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Jordan in the Bing

June 29, 2012

I don’t hate Binghamton. I certainly don’t love it, though. It’s where I grew up. Coming back feels like home and yet, most of the time when I’m here, I feel like a foreigner in a familiar place. The juxtaposition unsettles me. As distasteful as the bus rides can be, I’m always happy to climb into the ol’ rage tube and head back to Boston.

Just looking at this photo makes my blood boil a little.

Last night, I met an old friend for tea at Starbucks. I expected the usual – a couple of hours of conversation about books, movies, writing, libraries (Ben is a librarian), Jordan and journalism, while sipping overpriced green tea and overlooking the stunning adjacent view of the Vestal Parkway. But last night was different. I was wearing a red kufiya, wrapped into a ring around my neck. And two men noticed.

Man oh man, what a view!

“Excuse me, where did you get that scarf you are wearing around your neck?” one of the men asked me from his seat on the outdoor patio. They were from Jordan. And for the night, with these two men (and eventually three), I was back among the people I’ve been desperately missing since I left Amman two weeks ago.

One young man with short black hair and a light beard wore a striped blue shirt and sipped from a tall frozen drink. He is currently a student at the local university. His companion was dressed in black button down shirt, black slacks and dark sunglasses. He had been a student at the university as well, and was moving to Long Island today for a job.

We talked briefly about the sights of Jordan and what I had been doing there, but our conversation quickly turned to serious issues in the country. In the midst of our chatting, their friend — who was also from Jordan — joined us. The three serendipitously sat in spots matching their politics. From their vantage point, one sat on the right, defending the regime in Jordan and other dictatorships in the Arab World. The new friend sat in the middle, sympathetic to the plight of displaced persons such as the Syrians, but wary of democracies that are emboldening burgeoning political powerhouses like the Muslim Brotherhood. The other man was to his left, who denounced the electoral system in Jordan and talked about the need for democracies throughout the Arab world.

Our conversation lasted more than two hours and covered a range of topics: protests, corruption, the economy, the price of gas, weather, crazy cab driving, global warming, Middle East politics, and refugees, among other things. We also covered:

Drinking. “Is it strange for you to come to America and see so many people drinking?” I asked them.

They weren’t surprised, having gotten an introduction to the America way via films and news. When comparing America to Jordan, it is obviously very different, since the majority of Jordan’s population is Muslim. It is forbidden to drink. But even so, one of them said, people are slowly getting used to seeing more drinking in Jordan. Slowly. Schwai, schwai.

That doesn’t mean he is comfortable with it though. “When I see a drunk person in the street, I will go to the other side. I am afraid of what he will do,” the man in the striped shirt said.

Freedom of Speech. Mister Right (the man sitting on the right) believes Uday Abu Issa — the person who was sentenced to two years in jail for burning a picture of King Abdullah II — should stay in jail forever.

“But this is freedom of speech,” his friend in black countered, adding, “In a democracy, you can say what you like.” He used an example to illustrate American’s freedom to express themselves: the bathroom, where he found a drawing of President Barack Obama over a toilet.

The Dictator. Two of them recommended this movie to me and Ben. “You should see the movie The Dictator. Then you will get a picture of our governments,” one said, laughing as they waved their four fingers back and forth across their throats.

A Real Dictator. In defense of the people Sadaam Hussein killed, Mister Right compared Hussein’s actions to the problem of an infected finger. “You would need to get rid of it to save the hand, right?”

My friend Ben responded, “But you’re comparing people to an infected finger.” Point taken.

I could write ten more paragraphs about the night. It was incredibly stimulating, so different from what I had been expecting when I walked into the coffeeshop.

It was also gratifying to hear all of the issues that my fellow Northeastern sihafas wrote about come up in conversation. It made me really proud of the relevance of our work to Jordanians.

When the new friend began talking about what life is like for Syrian people now, the man in the black button-down shirt said, “She was there, she saw it.”

A validation. A reason to go back. All because I put on that kufiya.

Stylish AND a great conversation-starter.

(Interior bus photo courtesy of

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