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First Mansaf, Then Obama.

May 23, 2012

Today in the midst of daylong interviewing at an organization, I was invited to eat mansaf — Jordan’s national dish — with the staff. Considering myself a pro from my 27 months of eating beshbarmak with my hands in Kazakhstan, I figured this would be a breeze. But, it turns out rice is a bit more tricky than boiled noodles.

I read in the saying “Pride always comes before a fall,” once in a book and it is a mantra I that has proven itself too many times to not be a certainty. My neighbor at the table offered to roll a ball of mansaf for me — I awkwardly tried to shove the whole thing in my mouth and ended up with half of it dropping onto my pants with a nice, oily splat. Luckily, my very messy colleague Matt Kauffman was much worse at it than I, so attention was diverted from me soon enough.

After lunch, we went to have tea, which apparently in this office is code word for “debate.” First, we each had Arabic coffee in the traditional way: each person is poured a small amount of coffee into a small cup. The host will keep pouring more until you shake the cup to let them know you have finished. Then they move onto the next person.

The coffee was a warm-up for both the tea and a debate on President Obama, voting, international relations, the failures of America and the civil rights movement. Sitting in an office of about eight or nine men, I quickly realized I was not necessary for the discussion. I wasn’t addressed any of the questions and when I spoke, my opinion was ignored. Eventually, I excused myself to wipe at food stains on my clothes and hope when I came out of the bathroom, the conversation would be over. It wasn’t. I listened to the men roar at each other from outside the door.

I know the issue of women’s rights is so complicated here, and cannot be simplified with some superficial ironic comment, but I did find it interesting that as the men debated the civil rights movement, I sat outside a door, my voice unwelcome. Did they care if I voted for Obama? Eh, not really.

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