Feelings of Inadequacy

When I teach my students the second conditional I like to use the ever amazing song, If I had a $1,000,000 by the Bare Naked Ladies. As we go around the class discussing what we would do if we each had $1,000,000 I hear the usual answers, buy a house, buy a car, give it to my mom (gotta love Arabs). When the students in turn ask me what I would do, I would usually say travel the world, help my mom and go shopping. But over the last few months I realize something has changed. Through volunteering with the Syrian refugees I am regularly struck with an annoyance at my lack of funds to be able to help. Every time I see a child with worn out shoes or recycled hair ties, families living in tents, basements and garages I wish I had $1,000,000, so that I could ease their suffering, keep them warm, and make them feel like someone cares.

The world seems to have moved on. Now that Obama isn’t interested in Syria no one is. We go through feelings like we do fashions. One day leggings are ‘in’ the next it’s leather jackets, or if you are in Jordan neon yellow everything. One day it’s Syria the next its the Philippines. I don’t mean to degrade the need of the Phillippines, my point is simply that we only care for a moment. The world moves onto the next ‘big’ story and meanwhile the people in devastation remain that way for days, months if not years to come. I do not count myself out of this habit, I am as guilty as the next. I just wonder if there is any way to change it. My sister is currently volunteering at a hospital in Gaza, and it from her stories that this sad truth has been even more present in my thoughts. Someone told her that they were happy she came, because it made them feel like they weren’t forgotten. What must it be like to suffer so much and then be forgotten? When I was a child I thought how nice it would be to buy a thousand roses and put them on all the graves in my towns graveyard that looked abandoned and forgotten. I wanted to help those that were beyond the need, simply because I found it sad that no one remembered them. Now I see people who are living, each day a struggle to the next, and they seem to have been forgotten.

The world has sympathy, and it drives people to blood banks and immediate donations,but it does not last because we do not have empathy. The world that I come from has its own battles with jobs and economies but daily needs are for the most part met if not exceeded. We have not suffered in any way close to what the people in Syria, or any place of tragedy, face daily. We cannot understand and so our sympathy wains and moves on to the next heart wrenching feature on the news. There are no words for how sad this makes me, and how pathetic I feel at my inability to change this terrible truth. The only thing that gives me comfort is spending what time I can, playing with some of these kids and reminding them that I care, even if everyone else has forgotten.

These are simply my thoughts, but here are some of my actions. I feel truly blessed to be able to give my time and energy, even if I am unable to give more than that.

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Here are some of the kids I met in Zataari village, this is a mix of poor Jordanian kids and Syrian refugees. This program is run by a group called Dar al Yasmin who are doing wonderful things for many families in this area. We had a fun day of crafts, games, football and girl time.

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These kids are from an area of Amman called Marka, where I am happy to be part of a team that organizes regular kid days. These are Syrian refugees lucky enough to have homes, but their school is run by volunteer women in the basement car park. On this day we made my favourite craft, a hand print rainbow, a symbol of hope for the happiness that comes after a storm. It was a wonderful day topped off with each child receiving a toy donated by children in the Czech Republic.

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In my most recent adventure I organized a day for some hand picked Syrian kids from Mafraq camp. These kids all came from truly sad situations, motherless, fatherless, friendless. Here we are dancing along to some music playing musical statues.

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This little (and I mean LITTLE) darling is 3 years old. Hard to believe it from her size.

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This little girl hugging me tight has two brothers ( I am not 100% sure if these are both her brothers) lost their mother recently to suicide. Their father having had two wives abandoned them and is now living with his other family. They are now living with an Aunt.

My time in Amman is coming to an end, but I have a few more kids days ahead of me, the next one is in Mafraq camp, where I am also hoping to stay a few days to meet some families and see the reality of life in the camp. It won’t be an easy trip, but I hope to bring back some stories to Canada and rekindle the sympathy for Syrians.  If only I had $1,000,000.

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Seeing Syria

I had a bit of a reality check this week. Here in Amman the increase of traffic and the rise in rent is the only sign of a war in Syria. Life continues as normal. But this week I had the opportunity to visit the some northern villages, about 5km away from the Syrian border. Here I visited three families that have fled their war torn country in search of peace and work.

