Dust, Wind, and Heat

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The morning began with the TOEFL placement test. I met up with Mohannad and Cerine, another volunteer he had met at the hostel he was staying at, in the morning to prepare for the students. The first batch of students came in with trepidation. They came in their best clothes, anxious, determined, and polite.

When we graded the tests, the results were varied from already passing the TOEFL, to not so good. But nevertheless, the spirit of the students was admirable. They would come up to us to turn in the tests, and many would say “Hello professor Muhannad, my name is ______ and I am from ________ and my dream is to become a ________. I really hope this will help me get scholarships! Thank you so much for your work.”

In the middle of the second batch of students, I got a Facebook message from Tesneem saying she was on her way to pick me up. Where are we going? “Oh we’re just going to deliver a couple boxes of food to refugee families.”

We then got on a bus. And drove. For an hour and a half. To a small town of refugees, both Palestinian and Syrian. I had no idea where we were going. The bus ride went by quickly, and loudly, with the boys from Fareeq Mulham singing the whole time. They sang everything from Syrian folk songs, to the theme song of the TV show Captain Majid, to national anthems, to political chants, and finally to a song cheering for Brazil’s football team. I wondered why they kept pointing at me and asking if I liked the songs about Brazil, until I realised that somehow me trying to say “my mom was born in Brazil” translated to “my mom is Brazilian.”

We finally got off the bus and arrived at a distribution centre for refugees. I was struck immediately by two things: Firstly, the sheer number of people. They were crowding around, holding their laminated refugee card numbers, pushing to get the slip of paper that let them get a box. Secondly, the stares. In a room of 200 women, I was the only one uncovered. I had on loose jeans and my volunteers’ shirt (covers up to my elbows and below my butt), but I have never felt more naked in my life.

We opened the truck and began distributing the boxes. The girls’ initial job was peeling stickers with the teams’ logo and some information on them and putting them on the boxes. Time went on, the sun grew stronger, the dust got thicker, and the wind got faster. People became hot and pushy, and what was once an orderly process grew frenzied. We loaded box after box out of the truck and the line seemed never ending. Every so often, above the din of people we would hear “YALLAH YA SHABAB! (Come on boys!)” from one of the team.

By the time we finished, sweat literally dripped off our faces (no I mean it…I shook my head and a drop of water fell on the floor in front of me) in the middle of Ramadan – no water for another 4 hours. At the end I heard two women talking behind me. One was Syrian and one was Palestinian, and they were talking about their stories. After the Palestinian woman left, the Syrian woman turned to a friend and said, “look at us. We’ve become as bad as the Palestinians, and our own leader did this to us, not the Israeli’s.”

On the ride back, the boys sang again. Where their energy came from, I have no idea.

That night I went to a potluck dinner with Mohannad and Cerine at the apartment of a friend from their hostel. After 3 days of struggling to express myself, and nobody understanding neither my English nor my broken Arabic, being with English speakers was a relief. The dinner was on the roof of her building off Rainbow Street on Jabal Amman, and had the most beautiful view of Amman. I met the most incredible people – humanitarians volunteering, backpackers travelling, students studying abroad, and Jordanian residents. Everyone was friendly, warm, and welcoming beyond belief.

“How do you know Laura?” (The hostess)
“Oh, I met her in front of my office. I was getting into a cab she just got out of.”
“Oh, I don’t know her. I’m friends from college with someone who roomed with her at the hostel.”
“She’s my cousins crush.”

These people who had just met were talking like they’d known each other years, and were so welcoming that within minutes I felt like I’d known them years too. I was honoured to meet such intellectual, worldly, interesting, and kind people.

Sherin arrived that night and I met her at the apartment. We hung out with the girls from the 2nd floor until 3, and finally got to bed at 4:30 after filling her in on my trip, utterly exhausted from my day.

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