Dissociative Identity Disorder

Tremor: 6.8, Depth: 2.7 kilometers, Location: 0.0 kilometers from Gaza City, Gaza

Today, I woke up sick. Not deathly ill, but enough to keep me bedridden for the day, and unable to attend classes. However, through the throbbing pain of a headache I still have to this very moment, I have been obsessively checking a live feed of news on the Gaza siege. To the hour, 102 Gazans have been killed, while the total has reached three on on the Israeli side. To say this is lopsided would be an understatement, but the issue goes much deeper, as proved by the disgusting remarks of Gilad Sharon.

While I’ve been watching the wires today, and trying as best as I can to calm myself in spite of my anger over the injustice being committed here, one op-ed brought my blood to a boil. Gilad Sharon, son of the former Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon, wrote one of the most incendiary and jaw-droppingly stupid pieces of trash to ever be produced with regard to this conflict. As if arguing that there shouldn’t be “electricity… gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing,” wasn’t enough, he goes on to embrace the very same argument Osama Bin Laden used to massacre 3000 Americans on September 11th by saying that no one in Gaza is really innocent, because they elected Hamas. If this were some nut on the fringe of Israeli politics, things might be different. But this is a former Prime Minister’s son, whose views are more and more becoming the Israeli mainstream.

And this gets to the two larger questions: Who wants peace, and is it possible? Leaving the second question aside for a moment, I believe the more important thing to consider is who really wants peace. Not Hamas or Likud, for their entire existence depends on a terrified, angry populace dehumanizing their neighbors until they are a faceless other worthy only of death. The settlers do not want peace, because they know any deal involving an independent Palestinian state will require their removal. Perhaps the Lebanese government would enjoy peace, even if many of the paramilitary factions that run parts of the country wouldn’t. These days, it’s hard to find a group of people interested in the topic.

The image of a final peace agreement is not one anyone paying attention is confused about. The borders will be as they appear today on a map, with all Israeli settlements removed from the West Bank, and with the two independent nations sharing Jerusalem as a capitol. The Palestinian Authority will control domestic and border security within the nation, and will get U.S., Jordanian, and possibly Israeli assistance to weed out remaining terrorist elements. However, the real question has nothing to do with rockets, bombs, or even borders. The real question is when will both sides stop talking out of both sides of their mouths, and instead get some real leadership to make this happen. And the answer to that question rests not with Gilad Sharon, but with the people of each nation.

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Ski Lebanon!

Tremor: 4.1, Depth: 6.7 kilometres, Endroit: 2.3 kilometres de Beyrouth, Liban.

I’ve been skiing for almost a decade now, and I have to say, I love it. From the feeling of the wind whipping through your hair to the beautiful mountain views you can get only from experience, to the smell of the pine trees and the taste of that glorious mug of hot chocolate you earn after a decent nine to five on the slopes (And ski resorts have the best hot chocolate…), everything about the sport is amazing. However, due to a crippling fear of all things steep, I have yet to actually conquer anything past an easy Black Diamond. This is not due to lack of skill (I like to think…), but rather, as I said, to the steepness of the run. But what exactly separates the different classes of runs?

In the United States, there are commonly four ratings for ski runs: Green Circle (Beginner), Blue Square (Intermediate), Black Diamond (Advanced), and Double Black Diamond (Sonny Bono). These rankings, referred to normally only by the color, indicate the general grade and difficulty of the slope, with Double Blacks even being covered with trees for a majority of the run. With the difficulty, however, also comes the fun. Staying on Greens for your entire skiing career would make for a rather boring time. Even with my fear of heights, I have been testing the limits of my abilities on Black Diamond runs, as I have been growing bored with simply skiing Blues.

Jordan is, for all intents and purposes, a Blue. While there are some major adjustments that require your full attention, the nation itself presents a moderate challenge to those looking to adjust. If you so desire, you can live your life in Jordan with few interruptions from your American routine. This is not the same everywhere. Lebanon, from what I have heard, is a Black. You have to be able to respond to anything at a moment’s notice, and make sure you know exactly what part of the country you are in before you even tell someone your last name.

