West Of Eden (Getting A Life)

Last night I had an interesting discussion with an uncle of mine after ftoor over here in Canada. The conversation centered around the choice of living in the Arab world versus the western world, specifically with regards to someone such as myself.

The choice is more than just geography. For example, in Canada one has greater career opportunities and greater earnings. However you get taxed as hell and let’s face it there is just no life in Canada or the western world in general. I was born here and I still feel like an immigrant because that’s the culture of things. You feel like a cog in the machine, just another number; a drone. White people, those who are several generation Canadians/Americans, base their lives on this routine that would drive any Arab crazy. It’s punch in punch out, 9 to 5, come home, family dinner, and then falling asleep to Letterman. Or the two weeks of going to Disney Land or the cottage up north for some fly-fishing. And they don’t seem to mind it. I think we as Arabs are used to chaos, we must have it.

In Jordan you earn very little but then again there is a sense of life or at the very least a sense of feeling alive to some degree and for those who think otherwise should try a few years living over here. There is a circle of friends, family, familiar places. There’s also a common culture, religion, tradition and language; both the spoken language and also the language of how things are done.

Another advantage of living here is the system, everything is organized, everything is automatic, and laws are constantly applied. Suffice to say getting a driver’s license or renewing a passport is not a constant battle. But it’s also boring. Seriously. Every time I’ve tried doing any of those things in Jordan I’ve come home frustrated and aggravated BUT with a good story to tell for years to come. Something funny always happens. Over here all the stories consist of “I went, I waited in line, I was served, I came home”. There’s no “a fight broke out” or “everyone was cutting the line” or whatever.

My uncle said something fairly interesting when it comes to the choice: it all depends on what you want in life. You’ll essentially be trading life for money or money for a life. But this also depends on what we mean by “a life”. What does the definition of “a life” embody for us as individuals. Are we high maintenance or low maintenance? Do we want the roller coaster ride or the Ferris wheel? Are you the clubber or the watch-a-movie type?

This doesn’t apply to everyone of course; it is a generalization of sorts. There are people in Jordan dying to come to Canada or the U.S. and many will do it strictly for the money. Hence if I presented this choice to anyone I would probably be laughed at. But many of these people will always come back to Jordan or the Arab world. The majority of Arab families that I know will spend a few years in the west for the money until they become incredibly jaded by the life and they move back home. But then they run out of money so they move back to the western world. It’s a pinball life.

Ironically the same can be said of Jordan and it’s relation to the gulf countries; people will move back and forth between money and life. It’s a constant assessment of one’s world and what stars they wants to see shine the brightest in the galaxy they create.

As for me, for the first and probably last time in my life I’ll say this: I’m too young to know which choice is the better one. But I also keep in mind that with a bit of determination, luck and the grace of God, anything is possible anywhere.




  • Nice post, i have been struggling with this choice myself, which ended up with me realising i don’t have this choice at all. I had to move to Canada because it was socially unacceptable for me to stay in amman and the rest of my family goto canada. not till i get married at least πŸ˜›

    I’ve never fit in in either Canada or Jordan. I’m too Arab for Canada, and I’m too liberal for Jordan. So life is frustrating for me wherever i live. But focusing on the positive side, Canada isn’t trading money for life because there’s a lot of stuff to do in Canada. With money, you can travel. You can take classes.. learn another language, learn dancing, learn sports, learn to sky dive! With money you can buy flowers for your girlfriend everyday to make her happy ;P I understand what you mean about the rules in Canada and it is precisely these rules that make life boring and take away from our interesting stories. And as Arabs.. we’re used to frustration to the extent that we even thrive on it! If something is easy for us we don’t even think its worth doing. But living in Canada is not a choice between money or life. You just have to work a bit harder on finding the eccentricities of Canada that matches the personality of every estranged arab.

  • Yeah, this hit home.

    I just got to reading your blog so you’ll find many comments here:D

    I have been in the US for about 4 months now, and these questions have been in my head. While i love the freedom of walking down the street with no shabab yelling silly and somtimes crude stuff, i miss the simplicity and pace of life. I also miss the kind of friendships i formed there, and i wonder if it’s a country thing, or if it’s a life thing, you know? You make those great friends only once in a lifetime. People here are so preoccupied with themselves.

    I am struggling to make ends meet and make and multi-cultural marriage get started on the right foot. I

  • Yeah, i’m an idiot and pressed enter to many times or sth:D Anyways, i’ve been feeling pretty meditative about living here. Although i was born here, but i was pretty much raised in Jordan. I agree with ksfadljk, i am too liberal for Jordan but i don’t quite fit here either. It’s an intersting place to be, and yes many would love to get the chance to be here. Yet i dunno if i wanna stay or just go back home to my 35 cent sandishet falafel:D

  • hamede, thanks

    lksfadljk, “thereÒ??s a lot of stuff to do in Canada”, stuff yes, but not really a life and i guess it depends like i said on how one defines “a life”

    “You just have to work a bit harder on finding the eccentricities of Canada that matches the personality of every estranged arab.”

