Tag Archives: Middle East

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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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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