Inshallah, in three weeks, I will be in Lebanon. This is, of course, contingent on a number of factors, but if their version of stability holds, and I can find at least one travel companion, I will be skiing Lebanon before the semester ends. While I am excited beyond belief, I am also wary. I know the risks, especially in a country as volatile as Lebanon. However, after skiing a Blue for the past two and a half months, I feel capable enough to handle myself on a Black. Because you only can really learn by doing…

P.S.: More coming in the following days about Israel and Gaza/the current situation in Jordan. But I had to get this one out before I forgot about it.

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Oman (To Love AND To Be Loved)

Tremors: 8.1, 2.9 Depths: 2.8, 6.7 kilometers, Location: 7.8 kilometers from Muscat, Oman

The concept of every action having a equal and opposite reaction is one that should largely remain confined to physics. In life, many actions, such as getting fired from a job or ending a relationship, are case specific as far as reactions are concerned. Another example would be the incident that occurred around 1:30 am last Wednesday night (Thursday morning, technically) when I aimed a plastic bottle, in a moment of pure rage, at the forehead of a friend of mine. Expecting a large condemnation from the group we were travelling with for the vacation week, I was shocked to find the reaction to my incident was one of overall indifference. People were perfectly content to forget it ever happened. But I wasn’t.

Planning for this trip has been a pain in the ass. The critical mass theory largely applied, when as soon as I took over with some of the planning decisions, they began to tune out, and simply follow my suggestions. This is a position I often find myself uncomfortable with, as the onus for the mistakes is largely upon myself, while smooth planning is overlooked by the amount of fun people are having. The job usually ends up largely thankless, however necessary it may be. However, once the plane left the tarmac at Queen Alia, and was en route to Seeb-Muscat, all of those stresses evaporated. Or so I thought…

 The bottle-to-the-head incident was the definite low point of an otherwise amazing trip. From all of our trips to Souk Mutrah and the waterfront, to the beautiful Wadi Shab hike/swim, to just wandering down the beach collecting shells, Oman was amazing. But the incident was also indicative of everything I have been going through trying to adjust to new people. Everyone assumed that I was overtired, having gotten in at six AM that morning, and that the reason I threw the bottle was because they were being too loud in the room in which I was trying to sleep. However, following what happened, I laid awake for another hour or so before going to bed. The real reason I threw the bottle was a general feeling of exclusion. I felt like a dad who was chaperoning his children on a trip, in the specific sense that I felt I had to watch the others have fun while I sat on the sidelines. Every attempt I made to break back in was either ignored, or acknowledged for a brief second before being set aside.

Of course, this was the impression that I had of the people on the trip directly following what happened. This illusion was shattered quickly when another friend, who had just come to grab something, saw me huddled in a ball on the tile floor, sobbing, and spend a good half hour trying to get me to talk to him about it, and listening and understanding my concerns. That moment made me realize that my efforts were not in vain, but were rather appreciated on a level not constantly shown. They did not owe me anything quantitative for my efforts, and anything I would have thought to that effect would simply be wrong. Everyone gravitates towards what they find the most exciting. Just because that isn’t me at that moment doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate me, that they don’t care.

Throughout the week, I had almost all of the members of this trip say to me something along the lines of “this trip wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for you.” While I doubt the full veracity of that statement, I welcomed their thanks. Because it showed they cared, on some level. Of the other ten people who went with me on this trip, I left feeling that nine of them really cared. Nine of them would be there, in some capacity, if I ever needed them. This is not to single that tenth person out: It’s very possible they would be there too. But I relay this story to get to this conclusion: There will always be one person who you will never be able to win over. And one person you will always be able to count on, even if you’re not quite sure who that person is.


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A Democracy Pilgrimage

Tremor: 4.1, Depth: 3.4 kilometers, Location: 0.0 kilometers from Tunis, Tunisia

The United States is not that old. Not that old at all, in fact. The scattered ruins that dot the Middle East, left by Greece, Rome, and various Crusader kingdoms were long buried in the sand by the time Columbus ever unfurled his sail in search of another route to India. In fact, England was just a decade out from the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution when the last colony was finally established. Therefore, it makes sense that all of the major tourist locations across the United States are relatively recent, and all post-Enlightenment. While this seems like a trivial notation, it actually makes for a relatively unique phenomenon which I like to call the “Democracy Pilgrimage”.

