On the Nabateans tracks… Petra or one of the World Wonder.

Petra was known as the capital of the Nabatean Empire and it was a kind of intersection between Asia and the Mediterranean Sea. Nabateans constitute the people who were living in Arabia and what is called Southern Levant (it alludes to the region bordering the Mediterranean, which is now composed by Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories and the southern part of Lebanon).

Thus, according to a guide for French people I met in my hostel: “the Nabateans were developing trade” in this area; spices were coming from India, silk from China, frankincense… He told me that it is easy to notice different styles in Petra because of the diversity of people passing by such as tourists, traders, caravans… Petra got first the influence of Nabateans, then it became a part of the Roman Empire and finally it received the influence of Byzantines.

At the end, the city was given up because of some geographic and natural problems: an earthquake destroyed the city and also because the trade was disappearing little by little as the routes changed. Yet, in 1812, a Swiss rediscovered the city what made Petra famous again from the tourists’ point of view.

Marcin, a Polish tourist I spoke with about Petra, told me: “it is very nice; that is why I came back” and “the architecture is amazing for 2000 years, whereas in Poland we can’t build a road which would last more than twenty years”. Diane coming from New York City in the United States simply said: “I love it” and after a moment she added “Actually, this my third time here” and her friend Lawrence from Washington D.C. completed: “She brought me back here to see it again”. For me, Petra is just magnificent for the various different colors of its natural rock and also because of the way it was sculpted years ago. Indeed, the red rock basically made by sandstone changes of color depending on the luminosity it gets… What remains very impressive to me is the path through the Siq, the treasury, the monastery, the view from the high sacrifice place, the lion, the green space close to the garden temple, and of course the STAIRS!

By Anne-Laure

The Monastery

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The top of the Monastery

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Valentine’s Day

Everyone knows Valentine’s Day because of these huge and horrible red hearts in the stores, streets, malls… Two days before the 14th of February all European cities are decorated, the official colors are pink and red, colors of love they say.

As for me, volunteer in Jordan, Arab country with 92% of Muslims, where Islam is declared the state religion, I was thinking that maybe I could escape this day. My questions are: Who really knows the origins of “The Love Day”? And does Jordan celebrate Valentine’s Day?

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If we read a little a bit, we can find that in Europe a long time ago there lived Emperor Claude II. He didn’t like Christians so he forbade weddings and men didn’t have a choice but to go to army.

Really sad about it, priest Valentine, decided to hide and to marry couples that came to his church. Unfortunately for him, Claude II found out about it. He asked to meet Valentine and as he didn’t agree with him he ordered to kill him. This way Valentine died on 14th of February, and to recall his story people celebrate this day. This is the religious reason for this celebration.

Now can we see what’s happening in the world?

In Europe or USA, on this fancy day we have the commercial part of Valentine’s Day, almost all cities look like “Love Land & Company” (pink hearts, red hearts, teddy bears saying “I love you”, chocolate hearts, flowers…). It’s the occasion for couples to organize a romantic dinner, to have just one day for themselves, to have the perfect moment to go to Spa together or I don’t know where…

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In Jordan, Valentine’s Day is also celebrated and I couldn’t escape it. All the malls are decorated for the occasion, even the marketing of water bottles and hand sanitizers is adapted to this day!  The city center doesn’t change too much, just some roses, teddy bears and hearts being sold…I asked some of my Jordanian friends what they do for Valentine’s Day. One told me that he doesn’t need a special day to remember his girlfriend. And the second one told me that it’s the occasion to have a party!

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So Valentine’s Day in Jordan isn’t as important as in Europe. Jordanians celebrate it just because of its commercial part, and it’s just an occasion to have more fun!

By Dina

Bedouins in Jordan

Even though Jordan is quite a small country with a population of 6.5 million people, it’s demographics are diverse and remarkable. First of all the Jordanian population is very young: more than a half is under 24 years, which is quite  a regular thing in the Middle East, where young people are dominating the society. The other notable fact: in 20 years Jordan’s population grew 91%, which means 3 million people more.

