Dreams Are Illegal

One of my closest friends lives a few hours north of me in Ottawa and is doing a masters in electrical engineering. During a recent conversation where a lot of reminiscing about old times took place, we discussed the job market in Jordan. He asked me if I knew of any innovative things in the field of engineering being done in Jordan, specifically the public sector. Knowing my friend very well and how intelligent and talented he is I half-jokingly suggested he should go to Silicon Valley instead. He replied that while there were plenty of opportunities for someone like him here in Canada, he will always gravitate home to Jordan, where he can ‘make a difference’.

This suddenly conjured up many memories of similar conversations I’ve had with him and other friends in my close circle back in Amman, back in high school, back in freshmen year. It was a time when we would park the car on a hilltop overlooking the east-side, sip small cups of sweet coffee from a street vendor and ponder the riddles of the world. We were idealistic. A desire to change the world, or at least our own backyard. We were high on inspiration; Durdenisms and Khaledisms and whole bunch of other isms. To an extent, some of that remains true to this day despite the fact that the idealism has been watered down by realism. It’s what happens when you go back and forth between two different parts of the world.

I remember my 11th grade computer teacher becoming so frustrated with our class that at one point he exploded and in some incoherent rant I remember him saying something along the lines of “I came back to serve the country and this is what I get!”.


The only reason I don’t like to visit Jordan that often, the only reason that makes me hesitate sometimes, is facing all these people I used to know. Running into them and having to play catch up. Or even meeting new people and new faces and having to fill them in on what you’re doing in life. And then they ask. It used to be “are you coming back?” and a short pause to wait for the answer. Now it’s “what are you doing here?!” as if spending a few months of vacation in Jordan means you will be swallowed up by the abyss.

They almost always tell me with such eagerness to go back to Canada and never return. At first I thought maybe these people just don’t like me. But at times they plea with me, almost threaten me with a since of foreboding that should I return to Jordan I will waste away.

The reason is because the current reality always appears bleak. But if everyone leaves and never comes back then does the situation ever improve? If the people with western education or skills or with any sense of talent and once-in-a-generation minds leave and never come back, then does anything change?

Money seems to be at the heart of matters; the country offers very little of it compared to the western world. And I would use the cliche “money isn’t everything” but for fear that I would overdose on idealism. Nevertheless I always felt that in a country lacking opportunities and wealth, that this would be the perfect environment for innovation to breed since, to use another cliche: necessity is such a good mother.

Of all the things that need to be changed in the country: the economics, the markets, the political landscape, the reformations…it’s the mindset, the social way of thinking that seems to be the biggest obstacle, the biggest ball and chain.

In Jordan, dreams are illegal. They are all locked up somewhere, some of them are over here in North America, living in exile. None of these dreams ever get a chance to become aspirations. The environment one wishes to change is one that has already been polluted by the people with darkness, with cynicism, with such a craven way of looking at the country and its realities. It something I’m never comfortable with because whenever I hear of someone somewhere who has done something to change his world, they’re usually changing an environment that is in itself bleak; making the bad become better.

So you go back.

Because of dreams.

Because of idealism.

Because of gravity.

Try and change things.

And everyone: will make you regret it.


  • Nas: Your outlook is too bleak. Are you suggesting that there are no successful people in Jordan? Or that there is no innovation, imagination or hussle? Excuse me if I tell you that I can’t imagine anything more boring than spending the rest of my life in Canada. I don’t care what people say. Canada (and the US) are not for me. Sure, I might be able to make more money. Would I like to raise my kids there? Would I find friends who really understand me? Can I make a difference (there is still some idealism in the world, you know). The answer for me is that I would like to spend my life in Jordan.

    Now I can understand that most people wouldn’t agree with me. So what? I will live my life the way that I want to. Everybody else is free to do the same.

  • It is not always just about money. My aunts and uncles, fox example, have only one worry and fear – that I get married and raise a family in Canada. So they beg me to come back to Jordan already so my “chance[naseeb]” will come to me.

