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I have lost trust in my government —and most likely yours.

By July 5, 2020 2 Comments

A few weeks ago, I called up a disgruntled parent at my daughter’s school. I was proud of how far I had come. My modus operandi until then had been to shy away from uncomfortable conversations. But even stubborn Tafili-Jordanians like me soften and grow. After reading every book and publication by Brene Brown on vulnerability and daring leadership, I finally appreciated the value and importance of these uncomfortable, vulnerable conversations she calls “rumblings.” I started out with the most difficult question: “Do you trust the school?” Her answer was clear. She had no trust in the system. And she had no desire to rebuild it. My response was quick and confident: she should change schools.

I am still thinking about trust. It seems to me to be the cornerstone of every healthy long-term relationship. I suspect it can be rebuilt, but also worry the glued cracks always show. Of course, the rebuilding process is much more nuanced —and complex— than a bottle of glue and a brush. It is extremely vulnerable, requiring a serious, long-term gluing commitment from all concerned parties. The rumblings are not only uncomfortable, they are unpredictable with a very likely sobering doze of accountability and courage. In our modern-day culture of misplaced aggrandizement, quick fixes, service to headlines, and surgical interventions, it is an effort not many are interested in investing in, especially when the return may take a lifetime or two.

“Blessed is he who plants trees under whose shade he will never sit.” —Indian or Greek proverb

Today —and by that I loosely refer to the last 50-60 years at least— we are more likely to see trees uprooted, cement poured, and concrete destroying the skyline. 

Remember Joni Mitchell?

“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”

Can we rumble? Grab some tea. I am on a roll!

Let me start with the big one. I have lost trust in my government —and most likely yours. I have lost trust in this universal system of government built on misplaced aggrandizement, quick fixes, service to headlines, and surgical interventions. [Sound familiar? I could swear I just read this sentence.]

At the aforementioned school, those of us who still trust the school follow a list of meeting norms that govern our interactions and discussions. They are very useful when rumblings inevitably surface and serve as gentle injections of trust, courage, and faith that we are all here to “get it right —not be right” as Brene Brown so eloquently reminds me. We are all trying our best. I will spare you the full list but for those norms that I feel can keep me on track for this one-sided rumbling of mine.

  • Assume good intentions.
  • Avoid interruptions. [Not really pertinent. I am just gloating:)]
  • Keep it light. [Please see point above:)]
  • Stick to the facts.

I have really good intentions. I want us all to plant trees for our children, their children, their children’s children —and all their pets and animals. I want to invest in co-creating a planet that is thriving, alive, clean, and healthy —Earth and inhabitants alike.

The facts are sadly narrating a very different story.

“They took all the trees, and put ’em in a tree museum.

And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.” —Joni Mitchell

What follows are a few facts pertaining to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan that have been the straw to break my back.

The first time a Jordanian government addressed the smoking pandemic [it is a pandemic] by law was in 1994 —on paper and possibly the evening news. It wasn’t until May 25, 2010, that the government decided to actually “enforce” the law by banning smoking in public institutions. 

It is a fact that the law was never enforced. Law-makers themselves smoked in public on national —and international— television screens in defiance of the law, public health, and moral leadership. Following recent reports placing Jordan as the country with the highest rates of tobacco users in the world, the current Jordanian government recently announced a ban on smoking and vaping in indoor spaces —a law already in place since 2010.

“In its announcement on Wednesday, the Jordanian government cited studies showing that smokers and those who consumed secondhand smoke were more susceptible to harm if they caught coronavirus.” The Guardian, July 2, 2020

This is the same Jordanian government that announced (via its minister of labour on “Sawt Al Mamlaka”) on March 23, 2020, that cigarettes would be included in the essential items packages delivered to homes across the kingdom during the COVID-19 lockdown.

In 2003, the Jordanian government formed the Ministry of the Environment with a clear mandate to protect the environment and our natural resources. The ministry is also tasked with safeguarding our forests and natural reserves. In a very recent interview with a local news outlet to address the public outcry against a blatant environmental violation in a local natural reserve, the minister of the environment who incidentally also serves as the minister of agriculture dismissed the removal of “only” 30 trees that were “only” 12 years old as necessary collateral for a project that would provide employment opportunities for the community of the natural reserve. He also stated that the planned factory for the area will not be able to operate until an environmental impact study was concluded. Please note that the trees have already been uprooted —and the factory has already been built. On a natural reserve site. 

