Tag Archives: Fulbright

Monogrammed Potato

Jordan is known for having the friendliest people in the Middle East. I attest to the fact that not only are they the friendliest, but also the most thoughtful.

A day hasn’t passed since arriving in Jordan that I haven’t been blessed with the generous hospitality of Jordan’s people. Yesterday Amira, Zorheh and her two grand daughters and I were invited to eat dinner in Majedah’s home in Hussein Camp. Majedah makes the best stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had. The leaves are from the grape vines that grow outside her kitchen window.

Israh, Soriya, Amira, Luciya, Zohreh, Zainab, Majedah
Israh, Soriya, Amira, Luciya, Zohreh, Zainab, Majedah
Soriya and Luciya
Soriya and Luciya 
Majedah's stuffed grape leaves
Majedah’s stuffed grape leaves

Years ago, when I was a passenger in a car on a country road in Switzerland, I saw a man sitting on a fence near the roadway. The “scene,” a solitary man surrounded by vast pastures and snow capped mountains, lasted for a split second. I remember thinking, “This moment says everything about my life up to this point and Switzerland, and I’m sure I won’t remember it.” Here it is, years later, and the man on the fence is the first thing I think of when I hear the word Switzerland, as well as “the person I was up to that point.” I’ve had numerous forgettable fleeting “scenarios” during my time in Jordan. These mental snapshots encapsulate my experience here more than any travel log, documentary film or photographs I’ve posted.

One of these peripheral’s is my neighbor’s yard. For the first two weeks in my apartment, I drank my morning coffee while gazing out my living room window at the Old Citadel perched on the adjacent mountain. One morning I glanced down at the patch of dirt beneath my window, my neighbor’s yard. My morning routine slowly switched from gazing at the citadel to studying the barren patch beneath my window. I started noticing miniscule changes in the patch from one morning to the next. The dirt had been scooted from one area to another, miraculously overnight, and the rocks were gathered together in small mounds. Last week a rivulet appeared in the dirt forming a small trench from one ratty small tree to a larger ratty tree.

neighbor's trees and rivulet
neighbor’s trees and rivulet

One morning I noticed a plastic bag filled with rocks sitting on the mound of trash in the trash bin across from my apartment.

trash bin
trash bin

One evening I glanced out my living room window and saw the source of these miraculous changes. My neighbor, the king of landscaping, was slowly and meticulously turning dust into gold.

After the recent snow, the matron of the apartment next to me was sunning herself and her olives on our front porch. After being offered a chair we discussed the process of making olives, without using words. After sampling olives from each tray, I ultimately chose the highly salted ones as my favorites. They were delicious. I thanked her and said goodbye before heading up to Paris Circle. Upon returning home that evening I found a cup of highly salted olives sitting in front of my front door.

An example of the personalized thoughtfulness of the people in Jordan is the baked potato I ordered at Potato and Salad in Paris Circle.

The owner of Potato and Salad, Wael Mehyar,  and Creative Chef Lathe.
The owner of Potato and Salad, Wael Mehyar, and Creative Chef Lathe

While waiting for my carry-out potato I sat with the owner of the business, Wael Mehyar, and another man seated at the table. After being offered a cup of coffee we commenced talking about the exceptional friendliness of the people in Jordan. At some point during our conversation I expressed my concern about the trash pick up in Jordan. I was visualizing my trash bin overflowing with plastic bags full of rocks.  Unbeknownst to me, trash and the disposal of trash is a very hot topic here. I was informed that the other man at the table was Munqeth Meyar, President of Friends of the Earth Middle East. Last year he spent three days with President Obama in Washington D.C. discussing water and environmental issues in the Middle East. http://www.foeme.org. Munqeth is a storehouse of information. I came to find out that Japan has fifty-seven types of recyclables, including separate bins for brown and blue glass containers, among many other pertinent bits of recyclable information, before being handed my carry out box.

Upon opening the box, lo and behold, what did I see? My name written in sour cream on top of the melted cheese. If that isn’t personalized thoughtful service, I don’t know what is!

soozane potato
sozan potato
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Floating Dread Locks

Floating Dread Locks!
Floating Dread Locks!

Last night Eda hosted a party to bring in 2014. Christina’s parents, David and Debbie Gordon, generously supplied the champagne. Christina, Julie and Eda prepared much of the feast. After Stephen arrived a huge plate of shish kebabs appeared on the dining table. Claire and Mia warmed up an assortment of luscious puffed pastries that must have taken days to prepare. We all contributed various nibbles, resulting in a virtual feast.

