All sorts of things happen on the bus

People read my blog and wonder if I’m on holiday. No, I’m not. Sometimes I like imagining I am though. However, my primary mission here is teaching English. I teach those who were forced to leave their own country in order to flee war. Palestinians in the camps, Syrians in the suburb. I teach women and children. Maybe they can use their new knowledge one day and create a better life. Actually, it’s not even that much about English. It’s about spending an hour together, playing games, laughing, explaining some basic terms. What are the continents, what does an elephant look like, where is the rainforest? They are so motivated to learn, probably more than I’ve ever been in my school life. They’re not in a hurry to leave the classroom once the lesson is over. I like to believe our classes mean to them at least as much as they mean to me. Before we leave, friendly ladies offer us delicious biscuits with some juice, a coffee, sometimes they get someone to drive us to the nearby road where we can catch a bus from.

On the bus. We wait until it gets full, only then we leave. If we’re lucky, it has AC. Otherwise, we take some wind in our hair and take a wild ride on Amman streets, where one has to fight for their priority. No one really knows how many lanes there are; cope with it and drive! On the bus, I usually connect to the Internet, let my mom know I’m OK, study Arabic, or just wonder.

I wonder about how happy, satisfied I am, how everything is crazy and new, what’s next on my to-do list once I get home. Maybe I’ll stop at the market on my way home, I’m running out of fruits and zucchinis. I also need to find a place where I can buy some cocoa powder, as Klara and I promised we’d make a dessert this evening. It’s funny, I’ve only been here for a couple of weeks and it already feels like home. I have my favourite fruit and vegetable guy, who always gives me good price for tomatoes. He must be around 13 and I think he’ll succeed in his life, he has a genuine smile. I have a couple of new friends that I meet on the roof, mull over life, sing, and smoke shisha with. I have my favourite spot with most beautiful view. I have my herbs and natural oils supplier. And a shop where I get eight packs of spaghetti for a dinar. Some favourite falafel and hummus shops. I’m starting to know the coffee shop finger language and can order whatever coffee I want directly from the car. I know where to get the best dates. The figs are still too expensive for me, except for the ones in the camp. I can get a taxi by myself, ask if the meter is on, tell the driver where I want to go, arrive, pay, thank for the ride. Without using a single word in English. I found out I can mix tahini (sesame paste) with date molasses to get a superb dessert, on a spoon. I know when the prayer takes place. I turn the music off during that time. At 6 pm, the church bells ring, it sounds familiar, kind of homely. All these are things I think about on the bus.

When all the seats are taken, a man offers me his place despite my you really don’t have to, it’s OK, thank you. Accept. You should always take what’s offered to you, a wise local man told me soon after my arrival to the Middle-East. Sometimes three women collegially share two seats. Some other time, a man goes to sit with another man, so I can have my own seat. Of course, it is unacceptable if I sit next to a man, except for some extreme cases.

Sometimes the bus stops, a uniformed man is checking the documents. I can feel restlessness, tension. There is a young man without his ID and he has to leave the bus, accompanied by the policeman. No one cares about mine, which makes me feel slightly offended, although the partiality is in my favour. Can’t I be dangerous?
The bus goes its way, at some point we have to pay for the ride. A supple young man is counting the coins, he calculates fast and never forgets to give the change back when he gets some. There is a man wearing an elegant shirt, he immediately notices we’re foreigners. I’ll pay for you, you are my guests. Welcome. There are four of us and we all tell him there is no need, we have money. He insists, welcome.

The ride and all the waiting and changing takes about two hours, depending on where we go. Just don’t be in a hurry.

By Staša

Little things

»Do you feel sad? « My mum asked me yesterday while we were having our Whatsapp conversation.

-Sad about what exactly?
“About all those bad things going on.”

It took me a second or two to think. Of course it makes me sad. There are people with lack of food, comfort, safety, papers, future, education, psychological support. There are people trying to make their way to better future and they face walls. Literally.

But this makes me sad on deeper level. Somewhere inside it’s bothering me. But to tell the truth on everyday basis I don’t think about it that much.