It is known that Jordan’s demographics were always heavily influenced by situation in the neighbouring countries. Half of the Jordanian population has Palestinian origin, and in the last years also thousands of Syrians flew to Jordan. Although, native Jordanians are mostly village-dwellers and Bedouins originating from the Arabian Peninsula.

Bedouins, in Arabic called Bedu (desert dwellers), are a very interesting ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes, or clans. Even though now most of the Bedouins are living in urban areas, lots of them are still living a nomadic life. Even if it’s wondering in the streets of big cities.

Bedouin life is generally pastoral, herding camels, sheep, goats and cattle. They normally migrate seasonally, depending on grazing conditions. In winter, when there is some rain, they migrate deeper into the desert. In the hot, dry summer time, they camp around secure water sources.

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Bedouins define themselves as members of tribes and families. They have a clear and strict social status system. Women are in charge of the household, while men are providing for the family. Polygamy is quite frequent, but the man has to provide to each of his wives equally. Families are very big in Bedouin society, so everybody is related, or if not – they still have a very close relationship. Bedouins have a strict code of honour, which defines the behaviour of all members of society.

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Bedouins define themselves as members of tribes and families. They have a clear and strict social status system. Women are in charge of the household, while men are providing for the family. Polygamy is quite frequent, but the man has to provide to each of his wives equally. Families are very big in Bedouin society, so everybody is related, or if not – they still have a very close relationship. Bedouins have a strict code of honour, which defines the behaviour of all members of society.

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Bedouin culture is significant by the generosity and openness for every visitor. Even though Bedouins scare away some tourists with their ‘old time pirate’ style, it is worth exploring this culture, because it would be very hard to find anything similar. Maybe that’s why in a Bedouin village next to Petra you might meet quite a few Western women, married to a charming Bedouin.

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To conclude – the best approach of understanding Bedouin culture and the people is just simply being open for opportunities and always, always say yes for a cup of tea.

By Giedre

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Mukhayyam Ghazza

It’s almost 10:00 AM as we arrive at Mujamma Shamal in north Amman. As we walk our way towards the station, screams of bus drivers reach us: “Jerash, Jerash!”. It seems drivers recognize us already well enough. Ahead of us is an hour-ish drive, another day of activities planned in our EVS schedule. Bustling Amman left behind, we drive though a picturesque, quite idyllic landscape of green hills, here and there scattered with little settlements. In a short while, road signs direct us to Jerash, gradually introducing its particular districts: “Jerash entrance” , “South Jerash”… 35 minutes later we’re in the centre of the city, which is not yet the end of our trip. The bus pulls up for a while next to the key tourist attraction – “Archaeological site of Jerash”, a stop for most foreigners every now and then travelling on our bus. We nod our heads to the driver: today as well we do not get off here.

We move on and turn left at the first traffic lights. Already here, new road signs appear, directing us to what is our daily destination. The bus climbs up winding roads, distancing us from the city of Jerash. Around 10 minutes later, we enter a paved road lined up with characteristic grey coloured blocks of houses. The horizon fills up with car repair shops, gradually grocery stores, a bakery, butcher shop and hens peeking out of cages stuffed in a neighbouring stall. We seem to be entering a small town, reminiscent of a city yet so much different from neighbouring urban Jerash. “Hatha Mukhayyam Ghazza” [this is Gaza camp] the bus driver informs us. Dust rises up from the dirt road that leads us to the over 45 years old camp.

