Thursday, July 8, 2010
30. Visit Jordan, Part III Water: The Silly and the Serious
Although we've had an amazingly good time here in Jordan, we came with a serious purpose, and that was to do some investigation of Jordan as a country (for me, since I'm using Jordan as a case study for a new course I'm teaching in the fall), and as a place that is host to very large refugee populations at the same time that it suffers from a severe lack of water.
We learned a great deal from interviews and meetings we had with professionals and volunteers working on this issue, but for us, I think the most memorable lessons came from our visit to Baqa'a refugee camp outside of Amman. We owe a debt of gratitude first to Katerina, a student at Saint Mike's who volunteered here during high school and connected us with some of the people she worked with then. One of them, Basimah, arranged for us to visit Baqa'a, and her son, Mazen, who graciously brought us there and facilated our tour of the camp and discussions with some of its residents and administrators.
Connor and I have some serious work to do when I get home next week in terms of writing up what we learned, so I'll just make a very few observations here. Baqa'a is a large refugee camp that started as a tent settlement in 1968. The tents have given way to permanent housing, which have started moving up, because there is no room to move out, and the "camp" is now home to about 140,000 people. There is so much more to say, but for now, I'll let a few pictures tell the story, and here are three that I think say a lot. One is of Mazen, sitting between the director of the camp and another camp administrator, taken after we had been invited in for tea. The Palestinians in the camp, like just about every other Jordanian we encountered on our trip, were wonderfully hospitable, and when we passed, insisted that we come in for tea. In another photo you see the outside of one of the homes at one of the margins of the camp, where the poorest people live, with no water or electricity. The bread drying on the cloth was at the same home, and constituted the attempt at a livelihood by that family. They gather leftover scraps of bread from throughout the settlement and dry them to sell as feed to passing shephards, who buy them because it's cheaper than procuring hay for their flocks.
On a silly note, we did a bit of exploration of water in another way -- by spending a night on the Dead Sea on our way to back to Amman from our visit to Jerusalem. The only hotels there range from pretty posh to extremely so, so we decided to splurge on the cheapest one. The deal with the Dead Sea is that it is SO salty that you literally can't sink in it (and no fish can live in it). You float, and the water feels oily because it's so saturated with minerals. Supposedly, the mud there, like the water, is full of healthful minerals, so you're supposed to slather yourself in it, which we happily did as well. Here are a couple photos from our trip to the super-salty water. In one we're drying off while checking out the sunset, and in the other Siham is taking Connor up on his dare to taste the salt (yes, that's what the white stuff is) coating the piece of wood he pulled out of the water (I thoughtfully chose not to share a photo of the face she made afterwards).
52 Ways to Say I Love You
...in Arabic, with a huge note of thanks to Khaled for not only supplying both the Arabic writing and the English transliteration, but also for quickly becoming the best friend anyone could wish for to Siham, Connor and I during our time in Amman.
Hello - Marhaba - مرحبا
Goodbye - Wada'an - وداعا
I love you - Uhibbak (masculine) / Uhibbek (feminine) - أحبك
May I have two beers, please? - Mumkin ka'sayn beerah, min fadhlik (more colloquial) - ممكن كأسين بيرة من فضلك؟
Or - Mumkin qadahayn min il ji'a, min fadhlik (very classical) - ممكن قدحين من الجعة من فضلك؟
I'm writing this from the Farar Hostel in downtown Amman, Jordan. The plan is to fly home tomorrow night, and so I'll put together a list of activities coming up in a later post.