Contrary to the language of the modern American conservative movement, the United States has always been a secular nation. The legal traditions that influence American legal theory largely arose out of the secular theories of Locke and Rousseau, and America has never been known as a hub for religious pilgrimages. Instead, you find the United States a haven for these so called “Democracy Pilgrimages”, or visits to a site such as the Old North Church, or the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, where the significance is not their beauty, or antiquity, but the symbolism behind the site. And this phenomenon is not unique to the United States.

Around December 20th, I will be leaving Jordan for the Winter Break, and heading to France. This is not my first time to the country, and will certainly not be my last. However, this time, it will be more like a base of operations than an actual visit. I plan on visiting, at the very least, England, Italy, and Tunisia. In the last country on that list, while of course the ruins of Carthage will be a high priority, I would also like to visit the grave of Mohamed Bouazizi, that poor man whose life was tragically cut short by an act of self-immolation that set the entire region ablaze. I would like to return the democracy pilgrimage to the catalyst of the most recent series of rebellions and political changes. I would like to pay my respects to the man who today most represents the ideals held in those sites we still idolize today. But most of all, I would like to thank him for showing the world that the Middle East is a vast tapestry of different, colorful ideologies, and not some monolithic bloc of anti-American sentiment. Because sometimes, when you’re down and out, it just take those few select words to let you know it’ll all be okay.

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Why They’re Called Bright Eyes (Cleanse Song)

Tremors: 7.0, 7.6, 3.1; Depths: 4.2, 3.9, 5.6 km; Location: 3.7 kilometers from Amman, Jordan

One of my favorite albums of all time is Beach House’s Teen Dream, and in particular the track, “10 Mile Stereo” (Shout out to Graffiti cafe for playing the whole album, and inspiring this post). The track is just this soaring epic that perfectly captures that initial denial stage just after the end of a relationship, when you’re suspended in air much like a 50’s cartoon, waiting for the inevitable reality to set in. However, this song need not apply to just the end of a relationship, but the end of any powerful, moving experience. And it is with this in mind that I am finally saying goodbye to the honeymoon phase.

This past week has been rough. From a near total mental breakdown in the middle of Arabic class to a razor thin patience for most of the everyday bullshit, this week has been a constant struggle to keep my head above water. The growing tide of stress finally boiled over this week, and left me more angry and confused than I have been since I left home. And yet, as the water finally simmered and cooled, it left me with an even clearer vision of the future.

I began this post talking about the perfect encapsulation of the feeling of the end. I close it now talking about a near-perfect image of renewal: the Bright Eyes songs “June On The West Coast” and “Cleanse Song”. Both of these songs, written during very different points in Conor Oberst’s life, represent the idea that while things may change, the human condition requires constant adaption anyway, and so the logical decision is to embrace the change. Life is too short to be constantly forcing yourself to swim against the current simply for the sake of rebellion. Perhaps what you need is a “fever dream on an Oxnard beach”, or “eyes that burn so bright they make me pure”, or even a decent cafe with good music and great friends. But it’s important sometimes to remove yourself from the situation, step back, and just smile. Somehow, it just seems to make it that much easier.

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The Constant Ticking Sound

Tremor: 3.1, Depth: 6.3 miles, Location: 4.8 kilometers from Amman, Jordan.

Just a heads up, this post is not about Fiona or Sharon.

Are they gone?

Really gone?

Okay, there’s a little bit about Fiona and Sharon.

I’m a sucker for action movies. I hate to admit it, but even though I know Tom Cruise is going to clip the blue wire and it’ll all be okay, that few second pause as the timer clicks down always gets my blood pumping. However, while the blinking red L.E.D. clock makes for a hell of an image, those films with even more of a heart-stopping series of events are the ones with the ticking time bomb you can’t see, but hear. That loud ticking sound that symbolizes the impending action, but not the time of its arrival.

