Who Exactly ARE the Less Fortunate?

So, my kids’ school (along with half of the others in the Emirates I think) have joined with a major hotel chain in preparing large shoe box sized packages for workers here in the Gulf.  Families are invited to take a box and fill it with items needed by most of the workers.  These are things like razors, toothbrushes, combs, a T-shirt, a cap.  There’s no food in these boxes, no money or anything like that.  It’s just a small box of toiletries that says, “we’re thinking of you and hope this may make life a little more comfortable.”  On the day that the boxes were distributed, I had a very interesting discussion with one of the other moms.  She mentioned having picked up a box.  I shared that I had grabbed two.  She went on to tell me that she, however, had some philosophical objections to them.

I have to admit I was a bit befuddled.  Could someone have philosophical objections to helping the less fortunate?  She went on to tell me how people here aren’t really needy.  These folks in the labor camps may not live in luxury, but they aren’t really in need.  Apparently, some of her previous postings have been in places with people who are really needy, you know, places like Pakistan and Bangladesh, and… you get the picture.  I found her argument interesting.  My initial response was that perhaps she wasn’t aware how grim the work camps actually are.

No, no, she assured me that she knows life isn’t easy, but they’re not really in bad shape.  Given the articles written on this topic, I’m left wondering if she doesn’t need a trip to visit these folks in their camps.  But, lets get beyond that.  Because really it did get me thinking about this topic.  Who ARE the less fortunate?  How can we best help them?  After all, I consider these boxes a very small way of teaching the Beans not about charity (the lesson she acknowledged her kids would learn) but about giving thanks for our blessings and remembering that others have less.  This doesn’t mean they ARE less, just they have less.

As I was shopping for the contents of the boxes with one of the other Moms yesterday (yes, I can turn even that into a fun morning out), my thoughts finally crystallized.  Would it be better to get all of these little personal hygiene items and put them in boxes and send them to the really needy people?  After all, that would cost significantly more.  And, those boxes that the hotel chain sponsored, would it be better to use plastic ziploc bags instead as the other mom contended?  Is it wasteful to give these tokens to these hard-working folks?  Could we do better by sending the “charity” far away?

And for me the answer is fairly clear: No. In America for a long, long time we have been caught up in saving the poor all around the world.  That’s really taking the splinter out of our neighbors’ eyes while ignoring our own plank.  America has poor. Does America have the abject poverty of many third-world countries?  Um, yes.  Children go hungry in the land of plenty.  People are homeless.  And for all the good we can (and perhaps should) do abroad, I really don’t think we can ignore the people at home with our charity.  I don’t want to see my for-now home follow that bias.  In giving to the workers living in the camps, we’re acknowledging that we have need right here in our own back yards.

And you know what else?  I’d contend we’re doing more for the people in those poverty-stricken desperately needy places as well.  Stay with me here, when I given a box of toiletries (and a shirt and cap) to a worker here, I save him about $20.  To me, that’s not much money.  To him, that’s ALOT of money.  And that money that he saves in not buying those items himself, what do you think he does with that?  Does he go buy an ipod? Well, I’d say he more likely sends it home to his family in Bangladesh or India or Pakistan or .  So, by saving him money here, we’re giving his family more money there.  And let’s be realistic, the people who come and work on construction projects in the UAE are not the creme de la creme of society from developed nations.  These are the folks whose opportunities to provide for their families at home are beyond poor.  They are people from poverty stricken nations to whom coming to the desert to make $150 a month is a fortune.  They think that working 7 day weeks and perhaps 12 hour shifts per day is worth the sacrifice for their families.  So are we really trying to say they aren’t less fortunate?  Do we truly think these people aren’t needy?  And is it not the height of naivety to think that sending talcum powder and deodorant is really going to help the truly poverty-stricken in the third world?