Photo 1. Arriving at Gaza Camp

Mukhayyam Ghazza [Gaza camp], officially called Jerash camp, was established in 1968, a year after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It was planned to be an “emergency” shelter for 11,500 up to as many as 14,000 (according to Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – SDC) refugees fleeing the Gaza Strip. In 2002 the camp’s population was estimated at around 15,000, that is: 2,800 families living in 2,100 houses. Today, it is thought to host “more than 24,000 registered refugees” (as stated by UNRWA), or more precisely 28,000 people, the latter seeming to be the most popular estimation. But some even say that 50,000 refugees live here. As one compendium says (Voices from the Camps: A People’s History of Palestinian Refugees in Jordan), it was originally established around 7 km from the city of Jerash on an area of 531,4 dunums (131,3 acres). Today it is said to occupy an area of around 750,000 square metres (UNRWA estimation) up to 1 square kilometre. But in fact it is hard to define its boundaries. It is also difficult to imagine that from the original 1,500 tents that stood here in 1968, it soon evolved into 2000 “prefabricated shelters” built with emergency donations (1968-1971) which in turn over following decades refugees themselves developed into more solid structures. All these houses, once constructed as temporary shelters for Gaza refugees, today are their permanent home.

Photo 2. The main  square

It’s 11:00 AM as our bus arrives at what seems to be the bus terminal: a busy crossroads, dominated by a tall creamy colour mosque and quite worn-out gas station. Standing here is a board sign informing about the “Jerash camp project” – new underground sewage network, Swiss-funded project launched in mid 2013 which is to replace the open channel sewage system the camp has had for the past 45 years. We turn right and head to the Community Development Office. The office, opened in 2007, is only part of a series of recent camp developments, including, as UNRWA states: ”1 community-based rehabilitation centre, 4 schools in two double-shift buildings, 1 health centre, 1 women’s programme centre, 1 food distribution centre”. We find ourselves on a relatively well-looking, straight road, lined up with grocery shops and smaller service points. But as we climb up the delicately sloped path, now busy with children heading to their second shift at school (it’s almost noon), through the line of shops show hidden alleyways leading to the depths of the camp.

Photo 3. Street next to CDO

And this is where a maze of dirt alleys begins. From a pedestrian’s perspective, it seems that the camp spreads out on what once used to be an orthogonal network of little streets. We step into a paysage of low brick houses covered with sheet metal roofs, at first glance all seeming to melt into a solid beige structure. As we walk along, we find ourselves entering a dense network of houses and realize that each has its own number – 1984 1985, 1986…. Below our feet, a labyrinth of sewage canals, some concrete and some naturally carved out in the paths’ surface. From behind one of the brick walls emerges a colourful balcony with clothes drying. A mix of sounds reaches us: sounds of cooking, something being repaired, a baby’s cry. Our nostrils experience a blend of scents: recently made coffee and fresh vegetables accompanied by the unpleasant smell of sewage beneath our feet.

Photo 4. Camp labirynth

From a shaded path we step into an alley over flooded with sunlight. A group of children crosses our path, running around with carton boxes and plastic bags, whatever at hand suitable to play with. This is in fact their playground. It seems every alley here lives its own life. The silent dusty labyrinth gradually leads us to a wider path where shops loom out: stationery, drugstore, second hand shop… It’s possible to sense a hustle and bustle somewhere close. The next minute, a small vegetable souq emerges out of the centre of the quarter. We find ourselves in the commercial “heart” of the camp. And we discover that only seemingly is this a homogenous quarter as it appears to be from the outside.

Crossing the road where the bus “terminal” is situated brings us to the second “wing” of the camp. This sector seems to live at its own, somewhat more tranquil tempo. A few alleys later, we once again stand inside a scheme of similarly looking house blocks. The landscape is broken up with mosque minarets rising here and there. And ahead, another seemingly endless path, leading through to the farthest edges of the camp.

Every visit brings another piece into the puzzle-like image of the camp. It seems there is no single picture that can capture the diversity of life that can be seen here. And of the camp’s yet-undiscovered area, so familiar to its inhabitants.

The history of the Gaza camp and memories of those living in the camp are now being registered and will be published within the documentary campaign – “Remember Us” project, some of them are already online (link: http://vimeo.com/tag:jerash).

