Monday, February 21, 2011

You Know the President. No. You Don't Understand. You Must Know Him.

This morning Simon, Eric, and I all piled into the first cab that came by through the drizzle that had empty room, and headed off to Diwar Baris (Paris Circle) where we would walk down to Mustashfa Luzmilla (Luzmilla Hospital) next to the JICRC.

We were going to meet our class there for our Contemporary Art and Culture course. It so happened that our instructor Samia had gotten stuck and/or frustrated in the traffic out by Sixth Circle and headed home, calling Bruce and canceling class 15 minutes before it was scheduled to start. After hearing the news we walked to the restaurant Jaffra and ate food and drinks there. Then we went to Bruce’s apartment for a marathon-length Diwan.

But before any of that we had to get to Diwar Baris.

If you would oblige me and engage your mind’s eye, I would like you to meet out driver. He looks to be about forty five or so, in the middle forties for sure, with grey hair and a broad full face. He is balding and has a fairly closely-cropped beard on him. He is originally from Ramallah. And he is outgoing. He is so outgoing, in fact, that we have trouble sticking to one topic for any significant amount of time. Consequentially we have no Idea what his name is because he moves on too quickly for us to spit out “Shu Esmak?” in our broken, stuttering Arabic..

So I will call him Abu Bewilderment. This means “the father of bewilderment,” and it is appropriate for reasons that will emerge.

We talk about the usual thing you talk about with cabbies. We are students. We are living in Amman. We like Amman. Amman is beautiful. Amman is much more beautiful than New Jersey, that is “mesh helwee”. But eventually we get around to talking about his son.

His son just finished the tests here, which are much more intense than the SAT’s. He wants to study, and Abu Bewilderment thinks that it would be best for him to study in America. And like a fool I’d already told him about our college.

“You know president. You give me number? You help my son get in.”

No, we tried to explain to him. We didn’t know anybody. That’s not how you get into American colleges, everyone applies through admissions. None of us got in because we knew the president. The president was leaving, we didn’t know the new president. The new president wasn’t even chosen yet. We couldn’t give him contact information.

But this was clearly untrue. Such a state of being was not possible, and he corrected us.

“No. You give me name. You give me number?” he said.

But, no. What can you do? How do you communicate this through broken Arabic and broken English to tell him we don’t have those connections? We couldn’t, so we didn’t.

No. That’s not how things were.

No really sir, we can’t help. We’d like to but we can’t. In the end, I wrote down some information about Earlham on a piece of paper and gave it to him. There just ain’t that much any one of us could have done to help, but who knows, his kid might get in.

But from his point of view it made sense to be so demanding of a name, of our knowing the president, and of him demanding our and other people’s phone numbers. Jordan is a bureaucracy, but it is not the sort of impersonal bureaucracy we’re all used to.

It’s awful. You don’t have the problem where (if you don’t know someone who can take care of you) things get done slowly and inefficiently. You have the problem that if you don’t know someone to take care of you, things don’t get done at all. Period. It ‘s one reasons Jordanians are so keen to keep up all their social contacts, you never know when you might need them.

Bruce has been doing his best to introduce us to people, get us to meet with some bigwigs and with some very well situated people. He’s done a good job, but alas when you meet as one of a dozen mute students, it is hard to make a personal connection. As for America, connections certainly do matter, but when you compare it to Amman, they’re irrelevant.

It does show just how powerful connections can be though. Something to keep in mind.

Incidentally, I am either two or three degrees of connection away from the King, depending on how you count.

BAM BlogPost.

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