Al-Rawabi School: A marvelous show in the country that could

Al-Rawabi School: A marvelous show in the country that could

I just finished watching the all-Jordanian Netflix series Al-Rawabi School, and my mind is racing. So many mixed emotions: surprise, nostalgia, excitement, sadness, fear, inspiration, but above all, elation.

Elation to hear the dialect of my home featured in a highly-produced, beautifully-shot, professionally-made series. Elation that against all odds; conflict, wars, pandemic, poverty, unemployment, and one disaster after the other, miracles do still happen in Jordan, in the country that could.

Al-Rawabi School exceeded all my expectations, from the story line with sophisticated character development, to the beautiful cinematography, to the all-girl school setting, and the excellent performance by the young, mostly-unknown cast, the show was an unexpected gem.

Al-Rawbi School tackled so many important and timely topics in Jordan and elsewhere: bullying, jealousy, revenge, friendship, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, patriarchy, and honor crimes.

Hearing very Jordanian words, and expressions like shagfeh, binshalf, shu bilnisbeh just made my heart sing, and put nostalgic tears in my eyes. Also, The inclusion of “Arabish,” the mix of English and Arabic vernacular is spot on, and an exact representation of how West Ammanites speak.

Seeing the beautiful familiar streets and neighborhoods of Amman made me want to savor every single minute of this unique show, and watch it again and again.

What made the show very relatable to me is the fact that I too grew up in West Amman, in an all-girl private school, I went through similar issues. I was both bullied and a bully. I was hurt and hurt others. I’m grateful that this period is all behind me now, and that somehow I had survived it unscathed.

The score is yet another marvel. The choice of eclectic Arabic music was top notch with a variety of independent and veteran Arab artists. I have been listening to the show’s play list on Spotify non-stop for days now along with my kids in the car, and we are all enjoying the tunes and signing along to the music.

As expected, the show generated some criticism, especially among those who believe that it didn’t represent “Jordan’s traditions and culture”. From what I saw, the criticism was minor compared to the huge support and reception it received.

To those who criticize the show, I would say everything in this show is an exact representation of Jordanian culture and tradition, this show couldn’t be more Jordanian.

The show might not be perfect, but is perfection what we are looking for here? If I really want to nitpick, I might say that the choice of the all-gothic look for the character Nouf was a bit over the top, and the character of the drunken dad slurring his words was a bit cliched, but these are really very minor things in the scheme of things. The show is a marvel

Kudos to everyone behind this all-Jordanian show, especially its young creator Tina Shomali, and of course all the brilliant young actress and their families who supported them.

Jordan, onwards and upwards. Jordan, you are definitely the little country that could.

Body of Lies is simply a big lie

Leonardo DiCaprio as Agent Ferris in Body of Lies
As you might guess from the title, I was not a big fan of the film Body of Lies and I regret watching it on our fifth wedding anniversary, of all times! The reason I wanted to see it was because of its depiction of the Jordanian intelligence services as well as the fact that it takes place in Jordan.

What really annoyed me about the whole charade was the director’s decision to film in Morocco and pretend it is Jordan. Who did Ridley Scott think he was fooling when he made the decision to film in Morocco and digitally insert the King Abdallah mosque in a number of shots in an attempt to make it look like Jordan? Did he expect Jordanians or people that visited the country not to notice? Or did he just not care? In addition to the fake scenery, all the extras in the movie looked North African rather than Jordanian. And in more than one instance I noticed Saudi car tags in the streets of "Jordan."

Then there was the scene where Russell Crowe is surprised that DiCaprio wants to stay in Jordan. He asks him something along the lines of "Why? Do you want to eat couscous all day?" I mean, give me a break! Jordanians don’t eat couscous. He should have said Mansaf if anything. Anyway, I’m surprised a movie so centered on Jordan with such a big budget did not employ some cultural consultants or film there. The actor who played the head of Jordanian intelligence was okay but I got irritated by his fake accent. As for the Arabic spoken during the movie, please don’t get me started. It was a mélange of North African, Egyptian, Palestinian and I don’t know what.

In a nutshell, the movie was not worth my money, especially in economic times like these. My advice: Don’t watch it.

Censoring the Queen

Petra News Agency, Jordan’s state news agency, decided to play the role of ultimate censor by altering a photo of Her Majesty Queen Rania of all people. Jordanian blogger Arab Observer exposed Petra’s manipulation of the photo! When will Petra News Agency realize that they can’t get away with this anymore?

Manipulating photos to make them more culturally acceptable should be a thing of the past because nothing can be hidden or altered these days thanks to an army of citizen journalists that has its eyes open all the time. The Slate original picture is on the left. The Petra ‘version’ is on the right:

The uncensored Slate shot Petra's censored version of Queen Rania

Can you spot the difference? I have to admit, this post made my day. It is really beyond hilarious.