Not surprisingly, this 2019 report on our environmental health reached the following conclusion:

“So far, Jordan’s efforts on climate change, including on water and energy, have remained limited in ambition and action. One reason for this is that most policy-makers do not see the issue as a priority (compared to e.g. employment), in part due to a lack of understanding of its implications and costs and of the benefits of action. Another reason is that policy-making on the issue is not unified, with fragmented plans and institutions that lack consistency, comprehensiveness, links, and common purpose. Climate action at scale is also severely under-funded, and adaptation would require large investments, for example in more efficient infrastructure for water and energy. In addition, implementing adopted policies in specific sectors would push for major changes in people’s practices, but this could affect the interests or livelihoods of significant parts of the population (e.g. with higher prices on water and electricity).”

Quick fixes. 

Short-term financial gains.

The Environmental Police Force (Rangers) were founded by royal decree in 2006. They are also mandated to oversee the protection of the environment and the enforcement of environmental laws in the country. One such law includes Traffic Law 2008 – Article 37/12 to fine those who litter from their vehicle windows.

It is not a lack of signage stopping us from littering.

Also a fact: I drive behind those cars that litter every day. I have never once seen anyone stopped and fined. I have seen law enforcement personnel throw litter from their car windows, or leave trash behind on the sidewalk or park walls after a shift. My mother and I have spoken to many of them on our daily walks about their discarded coffee cups.

Greater Amman Municipality dedicates a lot of manpower —and chemicals— to take cosmetic care of the neighbourhoods around the Royal Palace and Royal Court. I see its pesticide and chemical spray vans roaming the area daily. I have encountered their workers dressed in full hazmat gear spraying trees three times in the past few months alone, off-season according to a Ministry of Agriculture pesticide expert. In both cases, the areas were not cordoned off to protect foot traffic. In fact, I risked being sprayed myself when I mistakenly assumed they were spraying water. 

We have all learned of reports on the high content of chemical residue on Jordanian produce exported to the region. Pepper, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, squash, beans, and eggplant from Jordan were found to “contain pesticide residues in excess of permissible limits,” according to the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) in 2017. Following political pressure, the MOCCAE backtracked revealing the ban was only a “precautionary” measure to ensure a commitment to high standards. Off the record, sources at the Ministry of Agriculture believe the backtracking was a political decision to support Jordan’s fragile economy.

I don’t know about you, but this brings to mind hazmat-clad individuals having a field day on our sidewalks while we happily go about our morning exercise.

“Hey, farmer, farmer

Put away the DDT now

Give me spots on my apples

But leave me the birds and the bees

Please.” —Joni Mitchell

Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz announced today that Jordan will be awarded a clean bill of “tourism health” very shortly, making it a COVID-19 safe destination for tourists. What also is a fact is that tourists and tour operators have been complaining regularly about the cleanliness of our tourist sites and public spaces for the past decade. There have been numerous local —isolated— campaigns to raise awareness about the pandemic of littering in the country but to no avail. All cleaning initiatives fall under quick and superficial management of a systemic chronic ailment that requires so much more than a clean-up operation and a few headlines.

Who has the courage to stand up and be accountable for the mistakes, denials, and irretrievable damage inflicted upon my home? Who do I turn to for protection and safety? Who has my back?

I have lost trust and so wish it were as simple as changing schools.

You see, I want to stay under the shade of the tree my father planted long ago.

2 Comments

  • Samer Tallauze says:

    Great article, hope things change around in Jordan. 3% only of trees “nature” surrounds the country. Not sure if they will save it that way. Must be done more work in schools and government. Thanks and best wishes

  • Marian Karmandarian says:

    Sadly lawmakers, people in positions of authority and those entrusted to protect and ensure laws are abided by are under the impression they are above the law. They are the very ones who should be setting a good example. Unfortunately, it’s a case, all over the world mind you, of ‘don’t do as I do, Do as I say’.

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