    Others from their generation tell me to do the opposite as they dish out the typical rant about how people in Jordan are all cheaters, liars, crooks, disorganised, hopeless, ungrateful, unthankful, etc etc.

    My feelings are somewhere in between both sides, mixed in with a fair bit of nationalism and the guilty feelings of being over-priveleged by a society and then abandoning it. No idealism for me, just a lousy sense of obligation.

  • Khalaf, I’d say that opportunities and a chance to actually grow are not as available in Jordan as they are, say, here (US). Though I believe that a person who lacks drive, commitment and determination will not be able to excel in a sea of opportunity, I do still believe that the place does play a role in making individuals excel and succeed. You don’t have to be ‘there'(i.e back home) to make a difference…there are many ways to invest and to make a difference without having to physically be back home all year round…In my social circle, there are those who have their Master’s and PhDs who take a few months out of the year to ‘volunteer’ teaching at universities back home…that’s their way of contributing and passing on the knowledge they acquired here to their home country…there are also those who’ve created projects contributing to their home country’s economy – yet they’re not ‘physically’ there to run those projects…the amount of contribution that we can make to our home country is immense…who knows, perhaps living there these people wouldn’t have been able to give as much as they’ve given and continue to give!

  • Well with the right ingredients, you could score big time!

    You need to have the right family name, a large family, some big wastas (uncle Abu Ribhi who served 40 years in (fill in the blank), some rich uncle in the family and so on.
    Otherwise you’ll be taking the hard way and you could easily fail.

    Well it’s not always that bad, anyways poeple in Jordan tend to complain a lot (yeah just like money)! They have this “Hassad” (not me) mentality that is they’ll make you believe they are hungry and really poor yet their bank account is big.(okay, seriously not me)

    It’s never easy! Westerners are usually honest when doing buisness, everything is clear and schematic and they do it professionally. In Jordan, fixing your house’s main door could take 10 days where some low life who would do a lousy job will end up charging you 10 times the price you’ve both agreed on before commissioning.

    Anyways, they’ll always view you as “that naive Canadian dude” who can be fooled so easily, and stealing his money is kosher, he’s rich and he’s a kharoof.

    Life is great if you deal with the right people (you know, live in isolated communities where your interact with Dawaween is limited. Expose your kids to life outside your isolated community (my advice is enroll them at Dawaween schools) otherwise when they grow up they’ll be shocked.

    I know what you are thinking, there are two options:

    1. Move back to Jordan, struggle dealing with dawaween, shattered dreams, cultural shock, and loosing faith in a better future. Be treated as an outsider by Jordanians.
    2. Stay where you are, keep thinking about how your kids will become Summer vacation-Jordanians,how they can’t fit in a family gathering and they barely like sitting with grandpa, keep dreaming about returning back to Jordan. Yet looked upon as a foreigner, and at this time a potential terrorist.

    There is another solution, quit everything, go to Wadi Rum, fix a tent and enjoy gazing at the stars every night,”walk” the sheep in the morning.

    Money isn’t everything! It has to do with dignity . Like some dork Prof./boss/teacher etc gets to be your boss because he got some connections, yet because he doesn’t like you for many reasons (jealousy is the main reason) they’ll make your life a living hell till you quit and leave.

    There has been lot of talk about the Youth council and other initiatives , the sad truth is, all these youth who got to talk or meet his majesty for an example are usually handpicked because of their family name,dress nicely, they are friends to the president of the student council, they are the first ones to be in a Dabkeh circle during a national occasion. So when they got the chance to speak, all they got is: Fawning to his majesty, or some really naive problems like (Cell phones with cameras are evil, help us), or some of the smart guys would babble some clichés like: Darooret taf3eel el hayah el seyaseyeh 3end el shabab!

    Okay, I’m just portraying a very negative image, actually REM’s Everybody hurts is on at the moment 😀

  • I meant just like me , not like money 🙂

    Anyways I agree with Khalaf, despite everything else I prefer Jordan over somewhere else as far as the Islamists don’t take over. I’ll still stay but it gonna be too hard.

