majority of bloggers in the Jordanian blogosphere, I was shocked and dismayed by the treatment of the father of a fellow blogger at Prince Hamza Hospital. It really beggars belief. However, this is not the main reason for this post. I’m blogging about this to highlight the effect of the blogosphere in a country that has been used to government-dominated media outlets for the last few decades. You see, word spread about this inhumane treatment through the blogosphere and it has already found its way into traditional media. Addustour daily published the story and it was picked up on a news website called Rum. Hopefully, this will bring still more attention and prompt concerned officials to act.

When I was growing up in Jordan, I never had such an outlet. We heard of similar heart-wrenching stories occurring to friends and family but we felt completely helpless. There were instances when we could not do anything to highlight the predicaments caused by an inefficient public system or institution. Things are no longer the same. There is now a way to spread the word even if traditional media outlets shy away from reporting what they may regard as "daring" stories or incidents that might air the country’s dirty laundry.

I’m glad that I’m witnessing this first-hand. The effect of the blogging phenomenon should never be underestimated. After all, bloggers are getting international recognition. Just last week, outspoken Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas was named as one of the recipients of the prestigious Knight International Journalism Award. Yes the blogs are here to stay, despite what others might think.

Update: Blogger Who Sane reports that he has been contacted by officials from the Health Ministry following his post and the reactions that followed.

Upon republishing the story in Addustour Daily, (Batir, I owe you my life), senior officials at the Ministry of Health contacted me yesterday and confirmed that the newly appointed Minister of Health, Dr. Salah Al Mawajdeh, sends his regards and is personally very concerned about this issue and has given direct orders to start an investigation lead by the Head of Internal Auditing Department at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Azmi Al Hadidi, who called me and visited my dad at the hospital yesterday (September 5th, 2007) and assured us that the investigation will prosecute those who have caused this ordeal.

Snapshot: Watching the demonstrators

Shia protestors at the White HouseOne of the highlights of my day is my lunch break. And it’s not just because I get to take a breather and step away from the computer screen. I can also take a walk in nearby Lafayette Park and watch the chess players, the lobbyists, the dog walkers and of course the demonstrators.

Last Friday, while munching on my Cosi salad, I saw a large number of people chanting while holding banners as they approached the fenced gate of the White House. I finished my salad quickly and jogged over to the White House to see what was happening. To my surprise, I saw a sizable group of Iraqis carrying anti-Wahabism signs and other banners condemning the Saudi regime for what they believe is Saudi involvement in supporting the Iraqi insurgency. I assumed the demonstrators were Shia, mainly because of the Shia slogans some demonstrators carried that hailed Imam Hussein.

I spoke with a couple of demonstrators and they told me that they had come all the way from Detroit to stage their protest. They also informed me that before coming to the White House they had been demonstrating in front of the Saudi embassy in DC but they were not allowed inside. I took a picture of the demonstration using my outdated Nokia mobile phone, so I apologize for the quality. But if you look closely you can see some people staging what looks like a scene with an armed man (dressed in black) trying to kill another man. If you look still closer, you will see a banner saying أقتلوا الشيعة (Kill the Shia). I did not hang around for long, as I had to get back to work. On my way back I passed by the chess players, the lobbyists and the dog walkers. Life had resumed to normal in this cosmopolitan city, which has seen countless demonstrations.

A few days after seeing the protest, I read a news item about the banning of Alhayat newspaper by Saudi authorities due to a story the paper ran that said a Saudi extremist had played a key role in a violent Iraqi al-Qaida front group.

Hooked on ‘The Closer’

Kyra Sedgwik is the closerAlthough I enjoy watching TV a great deal, my current life doesn’t leave me with enough time to do so. There are always things to do over the weekends and evenings such that I rarely turn on the TV to see what’s playing.

But Monday night is a special case. Every Monday night this summer I wait patiently for 9:00 PM so I can kick back and watch The Closer, a police investigation show that runs on TNT. What makes the show a viewing pleasure is not the plot or storyline per se. It is the amazing performance by Kyra Sedgwik. Playing the character of Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, Sedgwik is "the closer," — the one who interviews suspects and closes cases by getting them to confess. She is entertaining, witty, sexy and just plain fun to watch.

Before watching the show, I’d never paid much attention to Sedgwik. I always thought of her as that woman who looks like Julia Roberts. I really had no idea she was that talented (nor that she is married to Kevin Bacon for that matter). I highly recommend this show to anyone looking for top-notch TV entertainment. Six more days before the next episode.