Post-WSF Update from Oman
It’s been about a month since the World Social Forum ended and I have been meaning to send a few pictures and do a final reflection or update. (I finally got access to a scanner). With all that is going on in the world, in Haiti and here in the Middle East giving you a personal update on my visa situation seems quite trivial, but i wanted to let you know in case some of you were wondering why you haven’t heard from me in a while.
I have unexpectedly been stuck in Oman for the past 5 weeks because of a new security clearance people from various countries (mainly Muslim countries) have to go through, before entering or reentering the U.S.. This process basically consists of various background checks done by the FBI, Homeland security and other agencies and can take between 1 -6 months with no guarantee of getting cleared or ever hearing why and what happened. I have been hearing of many stories much worse than mine of families being separated, people needing urgent medical care being unable to reenter the U.S., and people loosing their jobs because of these new security clearance procedures and laws. Thousands of people are sitting somewhere right now putting their lives on hold because they are considered threats to the U.S., even though they have been living, working or studying there for many many years. Many of you have been so helpful to me personally and have put alot of work into trying to get me back in and I feel very blessed by all the support you have given me. I can’t thank you enough !!! It makes me hopeful that I will be able to get back into the U.S. sooner than these folks might hope =) and that perhaps in the near future they won’t be able to get away with passing these types of laws anymore…
On the bright side, I am enjoying catching up with my family here in Oman after a couple of years of being apart and am practicing being patient and cherishing the moments and conversations I have with people here. I am a little surprised by how much people talk about empire-building here and about the U.S. war on terror within that context. In my family many conversations have lately started with so and so being unable to get the visa back to x country and people extrapolating from there about how the world is and isn’t changing. My relatives recently told the story of a friend, who back in the day traveled from Sudan all the way to Senegal without a penny just talking his way across borders telling people “he was visiting his relatives on the other side and would be back by lunchtime” or just sharing a cigarette with the people patrolling the arbitrary borders that separated the countries he travelled through. “The new colonialism” to them has been about tightening borders that shouldn’t exist in the first place, allowing European and U.S. companies easy access to natural and human resources everywhere while their friend can’t even go visit his relative in Northern Nigeria without having to apply for several visas and an expensive plane ticket. “By controlling our borders they control what can go in and out and continue to maximize their profits just like it used to be.” The stories always end with some glimmer of hope though and as my uncle (who is almost 90) put it every empire has its shelf life…there is also always a moral to the story and for me it was to accept that people like us need to be patient and have faith that all things happen for a reason even if you can’t quite see it =).
Thinking back on the World Social Forum, many of my conversations with people were indirectly about the same thing, about how people were tired of the bullying, the agression, the exploitation and (the empire-building) that is being justified through this war and affecting poor people all over the world. People also talked about how paralell to that privatization has become a major issue marginalizing the majority of people in their respective countries and concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Even here in Oman, an oil-rich country where people have access to free health care, education and social services people are getting poorer, the social sector is shrinking and the national wealth continues to increase the profit margins of companies like Shell and BP. From here people don’t need to look far to see U.S. based companies trying to control Iraqi resources by any means necessary. If this war is about continuing their control over resources people wonder what their role should be in opposing it. The other major issue on people’s mind is of course Palestine. People watch how Israel is justifying a land-grap and control over the water resources in the West Bank with a similar rhetoric that was used to invade Iraq and people wonder where else this could happen. In the U.S. opinions Arab and African, Christian and Muslim in the Middle East are mostly portrayed as uniformly irrational, paranoid and aggressive towards the U.S. and Israel without ever providing contexts, diversity in opinions or even facts on the ground. People have sat me down and even asked me to tape them in the past to explain why they are resentful or fearful…people in the U.S. they explain would be too if they were sandwiched between two occupations and watched their natural resources being exploited by foreign companies. And as ordinary folks here are trying to figure out how to oppose this war without perpetuating it, they ask me why regular people in the U.S. cannot understand where they are coming from…
People have challenged me personally in many ways and have made me question what our role (people living in the U.S.) should and can be in opposing this war and in supporting movement-building in the U.S. and abroad. I will leave you all with a quote from Arundhati Roy and hope to see you all soon.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet
day, I can hear her breathing”. Arundhati Roy
ps: if you would like to send me a personal email please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org