By Gosia & Kata

No smoking

I doubt that it could qualify as a ‘cultural shock’, but the smoking culture in Jordan is however something completely different than in Denmark (and many other European countries, I suppose).

To paint a picture that might portrait the situation; in Denmark there is a sign if you can smoke, otherwise no – in Jordan there is a sign if you cannot smoke, otherwise yes.

Coming from a country with rather strict smoking laws, it was definitely something new to see taxi drivers smoke in the car. To see people in restaurants smoke, in the small buses to Jerash, in shops and some housemates even smoked sometimes while cooking. In the beginning I found it very annoying when somebody would smoke at the table next to me, when I was eating in a restaurant, but now I have somehow accustomed to this and do not pay it much attention.

Smoking in public areas was banned in 2008, but the law was never enforced fully, so the effects are not really visible. However, according to Jordan Times (http://jordantimes.com/battle-against-smoking-should-be-won), this law did make some improvements; for instance fewer people smoke in hospitals, which I would consider naturally.

The Greater Amman Municipal said in January 2014 that it would follow the official letter from the Health Ministry and not issue new or renew existing licenses for cafés serving argileh. And hereby, enforcing the law from 2008.

One café owner said to Jordan Times (http://jordantimes.com/caf-owners-outraged-over-gams-decision-to-prohibit-argileh) that there are more than 5,000 cafés in Amman serving argileh, and if this law will be enforced most of them will close, because the people who are going to these argileh places are going there to smoke argileh. As one of the regular customers at an argileh café also noted: “If I cannot smoke argileh at the café, then there is no need to go out because I can prepare coffee or tea at home”.

Coming to Jordan as a foreigner, it does seem to be a big part of the culture. Whereas, in Denmark people would be more likely to go out for a beer as a social gathering, it seems that many Jordanians go out to smoke argileh. And many Jordanians do smoke. Statistics from The World Bank (from 2009) shows that 46.9 pct. of men aged 15 and over are smokers in Jordan this number also includes smoking argileh.

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Frequently some of us volunteers go to Al Rasheed to play cards or backgammon. And after a long day in the office or Jerash camp this is a great way to relax and catch up with the people you do not see everyday. Al Rasheed is one of the cafés that will be bothered when the law will be enforced. Most often there will be at least one argileh around every table and it would seem bizarre if argileh were banned from this place. It somehow just seems right that there is a sweet, fruit flavoured smell of the white smoke in the air.

By Peter

Coffee

The friend of mine always says that people can be divided into those who like coffee and those who will drink anything, as far as it is served with milk and sugar. As a coffee lover I must agree with those wise words and from myself I can add that one knows nothing about coffee unless one tried it in the Middle East.

Coffee in Jordan is virtually never drunk with milk; instead it is flavored with spices such as cardamom or cloves. Any time of the day and almost on every corner you will find a Turkish-style coffee. It is a strong coffee sweetened with a decent amount of sugar. For instance, in the place closest to our apartment, “little sugar please” means 3-4 spoons per small cup, while “no sugar please” usually means one spoon of sugar. Turkish-style coffee is prepared in a long-handled metal cup over a gas flame, therefore it is served boiling hot.

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In Jordan you will also find the Arabic coffee, known as “Sada”, which as my mentor told me is an inseparable part of Jordanian culture. It is served during happy celebrations, such as engagements or weddings and sad gatherings, for instance when somebody dies. “We usually serve it when the visitor has just sat down, within first 5 minutes of the visit. It is a sign of hospitability, appreciation and welcoming.” Therefore the etiquette is really important, as Dana explained: “you must pour the coffee with your left hand and hold the cup in your right hand, and then give it to the guest, who should also take it with his right hand. That is the tradition,” but as she noticed, sadly not everyone do it. She also mentioned a special kind of sada, called “Saudi sada”, which is much lighter sada coffee, prepared in slightly different way and served with dates and chocolate.