Finally, I see ‘Captain Abu Raed’

Amin Matalqa and Natasha Tynes It was three years ago when I was introduced to the work of Amin Matalqa. It happened when I found a couple of his short movies on the web. I then posted them on my blog. He contacted me and thanked me for highlighting his movies on my site. We have remained in touch since then. A year or so later, he shared with me the first draft of his screenplay for the movie Captain Abu Raed. I felt so privileged because I knew Amin was headed for success. I was not mistaken. His movie has won a number of international awards so far, including one from the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

A few days ago, I finally got a chance to see Captain Abu Raed at a special screening in DC. The movie was beautiful, managing to portray Jordan in a wonderful light. I especially loved how clearly the movie showed the divide between West Amman and East Amman. I also enjoyed seeing familiar sights in Jordan, like downtown and Queen Alia airport. Nadim Sawalha, who played the role of Abu Raed, was phenomenal. Watching him interact with others on the screen I got this feeling of déjà vu, like I knew him in a previous life. Perhaps it was because his is acting was very real, very Jordanian. The young boy who played Murad also gave a stellar performance. I highly recommend this movie, especially for those who are not familiar with Jordan.

Bravo Amin! We are all so proud of you. The movie will be playing in the US, Europe and the Middle East. There are more details on the movie’s website. I also really enjoyed meeting the film’s producer, Emmy-award winner David Pritchard. He was extremely down to earth and very supportive of Amin and his work. During the Q & A that followed the movie, Pritchard told the audience he was sure that the film would receive either an Academy Award nomination or one for a Golden Globe or both. Why not?

Here, in this picture of Amin and I that Jeff took using his cellphone, there is a firetruck, which arrived at the venue (the Goethe Institute) in response to a fire alarm before the screening. The audience stayed outside for a bit before the movie started until that situation cleared. The wait was a great way to catch up with Amin after all these years and congratulate him in person.

The slow demise of press freedom in Jordan

I lost hope in freedom of the press in Jordan a long time ago. I can’t remember exactly when but I think it goes back to my early twenties when I first joined the ranks of repressed Jordanian journalists. I have written about violations of press freedom on this blog many times, then I got tired of it. Until when, really? Things seem to be going from bad to worse.

From the whole fiasco of ATV to suing AmmanNet, I do not see any bright future for the press in Jordan. I decided to write about the most recent press violation, the sentencing of four journalists to prison, for two reasons.

  1. I find it ironic that after Jordan proudly announced that journalists would not be sent to jail, the trend continues using other legal artillery, the Penal Code rather than the Press and Publications Law.
  2. One of the journalists sentenced, Osama El Sherif, was my boss for my many years and was the one who trained me and taught me the tricks of the trade. What’s baffling in this case is that the journalists’ crime is publishing a news item "about a citizen who filed a motion with the Higher Judicial Council against the judges of the Higher Court of Justice, who had upheld a decision by the Civil Status and Passport Department depriving the plaintiff from his citizenship." Since when is reporting on a court case a crime in Jordan? I’m baffled. 

Anyway, enough about this. Talking about press freedom in Jordan is simply pointless. There’s more on Lina’s blog.

Update: Jordan continues Christian deportations

Here is a quick update to my last post. Compass Direct, which broke the story about the ongoing deportations of Christians in Jordan, ran a follow-up today that I personally found extremely heart-wrenching. Here is a highlight from the article:

More Deportations

While it was unclear what the government considered false in the report, the fact of deportations of Christians was further verified as authorities on February 10 expelled an Egyptian pastor with the Assemblies of God church in Madaba – one of five evangelical denominations registered with the government.

Married to a Jordanian citizen and the father of two children, Sadeq Abdel Nour was handcuffed and blindfolded and taken to the port city of Aqaba. There he was placed on a ferry to Egypt. The previous week an Egyptian pastor from a Baptist church in Zarqa was arrested, held for three days and also returned to Egypt by ship from the port city of Aqaba. The pastor, 43, is married to a Jordanian woman and the father of three children.

If these pastors were working for legally registered churches why would you deport them in such a humiliating manner? The response of Acting Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh to the initial Compass Direct article was: "The authorities have deported a number of people who entered the country under the pretext of performing voluntary work but were spotted carrying out missionary activities."

Was this really the case in the issue of Sadeq Abdel Nour? I wonder.

Frankly, I find these to be dark times for Christians in Jordan. There are obviously discrepancies between what the Jordanian government is saying and what’s actually happening on the ground. The government needs to be more transparent. Handcuffing, blindfolding and deporting a pastor with no explanation should not happen in Jordan or any country that claims to respect basic human rights. I’m angry and disappointed.