The first family, a mother and her six children live in a small house. This family is quite lucky, having family connections in the village and help with the rent. The father is still in Syria, he is an engineer. The eldest son was in University, but is now looking for work wherever he can. I was surprised to visit a house, I expected much worse living conditions. The only noticeable thing was the absence of possessions. Each room contained the bare minimum of essentials. What struck me most was the warmth of this woman, her kind welcome and continuous invitations to come and visit her in Syria when she returns. In the midst of tragedy there is hope, a hope to go home.

The second family was two women, sisters, with seven children between them. As we drove up the driveway to the house we were all shocked, it was quite nice, a garden, patio, it looked almost expensive. But then we passed the house, continuing around to the back where there was something of a storage shed. This is where these women and their children live. Their house consists of two rooms, the first maybe 4 meters squared, the second no bigger than the first. The baby napped in a beaten down stroller instead of a crib. We sat on cushions on the floor, a normal site in Arab homes, but its different when you know these cushions will transform to beds come nightfall. But again, we were invited in with such warmth and hospitality, such eager and happy faces, it made the room warm and comfortable. These women do not pay rent, but said if they had the money they would prefer rent to feeling so obliged to the family who owned the building.

Our last visit was quite different. We were greeted by a father, a noticeable difference immediately. This family of seven lives in the basement of a house. The three rooms, barren and dark. We were ushered into the side room, our male mediator and interpreter stayed outside as the father spoke some English and the women weren’t wearing their hijabs. The mother was quiet and sullen, she sat silent in the corner. The children played with the toys we brought them as the father spoke. He is disabled, a deformity in his foot that leaves him with a noticeable limp. He cannot work to support his family. He asked where we had come from, which charity. We tried to explain, in broken Arabic and English that we are simply volunteers living in Jordan, we are not from a large charity. He wanted money, he needed money. His children don’t have winter clothes, they don’t have blankets or heaters. Winter is coming. The change from the warm and friendly women to this somewhat harsh and insistent man created a tense and awkward environment in the room.  Although an uncomfortable moment it was very revealing. Men are the breadwinners in Arab culture, and if a man cannot support his family he has failed. It is much harder for their pride and honour to be unable to fulfill their dutites, and so he was much more vocal and persistent about his needs and the needs of his family than the women we had visited before. Though we left with an uneasy feeling, perhaps mixed with a bit of guilt at our inability to immediately satisfy his needs, I am glad to have seen the struggle from the perspective of a man.

There is so much need. The area we visited had over 1,000 Syrian families recently arrived, each family averaging seven people. It is a huge influx of people for these already poverty stricken villages. Jordan has little to offer these weary travellers with barely enough jobs for its current population. Just across the way, the view from several windows is Syria. Its so close you feel as though you could reach out and touch it. These families live in poverty with a front row seat to their countries suffering and destruction.DSC00330 They watch the smoke rise on the horizon and fall asleep to the sound of bombs exploding in the distance.

This trip has made me even more aware of the changing season, fall has reached Jordan, their is a new chill to the air and wind. The stores have changed their stock from flats to boots and blouses to sweaters. Winter is coming. And that means these families with barely the clothes on their backs will be facing cold days and even colder nights.

So far I have seen the lucky ones, those with roofs over their heads. I hope to travel soon to the camps where families live in tent communities. It is here where winter shall strike the hardest.

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Mensaf!

I have noticed that my blog is lacking in several areas. I have yet  to discuss my work and more importantly food. So today I shall start with the latter, and move onto the former soon.

In all my travels food has been one of the most important aspects. I love food. And though I would have been considered a picky eater until my early 20’s I am proud to say I have become a much more adventurous and am willing to try most things.

Food is a large part of Jordanian culture and truly reveals the hospitality of these people. From being invited to tea in shops, taxi’s and my neighbors homes to eating on the floor surrounded by dozens of people, food is always at the centre.

The most famous traditional meal here is called mensaf. This consists of a large bed of yellow rice with large pieces of lamb on top. The rice is cooked with a set of spices to add some flavour and the meat is made with the pressure cooker and cooked for hours to ensure tender, fall off the bone deliciousness! Served on a huge round dish mensaf is garnished with parsley and roasted almonds. The almonds have become one of my favourite parts, they compliment the rice so beautifully, adding that perfect crunch. Finally, just before you dig in, there is a sauce added. This is called jameed and it is a salty yogourty concoction. You can make it from a carton or this large ball that looks a bit like a bath bomb. The jameed is cooked using some of the water from the pressure cooker and is served nice and warm.