If your passion is to go and help the poorest of the poor, do what Mother Theresa did.  Go into the slums of Calcutta and help people.  But keep in mind that often the best way to help the poor over there is to help the needy here.  Because in our little slice of the world people come from everywhere.  Here, the butterfly wings of your help in a labor camp can help send the rain of blessings “over there” where poverty gnaws at empty bellies.  And in this world we live in, chances abound for us to help our children see that everyone doesn’t live the life they live.  We have so many excellent opportunities to give back and show our children that it is, indeed more blessed to give than to receive.  Let’s take those chances with no philosophical objections.  Let’s give to the needy here and the poor there.  Because I am fairly certain that we have enough blessings to go around, don’t we?

Happy Need-Meeting!

A Day of Celebration

Yeah, for those who came here thinking I’m an operative for a terrorist organization, shame on you.  In actuality, based on some things I heard last year from families of victims, I’ve decided that from now on I won’t write sad and mournful pieces on this annual say of sorrow and grief.  Instead, I’m going to celebrate.  

I’m going to celebrate my friend Ramzi.  I might not have met him, but his sense of mischief, his zest for life, his general positive outlook shines in the hearts of those that knew him.  Even knowing that some of that may be the watercolored memories of someone we’ve lost, the guy was jokester.  He was a brother, a friend, a son – he LIVED.

And I’m also going to celebrate Robert Talhami.  He was a Jordanian like so many others… he never really lived in Jordan.  He was ours by nationality if not by lifestyle.  I will celebrate the father of young sons who was taken too soon, but made a difference while he was here.  The son who was looking forward to bringing his mom into his home.  In short, I’ll celebrate the man Robert was.

And in doing so, I know I’m honoring both of these families.  I hope that they too are celebrating the life their loved-one led.  I hope that they throw a huge party… and if they’re not to that point yet… well, I’ll hope that one year soon they will be.  And I’ll also hope that the year they get there, they invite me to the party because I want to be there in person to celebrate these brothers of mine.  It would be an honor to meet their loved ones and celebrate their lives.  For me today, I’m celebrating them and remembering that they lived and made a difference.  They were here.  They were ours and all of Jordan should be giving a huge party in their honor.  Because they were.

Happy Celebrations!

The ugly side of culture clash, boys had better NOT just be boys…

So a week or so ago, small news in the UK turned into big news for Jordan. This isn’t the tale of Jordanian athletes gone to the UK to win gold and succeeding. That would also be big news… In a good way. Instead this is the worst-case scenario. This is three Paralympic athletes gone to the UK and engaging in behavior that back home might be fairly minor. In the UK, however, it’s the kind of behavior that can lead to jail time. As you can read here and here, the men were brought up on charges of sexual assault.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if you read, you will see that they are charged with groping a girl after taking pictures of her and of grabbing another girl outside their training venue. I’m pretty sure they thought it was all in good fun. After all, three young women walking about outside the venue, likely flirting are fair game right? And so, they’ve learned the hard way that in the west, they are not in fact fair game. While such minor incidents in Jordan would likely lead to laughter and a total inaction of police (they weren’t even harmed, right?), in the UK this is pretty serious business. Outside the region, groping someone is a crime. Grabbing a girl on the street is also a crime. You can’t simply manhandle people because your perception is that they’d enjoy it. Or that your friends would think it was funny.

I found myself wondering what training the Jordanian teams were offered before being taken to the UK to represent our fine country. Given that the Paralympics trainer was one of those in the triad, I’m guessing none. And that is where Jordan failed its athletes. Whatever you may get away with at home, you should absolutely know better abroad. After all, I constantly hear charges that western women in the region need to respect local mores and culture. I hear that we should dress more conservatively, behave more conservatively, become different. And here is the finest example that this is a two way street. You can’t ask everyone to conform to your standards and then think you can behave in whatever way you want when abroad.