I get on my bus, I drive to the orphanage building. There are happy children, they are waiting for me and Rosa. They WANT to learn. Even though it’s difficult. And they can’t say purple but they say burble instead. Even though some of them saw very hardcore vivid heartbreaking events. They say “Hello teacher!”, they open their notebooks and we begin.

Two weeks ago I decided to start individual classes with two girls and one woman. Their English is much better than others and I thought we could do some extra work. And the result is amazing. I have never seen that much motivation. It makes me motivated too, to prepare material in all the creative ways I can imagine. And at the end they give me a cookie or coffee and they say: “Shukran!”

“Thank you!”

And I walk home happy. A tiny difference was just made in this world and that’s enough for me for that day.

And sometimes I help an old woman carry groceries from the store or I high five children who are living in the tents on the way from orphanage to bus, where I walk. And it all just makes me happy. Because there is misery all around us and there are big problems on macro level.

But when I think of my tiny world I found myself comfortable in, in this period of time. When I think of the orphanage or people around it I feel just happiness. Because we laugh together, and we learn together and that’s the most beautiful thing.

By Klara

Education, Work and Women

Luisa, Ana, Alba and me are organizing a circle for discussions for Women in the MENA Region. Once in a month we discuss a specific topic connected to women in an informal way.

Last month the second discussion about Women and Education and Work took place in Naqsh which is a cosy café and open cultural space.

As speakers we invited Hala Abu Taha, Sales Engineer at Izzat Marji Groupand and Alaa Alqaisi, Educational Field Coordinator at Relief International and as moderator Madlein Abuamrieh, Food, Security and Livelihood Project Manager at ACF.

Alaa, who spoke first, pointed out that women in Jordan are still disadvantaged in the access to education. He referred to statistics that are showing the average situation in Jordan, included the Syrian community. The main obstacles are culture, high economical costs and discrimination. A sincere problem for girls education is the early marriage. After marrying they don’t attend school or university anymore. After marriage discrimination in the schools is high and there are hardly possibilities for women to defend themselves. Furthermore the high costs of universities cause a lot of girls to avoid studying because they can’t afford it. Here is a bridge to cultural problems because parents prefer to send boys to the university. Moreover especially people from rural areas are seeing no need to send their daughters to university, since they come back to the village where they marry.

To overcome these challenges according to Alaa awareness programs are needed. He gave us an insight about some projects as for example an interactive theatre and cartoons aiming to improve women situation. Moreover the governmental support for stopping the early marriage is important.

Hala told us her personal story studying mechanical engineering and afterwards finding a job. She decided very early to study mechanical engineering even if everybody said that’s not a field for women. In her 3rd year even her professor said to the course that all girls should change their major, because they will never find a job. Against all this she decided to finish her studies and she even helped the boys out. When she graduated 4 years later a lot of people called her a bad girl and said that it’s shameful to work with men.

After finishing university she needed 4 months to find a job. Finally she got a job in the office, where she designed things. After some time she decided to change to sales engineering. She applied for a job offer where she was rejected. So she called the manager and asked for the reasons. He told her straight that it’s because she is a woman. During the conversation she convinced him to invite her for an interview and in the end she got the job. She closed her speech in a very positive way and is convinced that it’s possible to overcome every obstacle if you follow your target.

Afterwards the audience could give their comments and ask questions. They commented that families often don’t send their daughters to university because there are men and woman together. One guy said that it’s an advantage for women that someone takes care of her which lead to the discussion related to gender and sex, there are a lot of stereotypes. Alaa pointed out that a woman should have the right to select her husband by herself if the goal of the marriage is to have children, furthermore he explained that the discrimination has two dimensions: 1st the discrimination at home and 2nd the one in the community. He told us that in previous times women worked on farms but now there is the stereotype that they have to stay at home.

As we want to target the Jordanian and the foreign community with our discussions the language is a problem. It was hold in English and Arabic what allows everyone to participate but also causes repetition.

Unfortunately we had to finish the discussion abruptly because there was another event in Naqsh. But altogether it was an interesting evening that gave us an overview about the situation of women in this area.

