Tuesday, March 15, 2005 | “Filfil” is the word for “pepper” in Arabic. Two words that pepper all conversation here in Jordan might be useful for San Diego these days – “Insha’Allah,” meaning “should God will it,” and “Alhamdulillah,” which means “thanks to God.” Although they are used as often as we invoke God and Jesus as exclamations and filler words in American conversation, I believe people here mean what they are saying.

In response to “How are you?” the appropriate reply is “Alhamdulillah.” It doesn’t mean “Fine, thank you,” it means, “No matter how I am feeling, thanks be to God.” The old woman in her button shop, with her lower lip cracked and bleeding, says “Alhamdulillah” and wipes her lip without either of us mentioning it. When I tell people my sleek new laptop computer was ruined in a repair gone awry, the first comment is “Alahamdulillah.” Right, it has been the worst thing to happen during my five months here. It’s only a thing, after all.

Jordanians think of themselves as living in a Muslim country, albeit with a vastly diluted emphasis on religious observance over the past 15 years with the impact of satellite TV. Even lapsed Muslims are inspired by the recent American convert in her headscarf and exclaim “Alhamdulillah.” In making plans, people here will say, “I’ll pick you up in 10 minutes, Insha’Allah.” The culture is permeated with the understanding that God is in charge, and even within the next 10 minutes people must make the best decisions in all matters to earn reward from God because any moment may be one’s last.

Jordanian citizens have a king with vision and few resources. San Diego had the wealth of a kingdom but the visionaries were ignored. When the fiscal moderators of America’s most promising city forgot to make the best decisions, aside from legal action, we must say “Alhamdulillah” and encourage people with proactive wisdom to step forward to fix things, “Insha’Allah.”

But why would intelligent people who can live productive lives without the headaches of public service bother? Because the reward for using one’s talents is greater than the headache. Because if they don’t, there won’t be a community worth living in. On a glorious sunny day in San Diego, it is easy to be thankful and too easy to forget to be when the traffic is slow. “Alhamdulillah,” you have a car, you have smooth, efficient roadways, you may even have work you like, and most of the people around you don’t smoke. Those are a few of the things I appreciate from afar.

“Insha’Allah,” you will look around and want to be a part of the solution. And “Insha’Allah,” my computer can be fixed when I return. If not, “Alhamdulillah.” There are more important things to worry about, like getting people in charge to pay serious attention to fixing the problems at City Hall.

Jill Morgan, a graduate of The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, is in Jordan on an educational instruction assignment.

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