I won’t go through the entire list of ticking time bombs in great detail, but they’re all stories you’ve heard before: A brother teetering on the edge, and dragging the entire family down with him; a family pet in its twilight years; a functional inability to understand what’s going on in my relationship life, and a functional inability of Sharon Van Etten to describe it to me. (That wasn’t a reference to the “Petra” post. I’m just having a hard time connecting with the lyrical content of Tramp these days. When I was going through my last breakup though, it was a godsend.) And even outside forces seem to be on this same countdown. Eid break is in 20 days, the U.S. presidential election is in 37, Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to start a countdown to war with Iran, and it’s only a matter of time before John finally snaps.

And yet, as you can tell by the rather low number, this hasn’t really sunk in yet. Nothing has substantively changed. My brother is still my brother, and my family is working with him. Barkley’s a old dog, but he’s still kicking, and as far as I know, still happy as a clam. Sharon and Fiona (now thinly veiled code names, if code names at all anymore) still treat me exactly the same, and I do them (If anything, things have rolled backwards. But that’s for another day, Winston, Lauren, and the S.I.S. faculty and staff). There is just this constant, monotonous, thundering ticking noise, which is slowly taking over everything I hear. One day, something’s bound to go off, whether in a good or bad way, and on that day, I’ll be ready to deal with it. But until then, I’ll just have to drown it out the only way I know how: Corny, predictable endings to blog posts.

P.S.: Also, Wye Oak. “Civilian”. Great song, and has a verse in there that sums up the “Fiona/Sharon” stuff quite nicely.

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Seedless Grapes

First of all, a quick shout-out to all of the people I had no idea were reading my blog before. Only one of you got your question about the identities of “Fiona” and “Sharon” answered, but it’s funny how nothing makes people come out of the woodwork like gossip. Or, the perception of possible gossip. Sorry guys.

Tremor: 4.0, Depth: 4.3 miles, Location: 3.7 kilometers from Amman, Jordan.

So far, I’ve touched on the sadness and misunderstandings leaving home, the assassination of an ambassador and its impact here in Jordan, and my horrible awkwardness with women. Hardly fluff topics, regardless of what you think of my opinion on the matter. And while this week has provided me with a litany of topics (Thanks to John, and to some extent Fiona and Sharon…), I figure I’ll take a break from our regularly scheduled depression to bring you the Top 5 Things James Took For Granted In The United States, in no particular order.

1. Water

Not just water from the tap. For a large portion of my life, I’ve lived off bottled water. That’s nothing new. What is strange is how water regulates everything else. Jordan is the fourth water-poorest country in the world, which often restricts showers to a couple minutes every couple days, and laundry to a weekly routine, even living in the rich district of town.

2. Ulterior Motives

One of the first days in Amman, I went to the mall to purchase an internet card. When I arrived, I went straight to the cheapest booth in the mall, and asked. The man informed me that while they were cheap, the coverage in my area was shoddy, and I should consider another company. It blew me away that he didn’t try to take my money anyway, and sell me the bad plan. But I have come to realize that in Jordan, assistance for its own sake is a part of the culture.

3. Driving Laws

In the United States, if you reach a stop sign in the middle of nowhere at 2AM, you stop. Period. I would be surprised if half the people in Jordan could tell a stop sign from a steering wheel.

4. Recycling

Myself and a friend were walking to a bookstore one day, when we happened upon a recycling can. It was the first we had seen in Amman, and we both proceeded to take a picture of it. I now text him every time I see a recycling can. I have texted him twice with regards to recycling cans.

5. Seedless Grapes

You probably could guess from the title of the post that this was coming. I remember biting into my first grape in Jordan two weeks ago, only to get a mouthful of seeds. Of all the things I was not prepared for, that had to be up there.

Next time, it’s back to the vain attempts at depth in these posts. John, Fiona, Sharon, and all the cast of characters yet to be revealed will be back. But sometimes, it’s good to just step back and consider the small things that make a place so different, and yet reveal the fact that those differences matter little when the big things are considered.

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