By Rosa

Hitch-hiking in Jordan

The idea of visiting the village of Dana, located close to the Dead Sea, came spontaneously on a Thursday’s afternoon. The village is next to Dana Biosphere Reserve, which is the largest nature reserve in Jordan with diverse environment. Noted for it’s 15th century houses, the Dana Village is located in southwest of Jordan, near the city of Tafilah.
The journey started with taking a bus to city of Karak from Amman’s southern bus station in the morning in Friday. Karak is special with the 12th century castle of Karak, an old fortress overlooking the nearby hills. The way from Karak to Dana initially didn’t turn out to be easy one. As it was Friday, the busses were not running, and looking as a foreigner, one catches a lot of attention from the locals, who offer to take you to Dana for a unreasonably high price. Locals with vans offering to take you to Dana are pretty desperate. The way was continued by taking a van, which serves as a bus, to a city, which is on the way to Tafilah. In there the locals turned out to be very hospitable, inviting for a tea and chat and saying there would be a bus coming soon to Tafilah. As it is already late afternoon, and chances of a bus coming are very tiny, the locals were king enough to help looking for a car leaving in the direction of Tafilah. It doesn’t take long and soon we found ourselves in a car with three old man who, after about 15 km stopped at a police checkpoint and left us there. The policemen were kind and stopped cars coming on our way, to make sure someone would take us to Tafilah. Their effort soon brought a ride with a jordanian man, travelling with his children, who was having an vacation in Jordan, as he is working in Doha, Qatar. The man was kind and helpful, bringing us even to Dana village.

20150704_130311(1)
Arrival in Dana was met by a beautiful sunset over the impressive mountains of Dana Biosphere Reserve. Through the difficulties faced by getting there, the journey let us meet a lot of wonderful people, who were willing to help on our way and reaching the destination in the time to watch the beautiful sunset over hills gives happy feeling.

20150703_194144(1)By Dins

Ramadan – the month of purification

This short article shows my personal experience in special time of my life. I know, I didn’t explain so many things but treat it as a motivation to search informations by yourself.

2:45 a.m.
I set alarm clock for 3:15 wanting to have half hour before my first fasting day starts but I woke up before. It happens every time I’m stressed or excited about something. I’m the only one Muslim at home, my ‘last meal’ alone. It’s quiet.

3:30 a.m.
I’m done with food and drinking don’t remember when was the last time I drunk so much. Now just waiting for adhan – time for prayer and sleep.

11 a.m.
So this special time started? How do I feel? Not hungry but extremaly thirsty. Fortunatelly feeling disappear after half hour. I start to work on office stuff. It’s not bad.

2 p.m.
My flatmates start to cook. Even through closed door I can feel smell of the food, it starts to get harder. No problem. I started to realise the purpose of what I am doing. How lucky I am, that after seven hours I will sit in front of table full of food while so many people don’t have this possibility. I start to speak with my mum, telling her how big experience is it for me and how happy it makes me. She asks what is this arabic music playing in background. ‘It’s a Quran, mum’. My changing religion isn’t easy for her. I hear disappointment in her voice, she feels guilty that I made different choice but trying to act like she’s happy for me.

5 p.m.
Calls and messages asking, how I manage in my first day of Ramadan. From Muslims and non-Muslims. That’s very nice gesture. What’s the answer, how am I? Well, for sure hungry. But in excellent spiritual mood. One of the purposes of this blessed month is to learn empathy for less fortunate. I very fast realised, how lucky I am knowing that I’ll eat and drink in few hours but so many people about who we spoke on Global Education workshops doesn’t have this opportunity.

7:15 p.m.
I can’t wait longer. I’m going to other volunteers house where I’ll have my first iftar. They are cooking, asking about Islam and making my waiting easier though smell of dishes.

‘Allahu akbar’ I hear the sound from the mosque. Finally, the time comes. The girls stress out because our meal is not ready. But it doesn’t matter, I can drink water and that’s the most important. Another minutes will not make big difference.

My experiece from next days shows that sharing meal with Muslims and non- Muslims differs. The second group is just hungry while first have spent 16 hours waiting for this moment.

Sadly, so many Muslims use this time to just be lazy, sleep for the whole day and stay awake at night. It’s not an effort to wake up at 4 pm and wait just for 3 hours. We should use this time to read Quran and pray. Moreover it’s a chance to try be better version of youself – avoid sinful behaviour and practices, bring together with your friends and family and make more charity actions than during the rest of the year. For those who are doing their best there is promised prize in heaven. All good deeds we’ve done are multiplied by 70 and moreover gates to hell are closed.