However if you are not a great fan of coffee, you can always enjoy Arabic tea. Similar to coffee it is strong, very sweet and flavored with herbs, mainly mint (na’na), sage, rosemary, thyme, or verbena.

By Paulina

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Kurdistan (1)

Ancient Mesopotamia, the fertile lands between the river Tigris and Euphrates, was one of the first places where a surplus of food allowed humans to settle down and become pastoral. As we see in the nearby origin of the Great Rift Valley in Jordan, the presence of water creates oases of life in these sun begotten lands. Iraqi Kurdistan is positioned at the Eastern edge of this ‘land between rivers’, it’s capital Erbil is said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

The story of old Mesopotamia is one of conquests and war. Not much has changed. The biggest part of this region is now called Iraq, a nation state established by Western governments in the 1920’. It has known war for the last four decades.

The neo-colonial drawing game which established present-day Iraq was severely influenced by the Turkish independence war. After the decline of the Ottoman empire Turkey was controlled by the allied forces who had won the war. Similar to what happened in Germany because of heavy post-war sanctions a nationalism arose in Turkey which would affect the whole region. Luckily K. M. Ataturk was not of the same mental condition as his German contemporary. Before the Western powers decided to reposition the Near Eastern house of cards because of this, there was known a place called Kurdistan.

map_of_greater_kurdistan Fig. 1 Kurdistan (green) encompassed was (is) considered a homeland                                                  for some 30 million Kurdish people.

The fate of Kurdistan was to be a very short one. A few years after its establishment in the treaty of Sèvres, the treaty of Lausanne in 1923 was ratified. Herein Western governments recognized the present Turkish borders and divided what was supposed to be Kurdistan in four regions. Kurdish people were to become Turkish and Iraqi Kurds from North to South; Syrian and Iranian Kurds from West to East. As such Kurds became a minority in each of these countries and were subsequently discriminated against through the means of criminalizing their language and traditions. Nowadays the situation is supposed to have improved and in many places Kurds have gotten more rights. Still the hope of an independent Kurdistan lives in the heart of a many those who call themselves Kurdish.

Modern day Iraq is the only country where a Kurdish autonomous region exists. This non-official Kurdistan (there has been no official declaration of independence) has been the home away from home for many Kurds from neighbouring countries. In Suleymania I spoke with Syrian Kurds who fled their country 15 years ago, in Erbil I was living with four Iranian Kurds who fled their country, one of the reasons being the ethnical-identity oppression. In Turkey I got acquainted with people being incarcerated for having written and performed Kurdish poetry.

KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) did not get its independence on a silver platter. Decades of oppression and civil war preceded.  The darkest page in its history surely being Saddam Hussein’s genocide campaign (Anfal) where countless villages were destroyed, thousands of people were deported or just plainly murdered. Equal numbers of Kurds fled to neighbouring countries. The first Gulf war, 1991, was the time where Iraqi troops left Kurdistan and the place became more safe, refugees returned home and political and economical autonomy was more or less established. Needless to say the Kurds welcomed the American invasion in 2003 more than any other Iraqi’s.

People I spoke with now proclaim that the official declaration of independence of Kurdistan is becoming a very real fact. Erbil is already referred to as the new Dubai and indeed, they have a lot of oil. A place where 5 years ago most places where still provided with electricity through generators is now one big construction yard. Gated communities are erected everywhere and SUV’s are choking up the streets and ring ways. Armed soldiers keep checkpoints every 15 to 20 kilometers and the rest of country is too busy killing each other. Since the 2003 American invasion, ironically referred to as ‘operation Iraqi freedom’ the Arabic part of Iraq is in chaos. When driving from Erbil to Dohuk, the main city in the North of Kurdistan, traditionally road passes by Mosul. This third biggest city of Iraq is currently a warzone and so the construction of a new road to avoid this city is in full progress. Same goes for the road going to Suleymania which passes Kirkuk. It’s not quite the situation as in Mosul but people do get advised to take the longer mountain route. Bombings in Bagdad hardly get reported anymore.

