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8/16/2008

Imagine The Life You Want For Yourself, Then Live It

Public space and community is a huge topic - or at least should be. So many questions are fundamental to the self and our spaces. Identity, belonging and our sense of contribution are impacted and shaped as one grows up in certain places. Are you happy? Do you feel this is your city? Is this home? Do you feel safe? Can you explore? Can you be the person you want to be in this city? Does it reflect your cultural and social needs? Do you find the social space that you want as an individual? Does it work for you economically? Does it work for when you want to be alone/part of the many? What do you not find? Can you contribute? What do you wish for? How do you want to be part of it? This is an ongoing conversation on several levels that will hopefully lend to wise planning that works for people, not just physical erections that satisfy few for a moment and eventually suffocate many for life.

At a recent Takween workshop I moderated one of the groups of 20somethings on conversations on identity, public city space, youth lifestyles, people and place.

At the Takween workshop I learned that the colorful and rich cultural fabric of Jordan is not reflected in the 1-12 school curriculum. Apparently, as you grow up in most schools here, the text books do not share past nor present stories of Armenians, nor Circassians, nor Badu, nor Druze, nor Baha'is, nor the constantly growing communities (Palestinian, Egyptian, Iraqi, Lebanese, southeast Asian....) that contribute to the rich cultural weave that is the beautiful make up of what we know as Jordan - all this does not exist in our formal edu. This is not the point of the post - I just had to express my shock at that revelation and the huge and important opportunity we are missing by sidestepping this wealth of learning. Actually I believe it's criminal to harbor this rich knowledge from kids in Jordan as they grow up in our schools!

So, our little group spent the day talking about our individual needs and the city around us.

Some did not feel they knew enough about other cultural groups in Jordan.

Most felt their own neighborhoods were impoverished from local libraries, cultural centers, community meeting spots, theatres, parks, extra curricular learning spaces - public places where one can see, learn, share, interact, be oneself , be enriched, explore, discover one's own creativities - at a neighborhood level - and not have to trek across town especially and occasionally. Hasmig wants spaces to interact with that don't revolve around the excessive food and drink going out habits. As she put it, "why is the first question we ask when we want to gather out is where shall we eat or which coffee shop shall we go to?"

Some pointed out the existing spaces being used inefficiently - like the Knowledge Stations - the hole in the wall with cool, connected computers - most of which are unwelcoming and rundown with a chain smoking supervisor and no year-long calendar of programs to sign up to. (Yes there are a few exceptions, but most of the 130something stations are useless). Ardash suggests a true, genuine and relevant use of IT skills and tools so that these serve us at a community level.

Ala' talked about the before/after Ruwwad on Jabal Nathif, and how lifestyle is being transformed for the kids. The kids that once sat idly in the streets or nagging in their parents faces all day now spend most of that time in the Shams Al Jabal library and engaged in Ruwwad programs and activities in the safe and engaging space designed for them. According to Ala' , a Nathif community member, the impact of improvement is already visible and part of their lifestyle on the hill.

Alia was concerned about finding a job now that she had just graduated, and wanted to remain in the capital rather than go back to her family village, although she spent her first eighteen years there up till her last four university years in Amman. Alia is looking to make the city her home for the next phase of her life and needs to feel safe and secure and resourceful and independent and culturally content while she pursues her ambitions.

All seemed to imagine a public space that engaged the various ethnic and cultural groups of Jordan, saying they knew very little about each other. They imagined it to be a constant all year round. It would include a program where one could sign up and join the lifestyle of another. They want immersion in experiences of cultural learning, and they do want authenticity, heritage, history, but in relation to their contemporary lives. Gharam, from the badia but lives in Amman, would much rather attend a traditional bedouin wedding over a westernized hotel ballroom one. She likes the stories behind the ritual of the bedouin wedding and is happy bridging her modern lifestyle with her family's traditions.