By Kamila.

Ramadan – the month of purification

This short article shows my personal experience in special time of my life. I know, I didn’t explain so many things but treat it as a motivation to search informations by yourself.

2:45 a.m.
I set alarm clock for 3:15 wanting to have half hour before my first fasting day starts but I woke up before. It happens every time I’m stressed or excited about something. I’m the only one Muslim at home, my ‘last meal’ alone. It’s quiet.

3:30 a.m.
I’m done with food and drinking don’t remember when was the last time I drunk so much. Now just waiting for adhan – time for prayer and sleep.

11 a.m.
So this special time started? How do I feel? Not hungry but extremaly thirsty. Fortunatelly feeling disappear after half hour. I start to work on office stuff. It’s not bad.

2 p.m.
My flatmates start to cook. Even through closed door I can feel smell of the food, it starts to get harder. No problem. I started to realise the purpose of what I am doing. How lucky I am, that after seven hours I will sit in front of table full of food while so many people don’t have this possibility. I start to speak with my mum, telling her how big experience is it for me and how happy it makes me. She asks what is this arabic music playing in background. ‘It’s a Quran, mum’. My changing religion isn’t easy for her. I hear disappointment in her voice, she feels guilty that I made different choice but trying to act like she’s happy for me.

5 p.m.
Calls and messages asking, how I manage in my first day of Ramadan. From Muslims and non-Muslims. That’s very nice gesture. What’s the answer, how am I? Well, for sure hungry. But in excellent spiritual mood. One of the purposes of this blessed month is to learn empathy for less fortunate. I very fast realised, how lucky I am knowing that I’ll eat and drink in few hours but so many people about who we spoke on Global Education workshops doesn’t have this opportunity.

7:15 p.m.
I can’t wait longer. I’m going to other volunteers house where I’ll have my first iftar. They are cooking, asking about Islam and making my waiting easier though smell of dishes.

‘Allahu akbar’ I hear the sound from the mosque. Finally, the time comes. The girls stress out because our meal is not ready. But it doesn’t matter, I can drink water and that’s the most important. Another minutes will not make big difference.

My experiece from next days shows that sharing meal with Muslims and non- Muslims differs. The second group is just hungry while first have spent 16 hours waiting for this moment.

Sadly, so many Muslims use this time to just be lazy, sleep for the whole day and stay awake at night. It’s not an effort to wake up at 4 pm and wait just for 3 hours. We should use this time to read Quran and pray. Moreover it’s a chance to try be better version of youself – avoid sinful behaviour and practices, bring together with your friends and family and make more charity actions than during the rest of the year. For those who are doing their best there is promised prize in heaven. All good deeds we’ve done are multiplied by 70 and moreover gates to hell are closed.

By Kamila.

I Circle of discussions around women in the MENA region

As four young women deeply interested and connected to women’s rights, our personal initiative during our EVS here in Amman is a circle of discussions around women in the MENA region, where we hope to connect local community and foreigners in the discussion about women in this region. We aim to create four moments of discussion: Women and Youth; Women, Education and Work; Women and Law; and Woman and Arts.

Our first discussion, around Women and Youth in the MENA Region, took place on the 26th of May at Naqsh Cultural Center in Weibdeh. This session focused on the challenges and aspirations of young women in this region. The speakers, Shorouq Zahra and Sarah Abaza, both students from the University of Jordan, were invited to talk about some of the issues they face in their daily lives and how they would like to see these issues addressed in the future.

Among the challenges they referred to, Shorouq and Sarah shared the same opinion on certain differences between men and women in society that are built-in since an early age. These differences are manifested in various forms, one of which being the freedom each child possesses: for example the restrictions girls face with an early curfew and that men don’t. Other restrictions are exemplified by the males’ possibility for to travel by themselves and study abroad and as opposed to the difficulty for a women to do so, however, exceptions are made if she belongs to relatively wealthier family. Both Shorouq and Sarah indicated that such differences in treatment are much sustained by the family members, but even more from the mothers.
In addition, they pointed out the continuous harassment by men towards women, and the fact that such behaviors are very much justified by the women’s conduct and garment.