  • I believe this country has offered its people alot despite the lack of resources… does that seem like rhetoric, maybe, but i think achievements become more meaningful here.. money has a different ability to make us happy and achieving things tastes better here… even if it pays better outside, it still saddens me to plough a foreign land,i wanna cultivate this soil and plant my little seeds in it… this land has a lot to offer.. we just have to believe in it…

  • Khalaf: you may have misunderstood what I was saying. There are innovative people in Jordan but very very limited innovation. 99% of the country is based on services, tajmee3, distribution etc. The environment, specifically the social environment, is not conducive to allow for people to achieve great things without running into a million obstacles.

    There is no self sufficiency. No “Made In Jordan”, sold everywhere. And if there is it is just so limited. And it stretches across all industries. The whole Arab world suffers from this.

    But I agree with everything else you said. However it’s not always that easy.

    Firas: although I understood very little of what you said…the wadi rum idea sounds about right 😀

    Oula: I agree with you but those plow the lands are trailblazers in their industry, sacrificial lambs, or to use a Durdenism: space monkeys. The number of those people are very very rare.

    So many times I hear of a Jordanian who’s invented something but is forced to go to America to make his dream realized.

  • Mmmmh , okay I myself have difficulty understanding what I’ve written. Gotta stop those 1.5 min/ 900 lines comments while you are in the middle of writing a “charter”.

    What I’ve wanted to say is: That you either don’t come back to Jordan and live abroad dreaming of returning back, or you return back , fight your way through and live happily after.

    There was also a lot of anger towards wasta and jealousy.

    Never mind, I’ll be in Wadi Rum, I’ll see you when you get there,if you ever get there…..

  • Firas
    A project charter?

    I believe I understood what you posted…(see how I’m the only one who seems to always ‘understand’ you 😉

  • the only reason that makes me hesitate sometimes

    Very true, it’s like every time you forget about this “should I stay or should I go?” question someone comes in and gives the wheel another push and it starts spinning again in your head and you don’t know which answer it will stop at, but one thing you’ll almost know for sure; no matter where it stops and no matter what your mind ends up favoring at that moment, you will probably be on the plane on your way out of the country and back to your college, work or whatever it is that caused you to leave home from the first place.

  • I find myself agreeing with both Firas and Iman. While it is true that people have found great success and wealth in Jordan, the likelihood of the average hardworking individual, finding success, is minuscule compared to the opportunities that exist abroad. Not to mention the fact that the means required to sustain a certain standard of living, one that I was accustomed to as a child, in Jordan has risen substantially in the past 5 – 10 years. I can only imagine what it would take to provide the same for a family.

    Letâ??s not all forget education. Have you guys seen what school tuitions are lately?

    Like Nas said maybe itâ??s not always about the money? At that point, like firas implied, you have your dignity and self worth to worry about. I know of countless occasions were people have applied for jobs that were passed up because someone else had a certain last name or a better wasta. What about the promotions that are usually offered to less qualified people simply because of who they knew or were they came from. What if you have to work for that newly appointed person?

    How much should one have to tolerate ?

  • While it is true that people have found great success and wealth in Jordan, the likelihood of the average hardworking individual, finding success, is minuscule compared to the opportunities that exist abroad
    Exactly Deeb!

    Anyways Nas, what you know, my reply turns out to be comprehensible (see Iman and Deeb).

    You just don’t wont to give me the Piaster, don’t you?

  • Firas: the point you highlighted of Deeb’s is what I was saying, except that there is an environment that is accountable for supporting achievement, opportunity etc. That is absent in Jordan, especially on a social level.

    ya a5i i’ll send you dinar kaman 😀

  • Hello,

    A quick thought: Change is always happening , you don’t need to initiate it , you either accelerate it or keep it as is.

    Another quick thought: I believe more and more now, that ideas change, people grow up and no decision such as “should I go back to Jordan” should be based on any logical analysis, you either do it or not , for all the unrelevant reasons 🙂 – And I might be totally wrong –


Your Two Piasters: