All the Small Things

There is a prevailing trend in the non-profit sector; an insidious illness emerging from the peroration which often envelopes the area. Increasingly, actors are seeking to force an ill-fitting, rigid formula onto the liquid consistency of human emotions. Success is measured in cold, hard facts; how many adults gained job opportunities as a result of this project? How many children entered higher education? How many volunteers gained a second language? How many women did we successfully emancipate? How many re-tweets of our hashtag?

The approach is driven by undeniably logical factors. Charities are attempting to attract large donors whose manner of assessment is the only one they know; tangible results in return for an investment which they can subsequently sell to their conscious-impoverished clientèle. But this trend is a wind blowing above the ripples on the water, ripples which become swells and eventually waves. But how can one revel in the waves, if one doesn’t notice the ripples from which they are born?

It is these small movements which I am to write about; the unnoticed behaviour of the reserved. I am to tell you that success is not found in numbers, but in the most tender and reserved human behaviour. I am to tell you this because I believe myself to have been lucky enough to be privy to those moments, durable by their existence in my memory, transient by that by that very fact. The European Voluntary Scheme has gifted such experiences to me, but is setting to take them away from others. I write in protest of that trend and to espouse a different approach.

I cannot tell you how many women I have taught whom have subsequently felt emancipated, nor how many of the youth I have taught felt better inclined towards employment. I cannot even tell you how many new words they gained. What I can tell you about is the feeling one gets when a pupil who could not conceive an English greeting, suddenly constructs a sentence from words you had forgot you’d taught her. Or a sense of value when one woman approaches you after class and tells you that she is a housewife, bound by the rules of her conservative partner and by the rigours of motherhood to a multitude of children. She tells you that she is freed in the six hours a week you teach her; allowed to travel, learn, socialise and develop in independence. She tells you that she was married very young, deprived of a thorough education not only by her circumstances, but by a system that failed her. She tells you that you are her only chance to have an education that is hers.

Only a week ago, I was sat outside my class, waiting for it to begin. I had often expressed my want to become fluent in Arabic, eying their street Arabic to English dictionaries jealousy. I thought these green glances had gone unnoticed, and perhaps they had for all bar one little girl. She came to me and presented a beautiful, hard-backed dictionary. Costly, for anyone of her background, but especially for a young girl of no income. She said, “For you. Now you can go home and show people that Muslims are different to DAESH [ISIS]. Thank you for everything”.

You can assess your numbers, analysis your data, process your questionnaires, but you cannot capture those moments. Nor should you want to; their value lies in their transience and fragility. You should instead seek solace in a volunteer’s word, a volunteer who is graced with those fleeting interactions and with the residue of their impact. Take heed, before you lose those moments in the pages of your books.

By Katie.

Taxi in Amman

The distances in Amman are huge. From my house to bus station is around 8 kilometers. To the office is even a bit more. But the public transport in Amman is not the best. Therefore we have to use quite a lot of taxis. The good side of this is the cheap price – the fee of entrance is 0.25 JD and every kilometer is about 0.23 JD. During the night, ofcourse, it’s more expensive. In most cases the taxi drivers drink coffee and smoke. The golden rule for drivers is to open a window, show their hand and then it is allowed to do any manouver which he wants.

The other side of taxi rides are interesting and not so interesting drivers. Here I’ve collected some examples, which I have directly been involved or have heard from other volunteers.

* After Charlie Hebdo attacks taxi driver asked one volunteer, where she is from. She answered, that she’s from Denmark. Taxi driver continued by asking:”Why do You draw pictures of our prophet?” She replied:”Why do You kill people?”. Taxi driver was confused and said, that he doesn’t kill people. She calmly replied:”I don’t draw cartoones”. Wow :)

* Usually taxi drivers asks where are we from and then proceeds to welcome us around 5 times. If we share taxi with someone who is from Germany, following might happen: “Almania? Oh yes, Hitler good, yes, very good, yes-yes!”

* Once a taxi driver asked if we want coffee. We politely refuseed, to which he proceeded to make a stop, buy me a coffe, my wife a Nescafe (for women Nescafe, for men coffee ofcourse!) and after that he proceeded to offer us cigarettes. Welcome to Jordan!

* Another time we were in huge traffic jam and were just talking with a driver. He turned out to be palestinian and after hearing that we work with palestinian refugees didn’t want any money from us. Our conciousness didn’t let accept this gift, but it was nice!

* One volunteer couldn’t get the change back (1 JD), so she decided to sit in a taxi till the taximeter filled up the extra one JD. That took a while :)

* All the taxi drivers think You’re from America. That is their question always – America?. Also, none of the taxi drivers know where is Estonia. They usually think it is Espana. Not suprising, to be honest.

* Once we had a nice 10 minute talk with taxi drivers about pronunciation of letter H in arabic. They have two different H letters, that sound for me the same. So, the conversation looked like this:”Say H”. “H”. “Okay, now say H” “H” “No, you said H, not H”. This went on for 10 minutes. Still don’t understand the difference.

by Nikolai

Arabic music

Over the past years I realised that for most Europeans I spoke to Arabic music is limited only to those dramatic Arabic songs full of oriental tunes and “habibi’s”. I personally don’t really like those melodramitc songs too much, so with this blogpost I want to give an impression on the variety of Arab music.

As this blog deals with experiences made in Jordan I will focus on Jordanian bands and thus excluding bands from other Arab countries (though, to give a short list I’d recommend to check out the following: Mashrou3 Leila – alternative rock, Babylone – especially the song “Zina” and N3rdistan – Electro/ HipHop).

El-MakinaMy favourite Jordanian band so far is Jadal (Arabic: جدل, English: controversy, debate), one of the first Arabic rock bands in the Middle East. They are especially known for their great live performances. In the beginning of April I had the chance to see them performing in a simply amazing Open Air concert in Amman. So far one, if not THE, highlight of my time in Jordan. Not only that Jadal is an exceptionally good live band, also the atmosphere was very special: men and women were dancing together and some women were sitting on men’s shoulders, some people were even kissing – things you’d normally don’t see here in public. And all this taking place in one of the few parks of Amman during a warm spring night. If you’ll ever get the chance to go to a Jadal concert: take it! Here is a picture of the concert:

musicHere are two of my favourite songs by them so you can get an impression of their music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkeLYw18xPk (Ana bakhaf min el commitment = I’m afraid of the commitment)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCMi9Lkc4HU (Niyyalak = lucky you)

You can also check their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Jadalband?fref=ts

1546153_714781031923313_4768063772958763705_nAnother well-known Jordanian band is Autostrad, according to their Facebook-Page they do ‘Arabic Street Mediterranean Indie music’ with latin, reggae, funk and rock elements. Among us volunteers their song “Ya salam” (Arabic:  يا سلا)  (here you can listen to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MpNlJSA6Fs) is very popular, not least because of the chorus that reflects the volunteers life’s perfectly: “ya salam, kulshi tamam, mafi masari, da’iman tafran” which means something like: “Ohhh what a pleasure, everything is fine, no money, always poor”.

Most of Autostrad’s songs deal with the everyday life in Jordan, love, financial challanges and drug abuse.

Here is the link to their youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/Autostradproject

And to their Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/Autostrad.jo

Other Jordanian bands you might want to check out are:

El Morabba3: https://soundcloud.com/search?q=el%20morabba3%20 (personal recommendation: Taht Al-Ard (Engl. Under the ground)

Aziz Maraka (for a mix of Jazz, Arabic and Rock music): https://soundcloud.com/eka3/sets/test-1

And if you are more into classical music you should check out the pianist Zade Dirani: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheZadeChannel

And for more Arabic Rock: Akher Zapher: https://www.youtube.com/user/AkherZapheer

by Lisa

The young adult Amman

Amman is an exceptionally young city to be the centre of a country – for less than a century it has been the capital of Jordan, and while that may not be so unusual, the growth is. Till 1906 it was inhabited by no more than 5,000 people of whom none spoke Arabic (according to Wikipedia), in 1930s its population was 10,000, while now, 8 decades later, it has grown to 4 million (according to the mayor of Amman) which constitute 62% of the whole population of Jordan. Due to migrants and refugees Amman has grown so rapidly that it has not had time to catch up with its own expansion – green areas and public spaces are rare, transport options are very few. When walking around you can see how Amman seems to have erupted over its 19 hills, but you can also see how it is beginning to evolve into something more than just a large residential area.

by Sara

The quick coffee with… Nour Ayed Al Gweiry, 1989, Amman, Jordan

I met Nour the first day I had landed in Jordan. She is friend of a Palestinian friend of mine that used to come to Jordan from time to time. They met each other in Rainbow Street where Nour used to have her studio/house. She studied survey engineering for 2 years and then she decided to change her major to fine arts. Nowadays she is in her third year of her studies and she has participated in many graffiti projects here in Amman, and lately she was invited to participate in Femme Fierce: Reloaded! (2015 Edition) taking place in London (UK).

Back in September 2014 after spend some days walking through the most touristic places in the city I was invited to attend the WOW Baladk Street Art Festival. It was the first regional street art festival in the Middle East. 25 artists and graffiti painters (half male and half female) gathered in Amman and work together for a week. WOW Baladk was a joint cooperation between WOW – Women on Walls – the Cairo based network of graffiti artists who use graffiti and street art to talk about women, and Al Balad Theatre in Amman. The theme of the WOW Baladk Street Art Festival was “Stories from Fear to Freedom”.

Now that I move to Amman, we met for a quick coffee that ended up in me asking questions to her about the graffiti scene in this chaotic city in the Middle East.

Alba: Why and when did you decided to start painting walls?

Nour: I started scribbling on the wall of our house when I was a kid. Then, I studied engineering for two years and discovered my passion towards drawing was still there. So I changed my major to fine arts. Right now I am a third year student; I now draw graffiti not just on the walls of our house, but on the walls of Amman too.

Alba: Lately I saw a lot of graffiti around Amman and in Jordan in general. How is the graffiti scene in Jordan?

Nour: The graffiti scene in Amman is small but powerful, you can see that all over Amman, we have a lot of talents here in Jordan, but I would love to see more females do graffiti in the streets and express their thoughts.

Alba: Why to do graffiti?

Nour: Graffiti is a direct way for me as an artist to see the reaction of people about my art pieces, it’s a great feeling when I draw something in the street and then just set back and see the people talking smiling or even taking pictures with it.

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by Alba

Challenging your privileges

la-terre-promise--160431_1The Promised Land (La Terre Promise, 2014) is a Swiss documentary, screened in Amman’s Rainbow Theater in April, which tells a story about a journey of Saint Michael’s College choir from Fribourg, Switzerland, to occupied Palestinian territories. A group of fifty-five students led by conductor Philippe Savoy makes a series of concerts there. They travel and perform around West Bank and step by step they discover life under the Israeli occupation. At the beginning the group seems pretty clueless about the political and social situation in Palestine, but when they slowly move from Bethlehem and Jerusalem to Hebron and Ramallah and Birzeit the reality starts to sink in. Check points with high security walls and watchtowers, old churches and temples, Palestinian refugee camps and illegal Israeli settlements, picturesque Jerusalem’s Old City and breathtaking Masada, etc. all become part of the narrative of a suppressed country with permanent and thorough degradation of its people. Recited poems written by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish combined with shots of everyday life in the West Bank and unique Palestine’s landscape serves as a lyrical intermezzo. And then there is, of course, music. The material differs: from different religious compositions and even yodelling to opera and traditional Palestinian songs. At the beginning the choir would struggle with lyrics in Arabic and with unfamiliar words and sounds that they couldn’t pronounce, but in the end they prove that the language and beauty of music are universal. The film ends with the main concert where the choir performs excerpts from Carmen opera and overwhelmed by the whole experience gets a big applause from the audience. Students from Switzerland who were a bit restrained at the beginning seem by the end to grow more conscious about the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. We also get an impression that they become more aware of their privileges which they are ‘entitled’ to as citizens of a rich European country, where they can move around freely and live in peace.

Living, volunteering and travelling around Jordan and Palestine definitely makes you think about your own personal privileges. We, the volunteers, work together with Palestinian refugees already living in Jordan for decades, not being allowed to go to the country where they were born or where their parents or grandparents came from. But we, the privileged foreigners, can. When our Jordanian friends of Palestinian origin greet us as we would return from a trip to Holy Land and with a spark in their eyes ask us about Palestine, I would have somehow have a guilty conscience, knowing they cannot go to their homeland as well.

And once we would actually be in the occupied Palestinian territories the situation becomes even more striking. We would be in a bus, exiting Bethlehem and then would be stopped at this infamous checkpoint just outside the city. The foreigners would be allowed to stay in the bus, while the Palestinians would have to get out and wait in a line in order to show their identity documents at the counter. The Israeli soldiers would then come to the bus and ask us, the privileged people, where we come from and if our answer would sound harmless enough would not even bother to check out our passports. Then we would, for example, commute in a shared taxi from Ramallah to Nablus and we would be stopped on a highway by an Israeli army patrol. They would harass the Palestinian or Arab looking passengers and would not really care about us, white Westerners. Then we would go to Jenin, a town in northern part of West Bank, to see a play in the Freedom Theater, a well-known Palestinian community-based cultural centre located in Jenin refugee camp, without knowing that the actors performing on stage are not allowed to tour in Jerusalem, in a capital of their own country, because they could not even get a permission, issued by the Israelis, to enter the city. But we, privileged foreigners, would be able to move around relatively freely and could come and go practically wherever we would please. And that is just because we own the right passport and were born in the right part of the world.

