Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When you assume...

I've been feeling sick of facebook lately, so today I'm going to share an article here (that admittedly I found on facebook (shared by two friends I knew in Cairo: Lindsey and Lydia)) about a "collapsable woven tent" designed by a Jordanian-Canadian (two places close to my heart).

The article my friends shared was written originally for The Green Prophet (a Middle Eastern sustainability news blog thing). Although the concept/design for the tents is certainly impressive, I wasn't entirely a fan of this article because of the following sentence: "Seikaly [the brains behind the operation], now living in Amman, Jordan is well poised to design a dwelling for refugees given that her ancestors in Jordan probably toggled between nomadic and sheltered life in the desert for centuries."

Excuse me?

Do you know what my ancestors did? They drove ox carts across the prairie. They spoke German. They grew sugar beets. A few were midwives.

Do you know what I can't do on account of having never done it? 

I can't drive an ox cart. I'm probably afraid of oxen. I don't know. I've never really been around them. 

I can't speak German. Bitte und danke.

I've never touched a sugar beet and on the whole my garden was a catastrophe last year. 

Although I've successfully delivered my own babies (with the help of various doctors and nurses) I don't feel qualified to deliver other women's babies. 

Obviously the occupation and lifestyle of my ancestors influences where I am today but not directly. Not really. I don't think today's sugar beet farmers would accept my advice on sugar beet farming simply because my grandpa was a sugar beet farmer (and his grandpa was a sugar beet farmer)—and they shouldn't because I would give them terrible advice!

That sentence just bothered me. It smacked of orientalism and I immediately assumed it was a Westerner who wrote it but it was actually written by an Iranian (though one admittedly raised outside of Iran (in South Africa and the US, to be specific)).

After a bit of poking around I found Seikaly's website, which explains the shelter in more detail. No where on her website does she mention whether or not she descends from the Bedouin (nomadic tribes in Jordan (and elsewhere in the Middle East—like, oh, Iran)) and to assume that she does is...completely irrelevant. Unless, of course, as Andrew pointed out it was because of the author's own nomadic heritage that she was able to recognize the nomadic heritage of Seikaly.

Her shelter, though, looks awesome and practical, which is probably why it won an award.


  1. Ha immediate ancestors were dairy farmers who worked in tobacco fields. I feel unqualified to milk cows or harvest tobacco. That IS a strange sentence. Hmmm.

    (I'm so glad to back online at home. First time since last Friday so now I can catch up on your blog. Hope life has been going well for ya!)

  2. You are just hating Facebook because I'm not on it :). J/k it is probably a relief not to see my constant post :)