The best part of mensaf is that it is traditionally eaten with your hands. In Jordan it is the men mensafwho eat with their hands, the lady’s use spoons. Lucky for me I am the exception to the rule as Arabs love to watch foreigners eat with their hands! The technique is tricky at first, and messy, but soon you learn to mash around some rice and sauce, add a bit of meat, create a ball in your fingers and push it into your mouth using your thumb.

Sitting on the floor, surrounded by friends, eating communally without utensils has been some of the funnest and happiest moments during my time here. A word to the wise, pace yourself when eating mensaf, similar to turkey, there is a coma effect afterwards!

 

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Sharing the Whole Story

I read something today that hit a chord. A member of a writing community I belong to committed suicide a few days ago, and a fellow member wrote a response. (Find the link below) This writer has put into words something that I myself have been struggling with.

“We don’t talk about how “living the dream” creates walls of disconnection between you and your friends/family, some of whom simply can’t relate to your life of adventure, and others who resent you because they can’t come along for the ride. We don’t talk about how hard it is to hear people describe us as “lucky,” unable to convey our personal struggles for fear that we’ll be seen as ungrateful for our many blessings. We don’t talk about the loneliness, or the sense of isolation.” ~Green Global Travel

I have lived in Amman for 18 months. My life is quite ordinary, the same as most people I would think. I go to work, I go to the grocery store, cook, spend time with friends, watch movies. The difference being that for me, the majority of these things, even the simplest tasks are a battle. What I mean is, I am living a regular life in a culture that is completely different than the one I have always known. The functioning of my work place is a daily struggle, for myself and every foreign teacher I work with. A trip to the  grocery store or shopping mall becomes a test of my (limited) Arabic. Getting to where I want to go can be a simple or terrible experience depending on the mood of my taxi driver. Going for a walk is even a challenge, ignoring the heckles and looks of the shabab (young men).

Life can be very frustrating. At times the only thing I want is to be back in Canada, sitting in a coffee shop or park ( I miss parks!), minding my own business along with everybody else. It is very difficult to be far away, to immerse yourself in a culture that you will never quite fit into. Every morning, waking up knowing that you are going to a workplace that runs in a way that is just incomprehensible to your western ideas.

It is lonely. When the amazing friends you have made return to their homes, and you are still here. Making friends is difficult on a good day, let alone in a country where you don’t speak the language and work with mostly married men. It is lonely to know that things are happening at home and you are missing them. You are sitting alone at the dinner table, while thousands of miles away there is a festive gathering of the people you love. The guilt that comes from knowing your choices have unintentionally hurt others.

Living in Amman is hard, and there have been many days where I feel like I could just pack up and leave and never come back. However, for as many times as I feel this way, I am struck with the opposite feeling.

When my taxi driver pulls over to buy himself some tea, and buys one for me as well. Or the day my taxi driver turned on the AC just because I was hot, when it probably cost him more in gas than the fare I was going to pay. When an Arab family that speaks no English invites me into their home and force feeds me helping after helping of delicious food, and sends me home with leftovers. When I go to buy some vegetables and the man doesn’t have enough change for me, tells me to come back and pay tomorrow. When a student tells me if there is anything in the world I need, just to call, and I know that he means every word.  Moments when I am sitting at home or in a cafe, with the friends I have made, laughing and drinking tea.

I realize now that sharing these challenges, the ups as well as the downs is very important. No one’s life is exciting all the time. Travel isn’t a way to avoid and run away from problems, it isn’t an easy way out. It is full of its own challenges and risks, happy times and sad ones. So I hope to follow my fellow bloggers advice, and communicate more openly the good along with the bad in my pursuit of ‘living the dream.’

 

 

You can read the post here ( http://greenglobaltravel.com/2013/08/26/thoughts-travel-blogging-suicide-living-dream/).