It is good to step back and become aware of your privileges. It is the only way we can start challenging them. How we do it is another story.

by Gregor

Estonian man in Jordan

I guess it can be taken as an experiment. What else it can be, when you take Estonian mentality and put it in Jordan and tell “this is your life now”. So, the following will reveal notes and the results of the observation “Estonians in Amman”, which has been carried out in between December 2014 – April 2015.

First of all, let’s observe the unknown (unfortunately) Estonian mentality.

Estonians are considered as very reserved nation, who express only basic emotions in the world (mainly being hunger and tired). Of course, embarrassment may occur as well, but there are only few situations, when this can happen. Either they are running late (meaning: if an Estonian isn’t 10 minutes earlier for the meeting or appointment, they are already late) or they have to ask someone’s help. Two main-known situation, when you can see an Estonian blushing and sobbing quietly (only to lecture themselves for being late or being weak). We considered this to be connected to the old saying of Estonians: “The one, who has more things at the end (when they die), is the winner”.

When it comes to love, they like to keep it simple. When expressing love, an Estonian bunches other Estonian’s arm while saying “I hate you less than others”. This is, of course, performed with absolutely no enthusiasm or emotions. But what else could you expect from a country, where the weather is throughout the year described as “Sh*tty skiing weather” (this is how their summer looks, ha-ha). This probably explains also the well-known fact about Estonians favorite food – another Estonian.

The only way to fully understand Estonians is to go through the website, created only for that purpose – Estonianmoments.ee .

Now, let’s take the Estonian mentality and place it in Middle-East.

During the first weeks, the observed Estonians were constantly confused by the idea of always having time. No matter what, Jordanians always had time for a tea or time to prepare and eat the lunch. This, as observed, caused a lot of confusion. As this is something Estonians are always lacking – time – it is understandable, why it confused our subjects. Yet, it was confusing for the other side of this experiment – Jordanians. Constant rushing and planning, measuring everything 10-times seemed to be a strange idea.

During the experiment, the subjects showed less confusion and more relaxation. To describe the situation, they used words like vacation, pause from life and etc. They also showed some signs of weakened Estonian mentality. It didn’t seem to be an issue anymore, to arrive to the meeting at the exact time as scheduled. The 10-minutes earlier rule seemed to be vanished. Still, after five months in Jordan, they are never late. Even though everyone around them seems to be.

The first more or less shocking moment came with the first experiences with the traffic. As Estonians are probably the best ones in the world to crash their cars (it can be drunk driving as well as stupidity) against other cars, trees or even pedestrians, it was nearly impossible for them to understand the systems of traffic in Jordan. Well, okay, there aren’t any systems or what so ever. Still, after two weeks of, what they called as absolutely insanity, we can say that they adapted the situation and by now … as they said … they even enjoy the traffic. No matter how crazy it seems, you can always cross the street or squeeze your car through the intersection. Of course, after five months they know only one basic rule of traffic in Jordan – in traffic, whatever you want to do and whenever you want to do, just place your hand out of the window and you’ll be good to go. And of course, peep as much as you can. Doesn’t matter if it is needed or not. By the end of our experiment, they have changed their first impression completely. They share their amusement of the safe traffic and no car-accidents and how easy it is to find your way between the cars.

The next field of this experiment is rather sweet!

The subjects of this experiment found it absolutely astonishing, how much sugar you can find in Jordanians’ tea. As they said “you literally drink sugar with tea, not the other way around”. But let’s admit it; it was only a matter of time, when our two Estonians would start to appreciate the sugar in their tea. Of course, you say it’s because they got addicted to sugar, but we say that Jordanian tea is just that good! No questions asked.

The most important part of this experiment was food. After enormous amounts of food, it is agreed that both – Jordanians and Estonians –are absolutely in love with food! The portions of food served in Jordan are the best examples of saying known also in Estonia: you don’t stop eating when your plate is empty or when you don’t have anything left, you stop eating when you hate yourself! And this is an every-day phenomenon in Jordan, as the trays are full of absolutely delicious rice and meat. The biggest success in this area was that the subjects of this experiment started to take time to eat. This is very unusual for an Estonian. They like to have their meals behind the computer, while working for a next huge project. But in Jordan, it has chanced and this can be considered as one of the biggest victories during this experiment.

