Picture courtesy of Lilia Araj.
Why do I love my country? – The question keeps torturing me.
Most pressing of all, apart from what they taught us in first grade and what certain billboards tried to achieve in recent years, do we really have to nurture such an emotion at all? While to some people the uncertainty itself is blasphemous, I am not ashamed to say that my thirst for a rational answer keeps intensifying with time. I just cannot suppress the itching curiosity to understand the roots of this non-severable connection that I’ve developed with earth, concrete, very little water, and a whole load of hairy, grumpy strangers.
I am not interested here in the theories of a social contract, taxation, or the tribal or political attachments to a certain community or nation state. I am intrigued by a totally different aspect of this relationship, the one, for example, that triggered a profound sadness in me as I read that the toll of the recent fire in the Dibbeen forest was a staggering 5,670 trees lost forever, taking the news as if a piece of my own flesh had been charred by the same fire. Why did I feel like that?
Ever since I came back from Switzerland to settle in Jordan last year, not a day has passed by without asking myself why I even bother in the first place with this mistress named Jordan. Although I understand that love is an irrational business, I still want to discover why I would develop an affection towards the only thing that consistently keeps breaking my heart every single day.
From ill-mannered drivers, to unprincipled politicians, to unethical businessmen, to mosque goers who close down entire streets on Fridays by parking their cars in the middle of the road to answer the call of the Almighty, to pitiful scenes of abject poverty, to uncooperative government bureaucrats, to so many other things, we all know how pleasant a single day in Jordan can be. Yet, I persevere in my masochistic love affair. Call me a romantic fool, but I find nothing more meditative than taking advantage of the empty streets of Jordan on early Friday mornings to try to get lost in the familiar terrains of this mountainous country, basking under its magnificent blue skies.
The elusive whiffs of pine fragrance on my solo morning rides through Wadi-Seer cliffs, Mahes hills or Jerash forests remind me of a carefree existence during bygone family picnics when Amman was a very small town, nostalgic moments that are only surpassed by the seductive odors that seep into my nostrils when I pass through the perfumed alleyways of some rare quarters of old Amman on cool summer nights, jolting me back thirty years in a couple of jasmine-scented seconds. These aromatic experiences no doubt mirror very subjective feelings and private memories, but so is patriotism and love of country, which are equally personal emotions as well.
So, to deal with my nagging question, I will use an unlikely analogy:
Connoisseurs of whiskey cannot deny that in the absence of the intoxicating feeling of pleasure associated with the drinking process, the beverage itself, at its best, tastes only slightly better than pungent urine with a twist of onion. Yet, the scotch aficionados wax poetic about its effect on the palate solely because, in their experience, whiskey has always carried the quality of making them feel good, and with time, its unpleasant bitter taste becomes not only acceptable, but even delicious, as its consumers associate this taste with moments of satisfaction and delight.
In this sense, and by the same token, any intolerable shortcomings of my country become secondary and bearable, because the bond of my own personal history and the memories evoked by the geography of the place would eventually eclipse and dwarf its other sad realities.
This all might sound like passionate babble to many, and I can understand why. Alas, a love of earth and wind is a very difficult thing to describe no matter how many whiskey metaphors I conjure up (or gulp). This is especially disheartening when half of your fellow countrymen cannot elevate their petty differences with the other half beyond the boundaries of how certain vowels and consonants are pronounced.
Oh yes, I’ve been aching to get this off my chest for more than two decades now, this whole east and west bank thing that infests our society and refuses to go away. Although a taboo most of the time, it keeps rearing its ugly head at every corner of our lives, because it has never been openly and frankly addressed. To be absolutely fair, both sides of this poisonous discourse are equally guilty of ignorance, pettiness, and worst of all, a refusal to grasp and appreciate the true meaning of a homeland.
I have witnessed the travesty with my own eyes, and it is sickening. On one side of the divide, a sizeable number of people living in this country, many of whom were born here, are still paranoid that they are discriminated against because of their origins. Somehow though, this supposed discrimination never prevented them from making very successful livelihoods for themselves and their families, and never stopped them taking advantage of every opportunity this country has offered them.
But when you talk with them privately, they express a kind of venomous contempt for the land in which they chose to build their homes that leaves you wondering why they wish to be treated as equals in the first place, if it is such an insult for them to belong to such a land. Recently I had a nasty personal episode dealing with a major bank in Amman, which I will not name here for legal reasons, save to say that it is an Arab one. While waiting for the outcome of my personal affair, I took a walk in its alleyways, reading name tags of employees at random to pass the time while they kept me waiting.