All imagined a place where the local average person's voice could be heard and be part of the development and planning conversation. They want to not only be in the know of the plans of their city, but they also believe they can be useful contributors. They want to be really engaged in the conversation rather than merely part of a cold survey and on the receiving end of the announcement. They want to participate.

This workshop is part of Takween's ongoing work, and there were many other sensible, interesting and doable suggestions throughout the day. Being part of this wonderful energy is extremely rewarding and a reminder of the abilities of beautiful and diverse young souls - given the chance.

One suggestion that stood out is one I am a strong believer in. Ala' imagined developing like-minded communities and conversations in virtual networks - like Second Life, Facebook and blogs. If the physicalness of our city is not catering to who we want to be for our journey, Ala' believes this conversation can go online first, and from there we can bring it to the forefront of our real lives.

Here's a glimpse of what's going on online touching real lives.

The Blues musician Von Johin's Second Life gigs get him a real life contract:


7iber.com's proof of the power of citizen media as these kids take back their streets - a story on 7iber caught the attention of public servants who in turn acknowledged and engaged in an Ashrafiyeh street activity.... yes, tiny, but oh so big.


UniversityLipDub watch this from Furtwangen University and others.

Filmaka rewards creativity.

From Dancing Ink TV watch below The Imagination Age, Understanding Islam:



Imagine it. Try it out virtually. Live it.

Get the picture?

4 comments:

George said...

I enjoyed reading this today, came at the right time, as i was asking myself a lot of the questions you posted at the beginning. I have been in Jordan about 8 years now, sometimes i feel i'm in the right place that i simply fit in but there are times when i think what am i doing here? and who are these people in this country. I guess it's normal as most of my friends feel the same way.
Alaa's virtual idea is nice, but as internet penetration is low in Jordan and confined for certain people, i don't think it works for everyone. I must say it somehow worked for me, as i met several through their blogs. But what about those who don't have internet? Or do not like/understand the internet? Let's take Facebook as the most popular web service in Jordan (after IM, porn and email). almost everyone i know here has a Facebook account. Nonetheless, there are 132K members in the Jordan network, i'm sure there are duplicate accounts as well. So out of 6m around 2% use Facebook. I think virtual networks work, but not for everyone.

Deena said...

The workshop was truly refreshing – I came back with a renewed sense of drive and energy…and I love the idea your table introduced about ‘signing up’ to join the lifestyle of the other!
With regard to creating a public space through virtual communities, I think Ala’ [and yourself] raise some very interesting possibilities, yet, the idea still baffles me (of course that could very well be because I am not a blogger myself). What I mean to say is, the whole concept of public space, to me, has to do with private people coming together and taking part in some sort of a public forum to discuss or deliberate; which I agree the internet does provide. Yet, with regard to virtual communities, it is like brining a public space into your private space (computer/home) rather than the other way round (the private/different being displayed in the public). In a weird way, the internet expands publicness, but is it at the expense of the private? Can the virtual world ever become an invasion of the private? Can this break-down of the public and private reinvigorate debate… or will it actually lead to further isolation as people retain to their private spheres were they can ‘pick and choose’ the publicness they prefer?
glad you raised the issue; very thought provoking! Thx for the link too ;)

3arabi said...

What are you talking about? The Arab world is incapable of imagining anything great for itself. It is a sick, materialist and greedy region with so many double standards and no respect for human beings. These students you met with will never be given a chance to stay as positive as you describe them.

Nadine said...

George - Glad you enjoyed the read! You, me and so many others in this town ask these questions. Getting comfortable is a process I suppose.... a restless one albeit!

Deena - thanks for stopping by :) You and George are very right about the challenges of tech/internet access/usage - but think down the line, think countrywide cheap wimax, think mobile, and the evolution of use...

3arabi - ah ya 3arabi! I'm sorry you see the future as grim. Imagining beyond the actual is where the power of possibility lies ;) - it's also hard work by everyone!