an american tribe in amman

Words, as often, fall short of telling exactly what we feel for the people we know. Words, as Conrad once said, are great foes of meaning. With all this in mind, I’ll try to write some words about some friends who have left Amman, just today.

This is not the first time we receive an American student in our little apartment in Amman, we had a good experience with a guy last semester, his name is Ryan. This time, this student became our best friend and brother, and his friends, the SIT tribe, were all great as well. Paul Balmer, a smart student and a promising athlete, coming from Portland, Oregon, in the Northwest, and studying middle-eastern studies at Pormona college. His Arabic was good, he used the word “6ab3an” a lot, and, of course, a whole set of new Arabizi vocab that he developed with Ben, Biff, Ian, Anna, Tim, Andy, and of course Dave, and the rest of the”tribe”. These words include “Zakilcious”, “Shoks” (shokran+thanks), “Deens” (JD’s), and the brilliant “mish mosh” (Mish moshkelah= no problem), and most recently when they came back from Egypt “Eeeg” (short from Egypt). If these “shabab” would stay some other months in Jordan, they’ll definitely develop their own variety of Jordo-Palestinian Arabic!

Paul has always shown, during his stay,  the most endearing qualities and manners. We’ve been extremely happy, and lucky, to host such a guy this semester. His independent study project was about the student government at the university of Jordan, and how the Arab spring is influencing its activities and attitudes. It was an interesting study, I tried to help as much as I could, he interviewed me on the topic, as a student at JU, and I tried to help him interviewing some guys that I know, who are interested in student politics there. He read whatever he could find on the issue in English, and through the questionnaires and interviews with the other students and researchers, and of course a meeting with the current president of the union, he came up with some results and insights. One general insight, as far as I remember, is that the student union at JU is not in a position to greatly push the reform process in Jordan from inside the university, especially in light of what he described as a sweeping apathy among the students regarding student politics. A large number of JU students do not know the name nor the political background of their union’s president. Students may only take to streets and participate in the demonstrations if they wish to effect real change on a national level. These students, normally, do not actually represent the student body as a whole, since most of them will be affiliated with a party outside the university.

We had long discussions about this issue, especially the idea that the student union is subject to two opposite powers, the official power of the university administration, taking into consideration the influence of the security apparatus and its palpable intervention in students’ lives , and the power of the control-freak leadership of the the opposition parties, namely in this case, the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, that influences, in a way or another, all the decisions taken by the union. This is a fact that was directly expressed by the president of the union during a discussion with him; he told me that he’s keen on letting students know that he’s a member of the movement, and that “we obey our leadership”. Of course!

The Palestinian issue occupied a good space in our discussions as well. Paul is politically moderate, he likes Obama, and he’s positive that there’ll be some changes in the US policies regarding Palestine. At the same time, he was clearly against the Israeli crimes, illegal settlements, the blockade on Gaza Strip, and all of the other “shabab” as well, including Sarah and Ben, who are Jews. The issue of Palestine, fortunately, was the issue which helped creating a friendly atmosphere among us. Religion, as well, was more of a unifying aspect rather than being a factor of possible disagreement and clash, Al7amdulellah.

Paul, learned to be a good arabic coffee maker. He made with Biff and Ben a nice video “In Search for Arabic Coffee”.Watch this:

I really hope that he had a good experience with me and my brother Omar in our apartment, which is more like a dorm room, and with my family downstairs. The elevator “the dumb-waiter” was of a great help all the time. Everything will come upstairs by a ring on the internal phone between the two apartments, and will be available after you hang off. It was a lot of fun, except for the never-ending process of washing the dishes!. Omar was no help, but I found out during Paul’s absence that he started getting better in this regard. Washing the dishes was almost divided proportionately between me and Paul, since we lost hope in getting any help from downstairs kaman.

Every night, a question is raised: What are we going to eat tonight? (sho bedna nokol?) It was crazy; lots of nights we’d be satisfied with some Labaneh, Hummus, Falafel, Cheese, Za3tar. But we also had some good dinners downstairs, in some restaurants (cheap, but good ones), and alfresco! Burgers and pastas were a special treat of course, Paul made a pasta one time, it was “zakilicious”!

I actually don’t like writing this in English. I really hope that Paul and the guys would be able to read my language one day as I do theirs. I can say that Paul is, inshallah, getting better and better in Arabic, and I believe he’s set some plans to do more work on it. Ben and Ian are making a good progress in learning the language, I also hope they’ll keep up the hard work.

Living with Paul, I can write endlessly about the things we’ve learned from, and about each other. I can write about Paul’s effort in encouraging me to do some running with him and to slim down a bit. I’ve become more environment-friendly and learned from him some good ideas about leading a green life and protecting the environment. I can say that I have a better understanding of different issues that contribute to the intercultural tension between Americans and Arabs. I can also talk about the value of friendship, and brotherhood, from a new perspective. Spending this good period of time with him made me more intent on pursuing my studies in translation, and encouraged me to write up my thesis as soon as possible, in order to head forward to get a PhD in translation studies or cultural studies.