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August 30, 2013 · 12:19 pm

Let not your heart be troubled

10 years. A decade. Such a long time, and yet…

10 years ago I was 16 years old. Finished grade 10, had a job, just got my drivers license. Life was life, normal and good. Something happened. My dad got sick. We didn’t know what was wrong. He started going to doctors, something he never, ever did. He was looking old and weak, not the pillar of strength I had always known. And then suddenly he was sent for surgery, it needed to be done immediately, it was his heart. As fast as he had gone for surgery he came back. A new man, renewed with life and energy. We spent a lot of time together over the next few days, he couldn’t drive, so I did. I was proud to have my license, so that I could help him. Every day we went for blood tests, then for drives around town, maybe for ice cream, one day for an Old Fox burger, that made him pretty happy. He was healed, happy, home.
But that all changed, so quickly. One morning amidst the chaos and fear the ambulance came and he was gone. We were ushered into that terrible small room in the hospital where no one wants to go. First there was shock, disbelief and then came the tears. Next there were people, so many people. Some welcome, some not. Is it better to be alone, or surrounded? I don’t know. Sometimes you just wanted to escape. There was food, so much food, flowers, the flower that looks like a bird, I will always hate that flower. People came, people left. Family came and stayed a bit longer. Hammering in the backyard, the coffin was constructed, a family tradition, but it wasn’t my dad building it like it should be, it was my uncle. The funeral, so many sad faces, I felt bad for them, I knew they had lost someone important as well. Tried to be strong.
A while later sisters left, school started, the house was quiet, lonely, empty. People look at you differently, they don’t know what to say. You try to act normal but its hard. Instead of talking you stay quiet, fall into the background, stay busy, maybe no one will notice, maybe no one will care. Fighting, screaming, emptiness, sadness, it stays around for a long time. Something is missing, will we ever feel full again?

10 years later I am 26 years old. I have finished two degrees, traveled to several countries and lived abroad for nearly two years. Life is good, normal, happy. There are husbands and babies, hugs and kisses, smiles and laughter. There is life anew. There have been struggles and battles, lost and won. There has been life, for it continues, even when you think it shouldn’t. And it is good, even without. He raised us to be strong, not to give up.
Yet every year, around this time, that emptiness creeps back. Memories stir, pain hits, tears rise. Questions linger, what if’s arise. What if he were here? What would be different? Everything. Things happen for a reason, a time and a purpose, so they say. I agree. But I still miss him. Always will. Hard to fathom. 10 years.

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Driving Culture

Driving is a large part of life in Amman. Whether you are sitting in the backseat or the drivers seat. I have written about my many taxi experiences, of which there are always more to add, but there are some stories and thoughts from the front seat which I will share this time. Driving here is like nothing I have seen or experienced before. Though I hear it is much worse in other countries and I shudder at the thought.

Driving in Amman: At first there is fear. It seems as though there is no sense to the madness of the traffic circles the endless honking and the dreadful parking. You can probably count the number of traffic lights in this city on two hands and maybe a foot. The city is based around traffic circles, that is how you give directions and that is how you navigate your way. It takes a long time to learn all the different circles, their names, where they lead, and whether you should go over, under, left of right.

As in any city the driving becomes easier when you know where you are going, the apprehension of being lost is gone, and you can focus on your driving rather than searching for the right exit. It is at this point that you begin to notice that rather than the sheer chaos you first perceived, there is an etiquette to driving here. There is a method to the madness of the traffic circle, nothing that would resemble how it would function in Canada but it make sense after a while. The trick is to inch your way out, bit by bit, until there is a small hole into which you can fit. (That drivers ed rule of staying one car length behind any car – that my Dad drilled into me – went out the window a while ago!) Once you find that space, you gun it to get through the circle. The signal light is somewhat optional, it is rarely used, handy as it is, ya know, designed to keep other drivers informed, but meh, who needs it, when you have a horn!

The horn. There is an entire culture in the car horn. I think I could study it for years and even write a book on it. The horn is to be used in several instances, most importantly it is what is used in place of the shoulder check. To move ones neck 45 degrees is far too troublesome, so the car that is in your blindspot honks to let you know they are there. As this would happen several times when driving, you can only imagine how many honks there are in a day. But this is not the only time the horn is used. Perhaps you want to pass someone, you can honk, or you can flash them with your lights so they move over.