To my absolute shock and dismay, I discovered that the rumor that this bank only employs people of west bank origins is not only absolutely true, but is also disgustingly executed to perfection, without exceptions. Apart from the treacherous and obscene treatment that this bank meted out to someone with a family name like mine (so much for their hypocritical solidarity), I just could not believe that a major institution such as this one can still get away with such overt and unashamed ethnic discrimination in its employment policies.
On the opposite side of the divide, you still have the usual xenophobic morons who expect an oath of allegiance to their own brand of Jordanianism with every sunrise, and have the temerity to keep referring to their fellow citizens as guests in ‘their’ country, questioning their allegiance in so many subtle and explicit ways. These agitators can get away with their ranting because the easiest task for a charlatan is to proclaim loyalty in peacetime. Brown-nosers become abundant when there are no testing crises to tell the men from the boys, and at the cost of having to put up with such imposters, I do hope we never have another civil upheaval in our country to put them to the test. I’m prepared to live with that.
But lament no more, for I’ve found a therapeutic remedy, a special treatment to deal with both these retarded specimens. Whenever anyone questions my attachment to the land where my father was born and where my grandfathers are buried, I rub it in his face by proclaiming I’m a Palestinian to the bone.
And whenever the other side reveal their repulsion by the idea that they could love or belong to the land where they were born and lived all their lives, I become a fanatical Jordanian, as hard as they come. I advise all of you to do the same. It can be fun sometimes, and there is no other way to overcome the madness, trust me.
Of course, speaking of the memories evoked by the Jordanian landscape, a few Fridays ago I found myself revisiting the town of Na’our, to remind myself that I’m also a half Circassian citizen who spent some of the most beautiful nights of his childhood attending outdoor traditional weddings (Fantaziyyeh) in Na’our, marveling at the energetic dancing of this hot-blooded and fascinating people – and collecting empty rounds of 9mm shells whose loud bangs used to accentuate the euphoric foot thumping involved in the mixed gender dancing (thankfully, the Circassians, although devout Muslims, are still only mildly contaminated by Wahabist and other doctrines of segregation).
I’m not trying to run for elections here, but it crossed my mind as I passed through the old streets of this quiet village that I’ve got a very politically correct mix of national unity running in my veins after all. Hell, I am actually like Barack Obama (except that I don’t pal around with sons of Irgun terrorists who believe Arabs are destined to a floor-mopping destiny). Never mind Obama’s Zionist staff right now, as I must share the fascinating fact that Na’our is a town that has hardly changed a bit in the last thirty years.
While all surrounding areas have expanded by more than forty fold in population and buildings, Na’our truly remains one of the last sleepy vestiges of the old rural Jordan, and I wish it stays like that, if only so that I could have this convenient snapshot reminder of the beautiful culture of my maternal uncles and their unforgettable parties.
Where am I going with this, and what’s the answer to the question in the very first sentence above? Well, I guess every one of us is a product of the childhood air and dust we grew up inhaling, and you would love your country in as much as you hold that childhood dear to you. Personally, I can tell you that the addiction that compels me to keep roaming the streets of this country is stronger than any other ancestral linkage to a family name connecting me to a city in which I have never dwelled.
One can only understand the connection with the soil if one is haunted by a moving reel of his early life hugging every particle of sand in his backstreets, or climbing the ancient almond tree in his grandmother’s garden. This is what really connects me to a place I can call home, despite all the unfairness that may exist in this place and all the rotten things that take place inside it. That is also why you can only bow in reverence before those who choose to give their lives and sacrifice everything to defend their homes from foreign invaders, wherever they may be.
I am writing this on my way to Jordan, forty thousand feet across the Atlantic, and in addition to the burning longing one naturally has for his family, there is definitely something else to the inexplicable urge to be back home after a few weeks abroad, something deeper than just an urge to switch on that motorcycle once again. To all those who do not share my perception of this homeland, I say to them that whatever our backgrounds or origins are, we are all on board this ship together; we sail if it floats, and we drown with it, God forbid, if it sinks.
I will continue to visit my favorite view point in Abu El-Soos to watch the shimmering lights of Palestine with pride and remembrance of a tragic loss. And I will continue to love, with equal pride, the country where I was born and where I chose to raise my children. These two emotions should never clash in our country, and in my mind they never will. I shall continue to feel this way regardless of how inexplicable or irrational this love maybe. I have no choice over how I feel, because this homeland is the only one I’ve got.
Take care, and if you ride, do it safely.