Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Folktales, the War, and Philadelphia

Not much has been happening these last few days in Amman. It's very quiet here. If the newspaper didn't report that there was a war going on, you probably wouldn't know it. Sure, thousands of Jordanians from the Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets on Friday to show solidarity with Hizbullah, but the police stood in their way because of lack of permits. If you weren't in the vicinity of the protests, you wouldn't even know it was there. And, just as the Lebanese Political Journal reports as happened in Syria, it was full of Hizbullah flags, not Lebanese ones.

I've been spending a lot of time online, reading the news, commenting on blogs, talking to friends in Lebanon, and writing this blog. There's no real gay life in old Philly, just some cafes and bars which gay people sort-of frequent, but they kind of blend in. I'm not really in the mood to meet new people anyways. It's weird - in one of the few Arab countries where being gay is not illegal, there's no real scene. Even Egypt's scene is more cohesive. But Jordan is a traditional country, so there are plenty of reasons for it.

I've also been spending a lot of time sleeping and thinking, recounting old folktales in my head. It's strange...I think of old Greek epic poems and mythology. There were always two main themes - finding love and being far from home. Like the story of Persephone - Hades finds love, and Persephone is dragged from her home.

Throughout the years, it appears that the West and East have divided up these old stories as they have attempted to divide up the world, each taking their own part.

In the West, folktales have seem to have come to favor the plot of being without, then finding, love - Cinderella, the Frog Prince, the Little Mermaid. Sure, there are exceptions, like Hansel and Gretel, but the majority of the famous ones, at least the ones I'm familiar with, follow the same theme.

In the East, there's Sindbad, Juha, and Lubayna. Love is there, but the predominate theme is loss of and distance from home, family, and familiarity. It's echoed in songs. In how many Arabic songs has the singer found love, but is painfully separated from it? I'm kind of feeling that now.

In Amman, all the houses look the same, bland sandstone-colored structures that seem to rise organically from the sprawling brown hills. It's easy to get lost - every stairway is similar, and miles of walking will give you nothing but bloody feet. If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Amman is the city that always sleeps.

The food makes me feel sad. Restaurants with the Lebanese flag are a common sight on many corners, and at any time of day, delivery cars (there are no motorbikes here) whiz by for establishments like "Lebanon Snack". But the food isn't as good, and I don't eat at those places. I want nothing more than a chouarma from Barbar.

Anyway, there's one story that my mother used to tell me that's been sticking in my head, about when Juha went to sell his donkey:

In one day of many days, Juha decided to take his donkey into town and sell it. It was a strong, sturdy donkey, and Juha thought he could get a nice price for it. Besides, he needed the money. So he put his young son on the donkey and started the long journey into town, with Juha walking alongside the donkey.

On the way into town, they passed a shepard, who scolded the young boy. "How can you sit there so comfortably while your poor old father has to walk the whole way behind you? You are young and have strong legs, it should be you who is walking! Have you no respect for your father?" So the boy got down and Juha climbed on the back of the donkey, and they contined on their way.

A little while later, they passed some women hanging clothes to dry. "Shame one you," they called to Juha, "making your poor little boy walk next to you. He is so young!" So Juha picked the boy up, placing him in front of him, and they continued on together.

The donkey was sturdy and strong, but not strong enough to carry two people easily, and the donkey began to sweat, showing his strain. As they continued on their journey, they passed another traveller. "You know, you shouldn't both be on the back of such a poor creature. How is such a poor animal supposed to carry two people? A donkey is Allah's creation as well; have some pity!" Juha thought the man was right, so he and his son got off the donkey.

"What shall we do?" Juha asked his son. "When you were on the donkey, we were scolded because I am too old to walk. When I was on the donkey, we were scolded because you are too young to walk. When we both were on the donkey, we were scolded because the donkey is too weak. What is there to do?"

Juha thought for a while, then came up with a solution. He and his son picked up the donkey, and carried it all the way into town. The people of the town had never seen such a thing, and many an eye stared at Juha as though he were crazy.

The moral of the story? No matter how you try to fix things, someone is going to complain. I think it applies to a lot of things, such as Hizbullah, Israel, gay rights, religion, and what to eat for dinner. In a way, it's funny. In another way, it's depressing.


Blogger Red Tulips said...

Beautiful story. You are an amazing writer. I think you should write a book. You have a unique voice, and your book would be at least one positive thing to come from all the death and destruction in the world.

July 25, 2006 4:05 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

What a great story. I just stumbled across your blog and it is amazing. It certainly helps put the "struggle" here in Canada in perspective. Keep up the fantastic work.

July 25, 2006 6:06 AM  

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