These are the results of the experiment found during the experiment. We still haven’t finished with the tests, so there are not the final results. Still, to measure the results during the process, we asked our subjects to think if their mentality has chanced somehow. Both of them found some major chances within themselves. Mainly, it was about the time and taking time off. They have noticed that people actually do have time for tea and maybe it is not the best idea to always work and earn money. Even if it might mean that they will not be the winners at the end. Maybe it makes sense from time to time have a break, enjoy yourself and the company of your friends and family with plates full of Maqluba!

by Keku

It will never be the same again

Five months have passed; five bunches of days, with experience for five long summers! And again I wonder, how will it be to come back home. Thank you Wordsworth for helping me to begin this blog article – the beginning is half of the whole. To be more accurate, I’m leaving in exactly three weeks from the day that I’m writing this article. When I’m quiet and alone, I already see the pictures of my return. How will I greet my friends, how will I organize my work, which presents I want to give to my family, how will I present my experience, will anyone understand me? And what is even harder, what will I have to leave behind, what if I will just forget or let go these feelings, these thoughts, these dynamics in me, that I have here. It’s hard to describe everything that is going on in my head right now. But a lot of issues seem frightening until you face them, so for the beginning it might be good to ask myself, what am I actually afraid to leave behind, to lose?

OK, there are “simple” things that seem obvious. First there is amazing Arab food that will never taste so good if I try to prepare it on my own and probably not even if I visit Egyptian restaurant we have in Ljubljana. And also to sit down and smoke shisha will not be the same. Another thing, of which the loss is not so difficult to understand, is the traffic. Goodbye to catching a bus wherever it passes by and farewell to this easiness with which we could stop a car at the end of the hike in the middle of nowhere and ask the driver to take us to the nearest place, where we can catch a bus. No more chats on the streets or in the coffee shops with strangers that want to welcome you and get to know more about who you are and where you are from. And one of the clearest “losses” that is simple only to understand, otherwise it is far from that term are all the friends I met here and all the free time available to me to hang out with them. It’s not an everyday thing to meet people that are so open, and so accepting, so warm-hearted. Thank you for that, if you are reading!

Then things get vaguer when I think about a tie to the culture. Most likely I won’t be able to follow that much what is going on in this (geographical) area any more. Neither when it comes to the political events nor will I be exposed to music, films, experience of the people and their situations, their stories. I will miss this diversity of Arab nations that one can witness here. Everybody has some relatives in Palestine or a family in Saudi Arabia or has lived in Emirates or… You can discuss the situation of different neighbouring and nearby states (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen etc.) with people who came from there and can tell you their own view on happenings in their home countrys. There won’t be so much of this coexistence of different Christian churches and a Muslim majority, from which I could learn a lot about the religious tolerance. I can’t even say tolerance, I’ve seen friendship, connectedness.

Right now when I’m writing there’s another field in my thoughts that is getting clearer. Somehow I feel like I don’t want yet to go back to where everything seems so usual. When I’m in a foreign country, everything seems to be new, and worth discovering. Going somewhere is not even a matter of consideration – why not – I’ve never been there, I want to see, I want to experience it even if it’s just a coffee place or a cultural center, a nearby village or a green valley. And learning is not demanding so much effort. With just hanging out with people and a bit of openness and interest the insights come. Of course, it has not always been easy, but learning this way is learning from experience and not with a lot of study and limiting oneself to a specific narrow topic. I don’t get so much of this back home. Even though … Well, maybe I didn’t until now, but actually most of the time in Slovenia so far I’ve been studying or doing some not so intensive voluntary work. The days that are coming for me now could actually be far more dynamic in that sense. I will soon finish my studies and start with my professional life, where I will be a pure beginner connecting what I have studied with life experience. You see, that’s why I like writing, I’ve just realized that. And suddenly my return home doesn’t seem so frightening any more. It’s true, that some things will stay behind (and now I can at least name them), but the most important and deep of them, will be somewhere in me. Maybe not so present in my everyday thoughts, but I believe they will pop out just in the right moments. And what’s more, there will be new possibilities opening. However in everything I will do, there will be something of my past experience in Jordan. It may sound slightly too much, but life will “never be the same”.

by Krištof