Paul should be in Africa now, in Mozambique, for quick visit for his sister who’s working there. We already miss him, my dad’s only wish now is to receive another student just as Paul! I think this is not impossible, but Paul has definitely raised the parameters!

Now, we are waiting to receive a new student, on June 15 I believe. It’ll be another story, and I’m sure we’ll have another good experience, but Paul and his friends will always be the best.

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مترجم على الخشبة

مترجم على خشبة

آذار 2011

“إن المسرح أعظمُ أشكال الفنون والسبيل الأقصر لأن يعبّر الإنسان لأخيه الإنسان عن معنى الإنسانية.”  أوسكار وايلد

في وقت مبكر من شهر فبراير\شباط 2011، وجدت رسالة في البريد الوارد على صفحتي في الفيس بوك تطلب مني أن أكون مترجماً لورشة عمل للتدريب المسرحي على بعض أعمال شكسبير لمدة أربعة أيام، وأحاطني ذاك الشخص العزيز علماً بأن الأجر سيكون زهيداً لا كالأجور المعتادة التي يحصل عليها المترجمون في مثل هذه الأعمال. لم أجد بدّاً من الرد بنعم، لأني وددت أن أقدم خدمة لهذا الإنسان وأعزز علاقتي به، لأني لم أكن أعرفه حقّ المعرفة، إذ لم ألتق به من قبلُ إلا مرة واحدة، ودار بيننا حديث جانبي قصير عن الترجمة والتأليف والنشر، وانتقلتِ المعرفة إلى ميدان الفيس بوك وتسمّرت هناك.

لم أكن أعرف شيئاً عن المسرح، وحتّى شكسبير، لم تكن علاقتي به وطيدة حقّا. قرأت له عدة مسرحيات، نعم، ولكنّي لم أشعر بدراميتها كما يجب، ولم أحلل شيئاً منها، ولم أدرسها، ولم أقرأ مسرحه كاملاً ولم أستقصيه من قبل. قرأت بعض المتَرجَمات، وقرأت شيئاً من دراسات أعدها محمد عناني من مصر كمقدمات لترجماته، وقرأت شيئاً عن ذلك أيضاً في كتابات محمد عصفور من الأردن. باختصار، لم يكن المسرح جزءاً مُعرّفاً لشخصيتي قبل ذلك، وإن كنت كثيراً ما أدّعي، معتمداً على شعوري وعاطفتي، أن المسرح قوت صحيّ للشعوب، غني بالمكونات التي ترفد العقل والعاطفة بما هو غائب من المشاعر والأفكار في غمرة هذه الحياة التي بات “القرش” فيها وحشاً مهيمناً، حتى قبل النوم على الفراش، وقبل الأكل مع الأولاد، وقبل شراء الكتاب من كشك الثقافة، وقبل أن ينزل المواطن على مسيرة سلمية عند الجامع الحسيني. إلا أن ذلك كان محض شعور داخلي لم أرَ مصداقاً له على أرض الواقع، حتى جاءت هذه الفرصة، ودعيت إلى الترجمة في ورشة العمل هذه.

كنت وأنا أترجم لهذه الورشة أشكّل انطباعات واسعة عن المشهد الذي أراه أمامي؛ شبابٌ أكبُرُهم بأعوام قليلة، تشعر مما يظهر أمامك أن لا شيءَ قادرٌ على أن يجعل لهم صوتاً واحداً، وحركةً متناسقة، وأداءً ناجحاً على خشبة المسرح؛ فهذا من الجنوب وهذه من الشرق، وهذه من المدينة وهذا من البادية. غير أن كل شيء يتغير على المسرح.

رأيت أن تلك الصلة التي قامت بين هؤلاء الطلبة وهم يمثلون أدوار هاملت أو أوفيليا، أو روميو أو جولييت، أمر في غاية الجمال والتأثير. رأيت هؤلاء الشباب وقد امتلكوا الجرأة على تغيير هاملت إلى سليمان وجولييت إلى ليلى، فابتكروا شخصيات جديدة وسياقات من واقعهم وحياتهم وثاروا على النصوص والشخصيات، وقالوا: ها نحن ذا على المسرح، هذا فنّ، والحرية هي زادنا.

كنت أشعر بهذه الفلسفة الكامنة في صدور هؤلاء الممثلين الشباب، وأمدّني ذلك بشعور فريد من الانتعاش والأمل، والحزن؛ الحزنِ لأني أخشى، إن ظلَّ المسرح في وطني مغموراً مطموراً، أن نخسر إبداعهم وأملهم، أن نُحرم من حريتهم وثورتهم، وأن يقولوا بعد سنين: المسرح لا يطعم خبزاً ولا يكسو ولداً.

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