    I think it’s not a matter of finding those eccentricities, but that they either don’t exist or that they are in an environment that is all together different. it’s the difference in feeling between sleeping over at a relative’s house and in your own bed in your own home.

    Jennifer, welcome to my blog and hope to see your comments. yeah i empathize with a lot of what you’re saying. and in truth if anyone ever had to make that cruicial life decision about choosing a country…the falafal sandwiches can really tip the scales in favor of Jordan πŸ˜€

  • If life is only about our circle of friends and family, then yes Canada vs Jordan is definately a mere trade off between money and life and you should go back to Jordan because the concept of family and friends is very different in Canada and you will never find happiness here, if that’s all there is to life.

  • lksfadljk, well i didnt say it was strictly family and friends, i just said it all depends on how you define “a life” and based on that finding what environment best supports that definition. πŸ™‚

  • Naseem,

    Yes, you’re absolutely right…it depends on how you define ‘a life’ … having had exposure to the two worlds (USA, Palestine & Jordan)I would definitely say that there is more of a social life in Palestine and Jordan than here…People there are not as consumed in work as we are here and so tend to have more than just work to focus on…maybe I feel that way because when I’m there, I am on vacation and maybe I see everyone else having the free time that I have.

    Depending on where you live in the US and how involved you are in the Arab and Muslim Community and centers, then you will definitely feel the same (if not even stronger)cultural and religious connection that you feel living in Jordan or Palestine or any other Arab country. I believe that the majority of us here in the West tend to stick to our traditions(not stone age ones, though some us still stick to those), culture and religion more than some back home do!

    My personal preference is a balance between the two … I would like to be able to travel between here and there!

  • Nas,

    here is a question for you…

    when your old and frail and close to the end, what is it your going to wish you hadn’t given up? the money or the life?

    are you going to pray to God to give you a few more dollars or a few more minutes with friends and family?

    answer both of these truthfully and you have the answer to the path you want to take.

  • Fad, if my friends and family will promise to pay my hopsital bill then i think i know the answer. if they can’t then i’m still in limbo.

  • You won’t have to pay after you are dead! Your family will be forced to pay to collect your body!

    In the mean time, I like to look at it this way. Where will you have a greater impact? Where can you make a real difference? In short, who needs you more?

  • big k, thats true but i’d still have to pay if i want to have a good hospital room with a view.

    as for impact. the problem with that question is that it’s idealistic in the sense that i’d really have to be the selfless type and with that come sacraficing any ambition for wealth for the sake of a “higher purpose”.

  • You should read what Edward Said says about immigration or exile from east to west. Reading it was the difference between me going to canada kicking and screaming all the way to Pearson airport, or simply just leaving Amman with a heavy heart. If you get your hands on the Edward Said Reader, which is a good book alltogether, check out the excerpt from one of his lectures called: Intellectual Exile: Expatriates and Marginals (1993). from reading your blog i have a feeling you might relate to it a bit.

  • Insightful post. I would just like to ask a minor question, tho. You mention “white people” when you refer to Canadians, and I always thought Arabs were white, with darker facial features?

    If you don’t like the structured life, I can definetely understand why. I would suggest moving down to Kansas or one of the southern states in America. Things are more relaxed, and you get the advantage of good money and life, if you’ve got a halfway decent job. Of course, on the flipside, there’s not a whole lot to do other than burn garbage and drink beer on Fridays.

  • lksfadljk, thanks, yeah i’ve read it actually, it’s probably seeped in. sometime in the far future when i look back, this time time in my life will be known as my time in exile. either that or the character building funny part. πŸ˜€

    Ray, for the most part Arabs are brown skinned or olive skinned, but in the context of the greater population there are the few that tend to be white, typically from our specific region: jordan, palestine, syria and mostly lebanon. geography, climate and urbanization i suppose.

    yeah that kind of sounds fun, but the life i guess the life i pictured didnt involve a trailer park or a scene from from ‘my name is earl’ if you know what i mean πŸ˜‰

  • Now Nas, that is a stereotype, is it not? Not everywhere south of toronto is a trailer park πŸ™‚

    I was thinking about how I experience American life, and although it is busy, in our church fellowships (mine and my husbands, and then ours from places we lived married) we have very strong,deep relationships that have lasted decades. Thanks to email, we can keep in touch even better.

    Maybe after Ramadan we should get you invited to some good old fashioned church potlucks. They are very very similar to Iftar…people east as though they haven’t all day. Do you have any Evangelical Christian friends? It may sound bizarer, but several of my more devout Muslim friends have said they have more in common with us than completely secular Muslims. Just a thought.

  • kinzi, not a stereotype, just a generalization based on extensive observation. and getting together with evangelical christians in canada to go to church potlucks wasn’t exactly how i pictured my life here πŸ˜€

  • Probably not, you’d be a man of much greater girth;, but, your life seems to hold surprises now and then so don’t completely rule it out πŸ™‚

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