Our driver took us to a working class neighborhood in Amman where he introduced us to two Syrian refugee families living near to his home. We first had coffee with him and his son in law, served to us by his wife who was our interpreter for the rest of the day.
Walking through the neighborhood gave me a good sense of this community. Water dripped from cloth tied pipes. Cats scavenged over piles of trash. Laundry hung out of the windows. On this day, it was the first day of the weekend so the streets were quiet and empty, except for the occasional children playing. The landscape was barren, the buildings reigned the streets, looming & utilitarian.
The first home we visited was the family of a mother, father and their son and daughter. The first thing that struck me when we entered their apartment was that their son, age 12, was sick. He was sweating profusely and had a fever. The young daughter, age 4, seemed healthy but every once in awhile I would hear her cough. They both had asthma. They spoke of not entering Za’atari at any cost because they were afraid of contracting diseases, namely a skin condition that is contagious.
We sat and talked with them and they told us their story. They had walked from Syria to Jordan. When in Syria the father had been imprisoned. He was held for 50 days, was whipped and had his teeth knocked out. When asked what Syria was like he said there was “no freedom in Syria, just eating and drinking like animals.” I asked the mother what her hopes were. She said she hopes for equal rights for women & children in Syria.
Now, their life in Jordan is bleak. The father is not allowed to work. Other Jordanians help them with food. We visited them on a Friday and they were to be evicted on Saturday because they did not have the money for rent, $123. School costs $425 per year for each child. How will the children receive an education, when rent cannot be paid? They said they would sleep in gardens after they were evicted from their apartment.
Next we visited a family with many children. We sat with them and learned their story. They had been in Za’atari for four months and then left and have been living in a 3 room flat – 2 families with a total of 18 children. The mother was also eight months pregnant. She explained that in Jordan the practice is for a midwife to deliver a baby at home. In Jordan this is not done, and all babies are born in the hospital. To have a birth in a hospital is $575, plus the cost of the taxi. Of course, the father is not allowed to work in Jordan. The magnitude of their situation is inconceivable.
One of their sons had some scary looking sores on his ankle. Lev examined him and determined it was viral. Being in two households with illness made me realize the true and real horror of being a refugee, which is a life without healthcare.
This was a very important day for me in order to face the realities of the “real” Middle East. I walked the streets, spoke with the people living there, ate and drank inside their homes, used their restrooms, took pictures of their private spaces, laughed together, heard their fears, hopes and stories and played with their children. This was a welcoming day. Humor, laughter, appreciation, respect. This was my introduction to the Middle East and to the life of a refugee. What I didn’t expect was that it would also be a day for me to learn more about myself and to feel myself and my heart growing, in real time.