Here it is…….already 2014!

a toast!
a toast!
20 group 2.
…and a very Happy New Year to all!

Proxy Fulbright Mom and the Pros and Cons of Marriage

On her seventy second birthday Fulbright Scholar Zohreh Sullivan was unofficially designated as “Fulbright Proxy  Mom!” Who designated her as Proxy Mom? I did. Why? Zohreh’s passion for cooking, and her generous spirit, insures that all of the Fulbright chicks (male and female) don’t starve during their stints in Jordan.  She also disperses her magic herbal healing potions to those of us who need it. I came down with a nasty cold and happened to mention it to Zohreh. Before I knew it our trusty cab driver Nahid was at my door holding a bottle of Zohreh’s magic potion and a huge container filled with cabbage rice.1 Zohreh's magic potion.

Within a half hour of drinking the potion my sinus headache disappeared and my throat felt normal again. I finished off the container of cabbage rice in three days and was once again ready to brave the world on the other side of my front door. Thank you, Zohreh!

Zohreh invited Fulbright peeps to be her guests at her 72nd birthday party at Rakwet Cafe.  After we were all seated, an incredible spread of Arabic dishes was placed on the table and a Tupperware container filled with a quinoa dish was placed in front me. True to her thoughtfulness, Zohreh created a glutton free dish for glutton allergic me.2 Zohreh's b-day3 Zohreh's b-day.4 Zohreh, Mia, Eda5 Zohreh's b-day.

The most inspirational part of knowing Zohreh is her pride in her age and association of it with her love for her life. Every cab driver and person she talks to is proudly informed that she is seventy-two years old, followed by the many privileges and advantages age has over youth. She honors her age like a victory crown, and wears each year magnificently. Happy birthday, Zohreh!

About a week prior to Zohreh’s birthday party Amira, Zohreh and I went to Majedah’s embroidery shop, Grand Mother’s Dress. 7 Zohreh at Majedah's shop.While we were there Majedah’s mother made a surprise visit . It was wonderful seeing her again.8 Suzanne greeting Majedah's mom. We immediately began talking non-stop. Remember, I know six words in Arabic, and Majedah’s mother knows exactly zero words in English. We discussed the benefits of marriage, she was encouraging me to marry anyone, and I was pointing out the benefits of being single and the horrors of divorce.12 everyone giving advice about men.9 discussing men.As we carried on, rallying back and forth, the two men in the shop intently listened..13 two men watching women talk about men.After our lengthy, adamant conversation we laughed, performed the normal (for the two of us) left cheek-right cheek kisses five times, and I accepted her invitation to eat her delicious stuffed grape leaves at her house at a later date.14 two happily single women.15 two more happily single women.

More Voilá!!! …and Jan the Filmmaker

Yesterday, Abdalrahem Alarjan came over and photographed the completed Seven Women’s House Keys canvas. Being a professional photographer, Raheem’s photographs are a lot better than mine. I sent Raheem’s images to Sophia, my blog manager and editor. Sophia cropped and cleaned them up and now some of the incredible amount of detail–that wasn’t visible in my previously posted photograph which I took with my camera–is visible, as is apparent in the following photographs:   [Click on images to enlarge]

7 Women's House Keys, finished tapestry
7 Women’s House Keys, finished tapestry
7 Women's House Keys canvas, cropped to centre detail
7 Women’s House Keys canvas, cropped to central details 

For reference, I labeled a photograph of the canvas, identifying the embroidery appliqué patterns with the villages from which they came:

Detail of embroidery patterns labelled by village of origin
Detail of embroidery patterns labelled by village of origin

• The Names of the Palestinian refugee camps in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are written in Arabic on the border.

Beaded calligraphy, names of villages
Beaded calligraphy, names of villages

• The trim on the edge of the canvas is an embroidery design used by all of the villages.