Another challenge that they shared was ceasing to wear the Hijab and the difficult acceptance from not only the family but also from the community. From their experience, what is aimed for in a family is for a woman to choose to wear it or not from an early age and to stick with her decision. Therefore, to cease to wear it seems to bring a sense of disappointment to the family and the community, and in their case, especially for the mothers.

Some of the challenges that Shorouq and Sarah pointed out were related to the difference in education between boys and girls since an early age, the harassment towards women, the importance of Human Rights and Feminism, the restrictions that girls and women face compared to their male family members.

The concept of “honor” was also mentioned as a challenge, as it presumes the honor in Arab families to reside in the female members and therefore if their conduct and social activity is not following the normative cultural concept of women’s behavior it is regarded as non “honorable”. They defended that the concept of honor should be relocated from such to something that is of her responsibility and accountability. This discussion also brought up the Jordanian laws that fail to act in repairing crimes done against women, as the case of rape, a crime that is almost unpunishable as the rapist can marry the victim for 5 years and become absolved from his crimes according to article 308 of Jordanian law. Other laws, as Article 340 and 98 that diminish women’s security and justice regarding crimes performed against them due to the concept of honor.

After the speakers presented the challenges they see and feel in their lives, they presented several aspirations for the future. Both Shorooq and Sarah pointed out the need for more discussion about women’s rights, as our own, and also the need for stronger activism regarding these issues. They also referred to the importance of bringing women and men together to the discussion and a more participative role from the last.

The speakers pointed out that they can see changes already in society regarding women’s issues, but that they aspire to see more changes and that the law and education might change to fulfill the aim of women equality.

After the speakers presented their perspective of challenges and aspirations in their life, the public had the opportunity to ask questions or make comments about the discussion.

There were some interesting comments from the public as well, as need for feminism to be present in politics.
There was also a discussion about the situation of women’s rights and empowerment in other countries of the MENA region, for example the case of Palestinian women who according to some were very involved in the fight for justice in Palestine working alongside men in NGOs, seeming therefore more advanced in terms of women’s rights, but others evoked the example of Palestinian woman who still get beaten up by the police when reporting being raped. The example of Lebanese women also came forward, where according to some seem to have more social freedom and to others have their freedom accompanied by their sexualization.

In conclusion, it was a constructive discussion where both the local and international community in Jordan came together to gain more insight about what it is to be a young women in the MENA region. It was a proud moment for all four of us to see so many people attending the discussions, with the presence as well of our volunteer colleagues and WE center.

By Ana Guimaraes

Highway to Airport

The airport of Amman is approximately 35 Km far from the capital itself. It is a long way for which I have extremely mixed feelings!

On the one hand it was a road that represented the start in my new life in Jordan. I can still remember how I had to wait at the airport for my coordinator to pick me up. She was late but I met a german guy who had to take the same way to Amman so when my coordinator came we gave him a lift to the city center included a long search for his hostel in the streets of downtown. This was the beginning of my year in Jordan. But the highway to airport had a bigger role than the representation of a start. It took part in the process of building up my reluctance towards airports. Thinking to take the road only twice – when I come and when I leave – was apparently wrong. After my arrival I took this road several times. The next reason to take this way was so say goodbye to a good friend what wanted to leave to Sudan for good. This time was not like the first experience with this road, when I was looking forward to new exciting impressions and experience. This time the road seemed to be 1000km long instead of 35km and I was stuck there in the car with my thoughts and knowing that one of my best friends left with a tiny chance to see him again. The other occasion was to pick up a new volunteer which was of course something positve.

But sadly the positiv journeys to the airport were a lot less then the negativ ones. Again it was time to take this road and to say goodbye to a Dänish volunteer who was a very good friend of mine. And again I passed by the IKEA building and again we crossed the checkpoint to enter the airport area. The last time I was stuck in the car kowing to say farewell soon was when the Estonian volunteers left, but soon it will be my turn to go this way back to my country. I am looking forward to this day but also with a lot of mixed feelings. Happy to see my family and my friends again but also on the other hand leaving great people behind me.

Insha’Allah I will meet all of them soon again!

By Andres

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.