IHP Human Rights Fall 2015 – Jordan

Dear Future IHP Students,

We had a wonderful and challenging month in Amman and we hope you will too. Upon arriving, we were taken to a restaurant where we were served pita, falafel, cucumbers, and hummus, a traditional dish of the region, no doubt. As a vegetarian (1 of 5), I thoroughly enjoyed the meal as I had been worried about the difficulty of consuming enough protein. I quickly discovered that I was in the “land of chickpeas” as a friend called it. In your stay in Jordan, take advantage of the 0.600 piaster ($0.90) falafel pockets available in Abdoun Circle. For non-vegetarians, there are equally as amazing options. Most notably, shwarma (meat pocket) and halal McDonald’s were popular spots for lunch. Lastly, if you prefer to not eat at restaurants, there is a supermarket near the SIT classroom. Here, I would buy peanut butter and apples for snacks to keep in the kitchen space our classroom building had. In general, I never had trouble finding a delicious lunch during my short stay in Amman.

While in Jordan, we were paired with one or two other students in homestays around the neighborhoods of West Amman. Most homes had children of all ages and at least one family member who spoke English. One family, of a single mom and three boys aged 7, 11, and 9, eagerly showed their new homestay guests their favorite things about Amman and even took them to the Dead Sea. They loved to teach Arabic words, play soccer, and talk about daily life for schoolkids in Amman. They established a strong relationship with the host mom, and in no time felt like her own daughters. Living with homestay families was one of our favorite parts of our month in Amman; between late night conversations about Middle Eastern and US politics, it made our time there feel more personal and granted us an irreplaceable opening into the life of an everyday Jordanian.

One of the most powerful parts of the Jordan program were the visits to refugee camps and refugee families. At these visits, the group was welcomed into the homes of individuals who had left Iraq or Syria seeking refuge from persecutions by either their own governments or ISIS. Their deeply troubling stories yet ultimately strength and resolve gave the human experience to the refugee numbers and statistics seen on news channels, and the heart-wrenching tragedies of the crossing of the Mediterranean, where many perish. Their stories illuminated how news referring to refugees as “migrants” silences the narrative of the shocking human rights violations from which they are fleeing and furthermore removes responsibility from those nations who might provide refuge, or who are complicit in such devastation–namely the United States and Western European countries.

This semester, the Jordan country team worked with an NGO called Collateral Repair Project (CRP), founded by two women from the US who recognized the intense damage to innocents that the US’s war has caused in Iraq. Refugees come to muster a semblance of normalcy, and seek aid from CRP, which aims to fill in the gaps where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or other organizations may fall in short supply, like in providing food vouchers. Our task was to create an online magazine consisting of different sections, which could be used by the organization to represent and display their work and support fundraising. We worked on misconceptions about the refugee crisis, CRP’s mission, resources, and programming, and refugee profiles in which my peers and I interviewed folks to learn of their traumatic and resilient stories. In addition to helping find housing and daily essentials, CLP tries to foster community through activities like Zumba, computer and English language classes, and men’s domino night. There were many significant ethical decisions with which our group contended, from representing interviewees’ stories authentically, and honoring their voice above ours. Our work with CRP was rewarding but rushed, and we hope that next semester’s group has ample time to delve deeper and more thoroughly into CLP’s mission to humanize and support refugees.

 

Our guest lectures in Jordan were fascinating and relevant, as we learned (and unlearned) about topics often covered but misunderstood by U.S. media. We had sessions with several experts from the University of Jordan on topics such as Islam and its differing interpretations and the history and geopolitics of conflict in Iraq and Syria. Other classes with local speakers focused on the rights of the LGBTQ community in Jordan, and the legal history of women’s movements in Jordan. I especially enjoyed the classes on Islam, as I previously had little experience with the extensive scholarly interpretation of the Qur’an, and I felt far more grounded in daily conversations after those lessons.

One of the things we will miss most is simply being surrounded by such vibrant culture. In the morning before sunrise, you can hear the call to prayer in the distance (or not so in the distance), depending on how close you live to a mosque. It’s incredibly beautiful and the same call plays 5 times a day. In the evenings, some folks stay at home and enjoy each other’s company, with family, with neighbors, with friends. They might smoke hookah (arguilla), while chatting and watching TV together. Outside, people sit at cafes and meet friends there. We also enjoyed Dabkeh, a traditional dance where people join hands and dance together, perhaps in a circle. We drank mint tea and greeted friends in Jordan with “Marhaba” and at the end of the night “Maa’ salaama”.

The group vacation in Jordan was definitely one of the highlights of our semester. Everyone packed onto a bus, and together we visited Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba. Petra is an ancient city hidden in the mountains and valleys of the Jordanian desert. It is an incredible place to explore, hike, and ride donkeys! Wadi Rum is a gorgeous part of the southern desert that looks a lot like Mars; in fact, many movies set on Mars are shot there. Together we climbed a massive rock outcropping and soaked in a sunset of unparalleled beauty. We spent the next morning riding camels through the desert. Aqaba is a port city on the Red Sea. Our group crowded onto a chartered boat and enjoyed snorkeling, swimming, and dancing on deck!

We learned more about Bedouin (an important nomadic group) culture during our Southern excursion, sitting in a Bedouin tent drinking tea, in awe of the stars. Everywhere we went in Jordan, we were greeted by such amazing hospitality. To me, that was one of the most outstanding pieces of Jordanian culture. The generosity and the giving kept coming.

Enjoy your time in Jordan.

Sincerely,

Jordan Country Team Fall 2015

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