Tapestry border trim
Tapestry border trim

The following provides links to information about each of the village’s identified on the canvas:

Al-Masmiyya al-Kabira, Gaza
http://www.palestineremembered.com/Gaza/al-Masmiyya-al-Kabira/

Bayt Mahsir, Ramla
http://www.palestineremembered.com/Jerusalem/Bayt-Mahsir/index.html

Jerusalem http://www.palestineremembered.com/JerusalemTownsSnapshot.html

Beer Sheba
http://www.palestineremembered.com/Beersheba/Beersheba/

Dura, Hebron http://www.palestineremembered.com/GeoPoints/Dura_982/index.html

I must add here that without Sophia Isajiw’s professional skills, knowledge, intellect and steadfastness no one would be reading this blog because it wouldn’t exist. I write and Sophia edits my writing. I upload photographs and Sophia color corrects, posts and labels them and designs the “exceptional” layouts for each blog. I’ve gotten messages from previously unknown people, from all parts of the world, requesting my professional services to design their blog. I could actually have a paying job, an income from this, but, alas, I have no idea how to design a blog or how to do the layout for this one. Morgan Norris (see “People Helping Suzie” page) set up my blog, which was an exceptional feat on her part. Sophia has been managing the blog ever since I arrived in Jordan. I respond to requests for blog services by answering, “Yes! Isn’t this great? I think so too. I have no idea how it’s done, but Sophia knows!”

hands
This image inserted by Sophia. [slightly altered from: hdwallpapers4free]
“Jan the Filmmaker” came to see me in Amman to film my Seven Women’s House Keys project. Who is this man all my Jordanian acquaintances refer to as “Jan the Filmmaker?” His name is Jan Parkinson and I’ve known him since junior high school. His recently deceased wife, Marsha Wilson, was one of my closest friends throughout Junior High (Indian Hills), High School (Shawnee Mission East) and the years that followed.

5 7th_grade_1956-57
Marsha and Suzie, 7th grade class photo

Marsha and I both loved making art and were best buddies in Pete Perdaris’ art class– my favorite subject and my favorite teacher! Jan, as it turns out, was into art too (filmmaking) although he wasn’t immersed in it until years later. Jan has been a project manager for Hallmark Hall of Fame and Hallmark Cards in Kansas City for over thirty years.

Jan Parkinson, 7th grade class photo
Jan Parkinson, 7th grade class photo

Jan retired recently, which means he is now even more involved in film projects and books speaking engagements all over the United States. Jan was kind enough to call me over a year ago to let me know that his dear wife–and my dear friend Marsha–had passed away. After sharing some “Marsha and Suzie” stories with Jan, I eventually shared that I would be going to Jordan to do an art project with Palestinian women in conjunction with a Fulbright Scholar Award I’d recently been awarded.  Jan expressed interest in my project and after discussing it further said, “Don’t rush out and buy your première dress yet, but a documentary film sounds interesting.” Hurrah! I rushed out to window shop for dresses, and the next thing I knew Jan was visiting me in Arizona, filming.

Jan visited me twice in Arizona to film my art and the in-progress canvas I would be taking with me to Jordan. I left Arizona for Jordan on August 23, 2013. After I was in Amman for a couple of months, Jan visited for approximately a week. We had a whirlwind six days with an overly-packed schedule of meetings with people and filming. Every second of Jan’s waking hours was spent filming or going to the next film location to meet someone related to the Seven Women’s House Keys project.

Jan and Amira
Jan and Amira

The schedule included documenting the women working collaboratively on the canvas and sharing their “stories” about how they ended up in Jordan (with the aid of Amira’s translation skills):

Jan interviewed Alain McNamara, the Director of Fulbright in Jordan, at the Fulbright House.

Fulbright House
Fulbright House 
Jan and Alain McNamara
Jan and Alain McNamara

He also filmed the stories told by six artists who have familial roots in Palestine. I invited the following artists to participate in an upcoming exhibition I arranged in Amman that highlights the canvas 7 Women’s House Keys: Abdalrahem Alarjan (photography), Ahmad Canaan (painting); Hanan Al Khalidi (prints and painting), Mohammad Abuzraiq (painting), Abul Hay Mossallam (painting), and Abeer Foad (poetry).

The exhibition will open January 8, 2014 at Artisana Gallery 14. The director of the gallery, Hind Mango Nasser, is creating an installation piece that will be included in the exhibition.

Artisana Gallery 14: http://www.tasmeemme.com/profile/view/507

Jan at Artisana
Jan at Artisana 
Hind Nassar in doorway of Artisana
Hind Nassar in doorway of Artisana

The following are a few photos taken while Jan was filming the artists:

Amira, Jan, and Abuzraiq
Amira, Jan, and Abuzraiq
 Jan, Abeer, Amira filming
Jan, Abeer, Amira filming
Jan and Abeer
Jan and Abeer
 Raheem and Jan
Raheem and Jan

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I was listening so intently to what Hanan was saying when Jan was filming that I forgot to take photographs. Ahmad Canaan had an exhibition and symposium in another country while Jan was in Amman: therefore, his interview will be filmed prior to the opening.