By Wouter

Crafts from recycled materials at Winter Bazaar

On February 7th Jadal Culture Center will host a Winter Bazaar offering for sale handmade crafts, sweets, artworks, as well as books, clothes and other items, recycled in order to be used once again.

Especially for this market EVS volunteers have created items from reused materials such as plastic bags, old T-shirts, trousers, sweaters and other clothes. Apart from the above, for your sweet tooth we will prepare pancakes and lazy cake. All the income will be spent to buy materials for workshops that volunteers are leading in Gaza refugee camp in Jerash. We teach English, we make handcrafts and we play different kinds of educational games and do sports therefore we are looking for financial support to buy materials like paper, glue, pencils and much more.

Here are some of the things we are going to sell:
Jewelry box, crochet, plastic bags
Jewelry box, crochet, plastic bags
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Soap dish, crochet, plastic bags
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Necklace, cotton T-shirts, beads
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Necklace, cotton T-shirts, beads
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Bracelets, crochet, plastic bags, beads
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Bracelet, crochet, plastic bags, beads
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Bracelet, crochet, plastic bags, beads
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Trivet, crochet, trousers
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Trivet, crochet, jeans
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Carpet, crochet, plastic bags
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Carpet, crochet, plastic bags
Workshops at Gaza refugee camp in Jerash:
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All the income will be spent to buy materials for workshops in Jerash camp. We use a lot of recycled materials also during workshops.
Girls making collage in Jerash camp.
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We will be happy to see you at the Winter Bazaar@Jadal on 7th of February from 3 to 6 PM and will appreciate your support.
More details about Winter Bazaar@Jadal:  https://www.facebook.com/events/255113541324025/

More about Jadal: https://www.facebook.com/jadal.amman

By Agnese and Gosia

The view from my mat

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I have never expected that yoga will be a part of my EVS project. My main task was to promote recycling and teaching English in Gaza Camp in Jarash.

At the beginning of September, when I got the idea to do yoga with women in Jarash, I felt really excited about it! Women gave me a bunch of common reasons they do not want to do yoga: “I have kids”, “I feel and look fat”, I am having a terrible day”, “I am busy”/”I do not have time”. When you think you do not have time for that and you have a millions reasons not to go, that is when you need more than ever to do yoga.

Just the day before going to the camp, I have realized that maybe it will not be easy. The language barrier, cultural differences and irresistible thought, that women will not enjoy yoga.

When I step onto my yoga mat, right then and there, the rest of the world goes on mute. For those 60-minutes, whatever is happening in the world around me and a million miles away from me is silent. Still happening, still important, still valid, but quiet. What is the most important – women noticed my involvement in class and the desire to share my passion with them. During one hour they have tried to repeat all positions and concentrate on deep breathing. Even if they could not do each position perfectly, they are putting huge effort to make it perfect.

According to perfection, I am still trying to show my yoga students three important rules for me, about yoga: Never take yourself too seriously, never give up and do what you can and love it. When you start yoga class, mat it is an opportunity to take that one isolated practice and change your life with it.  If you are competitive, set that aside; if you are aloof, try a little harder; if you are a reactive person, take a moment to really just accept what is happening for you in each pose without judging it or reacting to it.  The yoga mat is the perfect place to work out all the issues that are going on not just in your legs and hips, but also in your mind.  And the best part of using yoga as a mirror into the rest of your life is this: on the mat it is only about you.  You are not bothering or effecting anyone else – you are not depending on or worrying about your friends or your family… you are doing the poses and working through the things that you have to work through.

After 4 months of doing yoga with women in the camp I have noticed how much their self- confidence has increased and how beautiful they feel. Each class they thank me with the huge smile on their faces, which means for me more than everything.

By Patrycja