Hazard lights, which I believe were one of the culprits of my failing my first driving test (because I didn’t know where the button was) are front and centre here, literally. You can easily find it, its right there, in the middle of the dashboard of every car, the largest and most used, to the point of being physically worn down, button  in any vehicle in Amman. At any moment, whether there is a red light ahead, a pedestrian braving death to cross the road or a taxi that finally reached its limit and died mid trip, you must turn on your hazard lights. This is a warning to all traffic behind you to slow down, and it is the only thing that is taken seriously. A red light ahead doesn’t necessarily equate using your break but hazard lights do. They are also used for the many many vehicles that are parked in no parking areas or along the side of a road that is not wide enough for two cars on a good day let alone with a parked car. And if you have your hazard lights on then you are safe from the angry honks, you justified your stopping, with your lights.

Beyond the honking and the flashing of lights there is something to be said about drivers in Amman. With all the noise you would think them angry, aggressive and suffering from an intense case of road rage, but with the few exceptions who most certainly are, I have found them to be quite the opposite. Most drivers are friendly and understanding when it comes to being cut off, or a car inching its way in front of you. I have witnessed several conversations that happen during a traffic jam through open windows to perfect strangers but always filled with affectionate phrases like ‘habibi’.

This word even turns up post car accident. I have been in several car accidents here in Jordan ( I dread my mothers reaction to this information), none of a serious nature, mostly expensive fender benders. These happen probably as often as I draw breath in this city. The few I have experienced have been eye openers to say the least. The first was on my way home from the Dead Sea, the road was slippery and a car pulled out ahead of us and not using their hazard lights sufficiently, as they were going much too slow, the shanty breaks of our rental car just couldn’t do it. We smashed right into their bumper. All the cars around us stopped. Several people got out as did my Arab friend who was driving. Without us knowing a man called the rental agency for us, and handed my friend the phone. Eventually we pulled the two cars over to the side of the road so the rest of the traffic could get on their way. The traffic police were conveniently behind us and we all loaded into their van. Having very little Arabic at the time I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was this wouldn’t be cheap. But the man from the car ahead and the police officers had nothing but smiles and reassuring looks for me. There were many kisses and habibi’s exchanged, cigarettes shared as papers were signed and bills were payed and then off we went. That was it. If you think about it, what is the point of getting angry anyways, car accidents happen so often here, its just another day.

From taxis to rentals to friends cars, half of my time here is spent in a moving vehicle and though my life has flashed before my eyes on several occasions, it has also been the most eye opening experience of Jordanian culture.

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Growing up

The years teach much which the days never knew.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was told, ever so lovingly, by my sister that I am now in my ‘late twenties’. My rebuttal: At least I am not 30! It was not until I heard this statement that reality struck. I am officially an adult now. Obviously I have been legally for some years, but in terms of lifestyle, attitude and well, to be honest, finances, I think it is safe to say that I am finally, an adult. And with this realization comes another, I have no idea what that means. I have preconceived notions obviously, its time to ‘settle down’, find that career I want to do forever, get married, start a family, you can figure the rest. But when I look around, I realize that that doesn’t fit, my life has not progressed alone that line. So what do I do?

Birthdays, like New Years, are a time to sit back and reflect on the past year, or years. To pull out that checklist from the back of your mind and see what has been, or in most cases, hasn’t been accomplished, or perhaps what has simply been forgotten while you were rushing around doing everything else. I have a few lists of this nature, one from childhood that expected many  things by the age of 26. Having always been a favourite number of mine, it was to be a memorable year, including things like getting married, having a home, you know the usual stuff. More recent lists included masters degrees, and books read, papers published. But these lists of expectations are not my reality, and however much I ponder and plan, life seems to always pull me in a different direction.

25 was an interesting year. Living in two different countries, finding challenges in both along with happy memories and wonderful friends. Many decisions were made, some more important than others, some right, some wrong. But all of which were made, they are done, as my new profession would say, they are ‘past simple’. And as I start into 26, I know that there are many more challenges to come, decisions to be made, rewards and regrets…life.

Most importantly I see now, with this momentous coming of age or reaching my ‘late twenties’, that I don’t fit and even more importantly, that I don’t have to.  My life is my own design, it does not come in a neat little package with instructions but it comes each day, each moment. Every day I learn what it is to be ‘adult’ me.

So today, the first day of my 26th year, I begin with hope, putting what is past behind me, all of it, and moving forward. Venturing into the great unknown of the future, accepting the challenges that each day will bring and as a dear friend always says, starting with Day 1.

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