Jan, Amira and I went to Majedah’s embroidery shop, Grand Mother’s Dress, and Majedah took us to her home where Jan interviewed her mother.

Jan had very little time to collect his wits (or eat) before we headed out to our next destination. Here he is collecting his wits:

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Jan’s interviews included Zohreh Sullivan, a Fulbright Scholar from Illinois who is teaching a literature course at Jordan University.

Jan also interviewed Dayala, Amira’s “architect” cousin.

Dayala
Dayala, architect

After filming Dayala, she suggested we meet with her boss, Riad Alkiswani who has an architecture engineering business in Amman with his partner George Kishek. Riad is a virtual storehouse of information about the history of Palestine.

After grabbing a bit to eat at the beautiful tiled and mirrored Rakwat restaurant we went to Alkiswani Architects & Engineers.

Riad Alkiswani was incredibly welcoming and generous. He and his partner George Kishek offered us coffee and soft drinks and talked about life in Palestine and Jordan.

At some point during Jan’s visit we stopped by to interview Ibriheem in his flower shop. We also had wanted to film Yousef, my barber, but his shop was closed.

Ibraheem Wardeh, flowers
Ibraheem Wardeh, flowers
Jan and Suzanne in Ibriheem's flower shop
Jan and Suzanne in Ibriheem’s flower shop

Jan kept his “wits about him” the entire time he was here and filmed more than I’ve mentioned in this blog. Unaccustomed to so much activity, my “wits” disappeared sometime around the fifth day. If they had any sense, they flew to Hawaii for an extended vacation. Therefore, to get the full picture of “Jan the Filmmaker’s” six days in Amman, and the nitty gritty of his film, you will need to wait until his movie is released, hopefully in your neighborhood movie theatre.

Voilá and more voilá!

Suzanne and Jan
Suzanne and Jan

Women with Keys

Since moving into my apartment, I’ve been working on the Seven Women’s House Keys canvas daily, about 10-12 hours per day. My concern throughout the creation of this canvas has been not having enough time to complete it before the exhibition date, January 8th.

Hanan has visited weekly and usually brings one of her daughters with her. Her daughter Haneen is a nurse in the military. On one of her days off from work, Haneen came with Hanan to sew beads on the canvas. Prior to coming to Jordan, I spent the previous year designing, painting and sewing the border of the canvas. The border includes the names of all of the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan written in Arabic–a total of 246 camps. Haneen randomly selected a section of the border to bead. After about an hour of beading Haneen exclaimed with surprise: “I just realized, I am beading the name of my camp!” I replied, “This is definitely a sign that you are in the right place at the right time!”

Haneen
Haneen

Haneen and Hanan
Haneen and Hanan

Haneen’s “sign” that she’s in the right place, and similar “signs” that others have told me in relation to this project, help me to remember my reason for being here: to create a canvas that incorporates embroidery from various Palestinian villages. The purpose of the completed canvas is to visually integrate fragments of Palestinian heritage (symbolized by the embroidery patterns) and their direct relationship to the ownership of land and homes in Palestine.

One evening Dayala, Hanan’s neice, came over to bead. While we were beading we talked about the fact that many Palestinians in Jordan still have the deeds to their homes and land in Palestine. I decided it would be a good idea to incorporate a copy of a deed printed on cotton into the canvas. Dayala volunteered to copy her father’s deed on cotton. She reappeared the following week with the deed on cotton. The only problem was that the deed was printed as a decal on fabric, which caused a sheen to the fabric. Hanan sanded the decal but, even with sanding, the fabric retained a sheen and was incongruent with the embroidery appliqués on the canvas.

 

Many Palestinians were forced from their homes in the middle of the night and left with only the key to their front door. They were told they could return to their homes in a week or two. Many of the older women living in Jordan still wear their house key on a chain around their neck underneath their clothing.

Jerusalem key
Jerusalem key

I chose to come to Jordan because there are millions of dispossessed Palestinians here, many of whom were born here. I’ve found that the younger generation (35 years old or younger) are not educated about their history and unaware of the current events in Palestine. Association with Palestinian identity in Jordan means exclusion from government jobs, equating to an exclusion from economic advancement. In general, advancement requires establishing Jordanian identity, primarily through marriage (children acquire their father’s last name, the wife keeps her maiden name). It is a very complicated issue, but suffice it to say, the younger generation’s lack of interest in their “lot in life” is disconcerting. Palestine is so close, yet so far away. The lights of Palestine are visible from the coast of the Dead Sea, a two hour drive from Amman.