So while I feel for these young men who had their dreams of gold destroyed by their own actions (they were removed from competition and brought home to await their trial date), my heart aches for all of those amazing men and women living in a society that sees infirmity as a reason to exclude and discriminate. Their role model was flawed and failed Ina. Way that harmed each of them. These men, who were to represent Jordan, damaged not only Jordan’s reputation abroad, but also harmed the dreams of potential Paralympians thought the kingdom. The cover story in JO magazine on one of the three just makes it that much worse. And that, ladies and gents, is why boys most definitely should not just be boys…

Sad dream killers…

History: Made Every Day

So, the History Channel has this slogan that seems slightly melodramatic.  History: Made Every Day.  I mean, clearly history is made every day.  It is a day by day process.  But really, the melodrama of the Made Every Day slogan has quite amused me.  And then I realized something.  Melodrama or not, history is made every day and you may just find yourself in the middle of it.

MommaBean confession: I am a crime show junkie.  CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, you name it I love it.  In Jordan, my favorite channel – bar none – was Discovery ID.  We didn’t get the new Crime and Investigation channel, but it sure sounded like it would be exactly my speed.  When we moved, the program El 3atal picked didn’t give us ID.  I was a bit heartbroken.  However, on the good news side, while he spent weeks on end without us this summer and got bored with the terrible channels and inability to actually record properly, he switched back to Showtime.  And now we get both ID and CI!  I was watching a program yesterday on CI and realized something interesting.  Not only is history made every day, but several times I’ve been right in the middle of it.

The show yesterday was about Laser Man.  This is a guy who spent 6 months terrorizing Sweden in 1991 and 1992.  From August to January, he went around shooting immigrants to Sweden in some bizarre spree.  The thing is, I was there.  I was in Sweden during that December and January.  This was a huge topic of conversation.  Not only was I in Sweden, I was in Uppsala when he shot his victim there.  People were very afraid, and yet his target was those who were visibly different.  So, in this nation of blonds, dark haired folks became wary.  Watching the program reminded me of the bizarre events.  And then I thought of other shows I watched last year.

Back in 2002, a banner year for Baton Rouge Louisiana, there were two major events that occurred. The first was that Baton Rouge had its very own serial killer.  At the end of his spree, he would have killed 7 women.  The second was an outbreak of West Nile Virus, a mosquito-born virus that can turn into encephalitis/meningitis.  In the last couple of years, I’ve seen several fascinating programs on each of these events on either the History Channel or ID.  It kind of put into perspective why one of my dearest friends called me in the summer of 2002 and asked, are you guys okay?  Bottom line, it wasn’t so safe to be living in Baton Rouge that year.  Now, the serial killer liked thin brunettes (SO not me) and mosquitos think I am not tasty.  It was a great year not to be anyone’s type ;).  But watching those programs made me realize that even as you’re sitting there living through history, you don’t realize it’s history being made.

I mean a serial killer is a huge thing, right?  And yet, it kind of wasn’t.  Both times I’ve been in the same place as a serial killer, it’s been kind of a non-event for me.  In Sweden, I looked like a Swede.  In Louisiana, I was the wrong type.  And yet watching the programs afterwards, you wonder how you weren’t totally freaked out.  How did you just go on about life as usual.  I remember watching programs about the DC sniper and wondering how after the second shooting anyone could go out.  And yet, twice I’ve been in the same locale as a seriously dangerous individual and twice it hasn’t caused the worry and concern it perhaps should have.

So, each of us has the opportunity to be part of history being made every day.  Come to think of it, I was also in Ontario back when they had the huge scare about the drinking water that was contaminated by e.coli.  Odd, so many programs that I see on these channels talk about places I lived or visited when they were making history.  How odd is that?  I wonder if everyone has that experience?  Surely history is made everywhere, or do I just get a lion’s share of bizarre circumstances that will later be made into specials on the channels I love to watch?  Interesting thoughts anyway…

Happy Historical Coincidence!




It’s Sheep We’re Up Against…

Okay, so the original occurrence of this sentiment is in this awesome song by the Housemartins (so yes, you’re getting a two-fer of obscure musical references and funny pictures, ladies and gents).  I’m embedding it below (If I can figure out how)

I’ve loved this song for a few decades ;).

On our recent summer vacation trip including a zoomy visit to Jordan, we were literally up against the sheep.  I’m dropping in a few pictures of something that just doesn’t happen in the US on a major highway.  To be fair, a few hundred yards before this they did have a sheep crossing sign.  If you see a livestock crossing sign in Jordan, take it seriously!


We came upon the sheep while driving on the Dead Sea highway.  They came up fast.  They soon had us surrounded, quite literally, as seen below.


Once the main flock went on about their business, we still had to wait for the stragglers.  I found myself amused by their very straggley-ness…


Since living in the region, I have often found myself in this position, the sole person moving against a flock of sheep.  Everyone’s going one way about their business and to get to another route or path, you have push and move, and body-block.  Some days it just seems it would be easier to go along with the flock, no?  Come to think of it, I had many of those days in America too.  So, maybe all of us humans are just sheep sometimes…

Happy Claustrophobia!


Mobility – Old School: Reading on the Go







As you may be aware, the Beans and I spent about 6 weeks of this summer in the US.  Not just the US, but small town America.  We had a great time and saw many, many sights.  One that produced lots of enjoyment and surprise for the Beans was… the Bookmobile!  They were intrigued by the idea.  For those of you from a different part of the world (mental or physical), you may be wondering what a bookmobile is.  So, here’s a picture and then I’ll explain.



Bookmobiles are moving libraries.  They go to areas where residents typically can’t get to the library.  They’re an outward symbol of the American belief that everyone should have access to books.  It takes living somewhere else to appreciate the joy that is the public library.  After living for 6 years in countries with no libraries or few libraries with anything anyone would want to read, the Beans were astounded by the very idea of the Bookmobile.  We were driving along on the way to the bowling alley when we came up on one that looked much like this one.  It was fascinating to see the Beans’ reactions.

They were floored.  Did I mean to say that libraries traveled TO the people?  Like for free?  Like so they could read there too?  You don’t pay for the books or the bookmobile?  It comes on a schedule?

To me, the bookmobile is a fact of life.  I grew up on local libraries that were really local.  They were in your neighborhood or close by.  You dropped by on a Saturday and spent time reading.  You were proud of your first-ever library card (kids got them at age 6 in my neck of the woods).  Each week you got to return one world, maybe a pirate ship, an outer space adventure, or a mystery and you got to carefully select another.  I loved the library.  The Beans think that really only schools have libraries.  I think they’ve been thinking I’m a bit odd because I buy so very many books.  We have our own little library here, and it’s not very little.

Back in Jordan, as part of the school’s annual book fees, we were given some books that won the Prince Rashid bin Maktoum Foundation award for excellence.  The first year it came with an adorable note indicating that the school wanted the books to form the “core” of a library that would be added to each year.  Is it bad for me to admit that I laughed?  Heartily.  It was, at the time, 8 years too late to form the core of our library.  At the time, we had probably 100 books in Arabic alone.  Their two little books were great additions.  When ButterBean asked why I found it so funny, I explained to her what they mean by it being the core of the library.  Her next question was perhaps predictable.  But, why would they say that?  It brought about an interesting discussion.  We talked about her best friend, a fairly typical Jordanian girl.  We’ve visited their house a number of times.  I asked her how many books she’s seen around the house.  After some thought, she realized she hadn’t seen either a single adult or children’s book.  That’s why they need to send us books to form the “core” of our libraries.  And while I commend them for doing this, it’s both valuable and necessary, it will always be funny in the context of our house.

So, given the general attitude toward reading, the lack of libraries, and the overall feel of the region, the wonder at a bookmobile makes sense.  I’m glad they got to see one as I think these moments help them identify what’s different about their lifestyle.  They learn that Mommy isn’t the only crazy one.  In fact, America is full of crazy people who believe that knowledge is power, it is the ticket to a strong future.  Money is ephemeral.  It can be gone in an instant.  The same is true of possessions.  But knowledge, well, that lasts a lifetime. And books can be the best ticket to another world you’ve ever experienced.  So, moms and dads, buy a book.  Read a book.  Let your child see you reading… you’re creating their future with every word.

Happy Mobility!