My original intent was to meet with seven Palestinian women on a regular basis and have them assist in creating the canvas.

The canvas I brought with me
The canvas I brought with me

Not long after arriving in Jordan, I was referred by a friend to a man who–I was told–had ties with embroiderers in Amman. I met only twice with the group of women this man selected, in my apartment. I disbanded this group after being informed he was mismanaging the funds and the project. I removed the work the women did on the canvas and started again from scratch.

I then established a new group of women with the help of Hanan Khalidi, the artist I met immediately after arriving in Jordan. I included one woman from the original group, Majedah (see earlier post), and five women embroiderers recommended by Hanan. My time for working on the canvas was shortened by over a month, therefore, the role of the women embroiderers changed from actual work on the canvas to meeting twice for a salon at which time they beaded and embroidered sections of the canvas and shared their ‘stories” of how they ended up in Jordan.

Their “stories” have been my inspiration while working on this canvas. The pillars of the salon participants have been Hanan (with occasional visits from her female family members), Majedah and myself.

The biggest contributor to the canvas has been Hanan. She donated her collection of yokes of women’s dresses that she and her sisters embroidered over the years to use as appliqués on the canvas. Without Hanan’s artistic and embroidery contributions the canvas could not exist.

Palestinian embroidery dress yokes
Palestinian embroidery dress yokes

Hanan spent numerous hours building up the impasto on her painting of Jerusalem, the central image on the canvas, and crocheting around it.

Hanan showed up weekly with additional contemporary embroidery appliqués that she created inbetween our meetings (the olive branches, the central diamond shape on the pitcher and some other embroidery). She usually arrived with her daughter Amira and at least one other daughter to assist with sewing seed beads on the names of the Palestinian refugee camps written around the border.

Hanan, Rasha, Amira
Hanan, Rasha, Amira

Amira and I usually spent our salon time working together on details and transactions (phone calls) pertaining to the exhibition and scheduling meetings.

Amira and Suzanne trying to work
Amira and Suzanne trying to work

Hanan demonstrated the way to create Palestinian embroidery, by transferring a cross hatch pattern on paper to fabric, the stitching technique and removal of the threads.

Pulling threads
Pulling threads

Majedah also participated in our group meetings. Majedah’s family home is in Gaza and she contributed several appliqués representative of Gaza and the yards of embroidered trim for the border of the canvas.

Majedah also provided an abundance of historical and technical information related to Palestinian embroidery.

During my last meeting with Majedah, Hanan and her two daughters Rasha and Amira, we labeled the sections of embroidery appliqués with the names of their respective village.

Tagging villages
Tagging villages

We also played around, wearing the wedding hat:

Playing around with the wedding hat
Playing around with the wedding hat 
…and playing around some more!
…and playing around some more!

At one point, when the canvas was nearly completed, the man whom I had originally employed to find the women embroiderers threatened to sue for stealing intellectual property and actually made claims that the project was his idea. His claims were beyond ridiculous and would never hold up in court, but to avoid further association I tore off the two appliqués that were originally purchased (with my money) to be used on the canvas. After the appliqués were removed, the composition of the canvas needed to be changed, which was at first disconcerting. I personally learned through this experience that our calamity is our providence. To tie the composition together I needed large areas of embroidered appliqués. Soon after I first arrived in Amman, I purchased a truly beautiful hand-embroidered Palestinian dress with red and black threads. I was looking forward to wearing it to the upcoming Fulbright Thanksgiving dinner but, alas, I cut it up to use on the canvas. Now the canvas, through my eyes, finally says what i want it to. The central painting of Jerusalem is surrounded by appliqués from the dress that speak to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and minarets.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_Rock

Red and black dress embroidery
Red and black dress embroidery

The energy and intellect of many people contributed to the creation of the canvas: their stories about Palestine, their knowledge and first hand experience, and their thoughts while sewing, all contributed to a gorgeous, historic collection of embroidery that captures the beauty and memories of life in Palestine.

The following are photos of the continually changing canvas:

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Et, voilà! Un fait accompli!

7 Women's House Keys, 58H x 87W inches / 145H x 217.5W cm
7 Women’s House Keys, 58H x 87W inches / 145H x 217.5W cm

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