“[Walking] is the perfect way of moving if you want to see into the life of things. It is the one way of freedom. If you go to a place on anything but your own feet you are taken there too fast, and miss a thousand delicate joys that were waiting for you by the wayside.”
― Elizabeth von Arnim, The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen
After my last post I meant to write again some about the trip we took the previous weekend to Jerash, Ajloun and Umm Qais, but since those are all places I visited last fall and wrote about on this blog at the time I’ll just say that it was a lot of fun going again and if you want to read about those places you can just scroll down and find my old posts about them. And since I haven’t taken many pictures since then I’ll include some of my pictures from those places in this post.
Ruins of ancient Jerash in the foreground, the modern city of Jerash in the background
In relation to the quote at the beginning of this post, I do a lot of walking here. I don’t have a car and public transportation costs money (and I’ve found that the cheapest forms of public transport involve taking a bus or “service” (pronounced like it’s French) car that takes you partway, then you walk 10 or so minutes to the next station and take another one the rest of the way). At first, all the walking made me really impatient. If I’m completely honest, it still often does. Back home I have my pickup truck and can take it anywhere I want to go, anytime I want to get there. So walking for half an hour to get someplace I could drive to in 5 minutes can be frustrating when you’re a pampered American kid like me. But I’m growing to appreciate it to an extent. It’s still often uncomfortable. My legs are tired each night when I go to sleep. As the title of this post suggests, the summer heat of a Middle Eastern nation has hit full force and I’m inevitably out walking in dark slacks and a shirt and tie. However, you see and experience a lot more when you’re on foot. You hear the music people play and overheard conversations as you walk through neighborhoods. You see children playing and parents watching over them when you walk through public parks. You experience the sensory overload of sights, sounds, smells and movement when you pass through the shops and markets downtown. Walking puts you directly in the vicinity of the other humans around you without the buffer of car doors and windows. It gives you a chance to say hello to strangers as you pass them. It gives you a chance to smile and wave at the little boys chasing a ball as they run past you. And it gives you a longer chance to think and reflect as you go from one place to another (something I otherwise would have had little time for this past week).
The remains of the Temple of Artemis at Jerash
Last Saturday we had no trips planned so most of us went to Waqe3 to do activities with the kids there. Waqe3 is the community development center where I taught martial arts classes to kids each week last fall. I think they were wanting me to do a one-time karate class again this time around, but there was some sort of miscommunication (or something. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the breakdown in understanding is coming from) and when we showed up all the employees were doing training (I think) and not many kids were there. So instead of doing the different classes we had planned we just played games with the ten or so kids who were there. Honestly, I think I preferred it that way. It was a lot of fun playing Falafel, Falafel, Shawarma (which is just the Middle East version of Duck, Duck, Goose that we came up with last fall), Qala al-Mu’allim (Simon Says) and the Ninja Game with those kids. Playing with kids is always a treat. You never quite can tell what things they’ll say or do (“Simon says…fart!”). We had never tried playing the Ninja Game (I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. This is that game where you stand in a circle and each person gets a turn trying to ninja swipe the hands of the people nearby) here before and it was a BIG hit with the little boys. The little girls weren’t into it quite as much, and all ended up running off to play a different game more to their liking, but even as we were leaving some of the boys were still calling out to me, “One more time! Come on!”
All this week, I didn’t go in to the ministry to work because I was assigned to work on other things outside the ministry. One of the other interns is trying to do some statistical analyses for the department she is working in and needed to go visit some of the societies that the ministry helps to fund to get some survey data from them, and since she doesn’t really speak Arabic I was asked to go with her on Sunday. It was quite the experience. I’ve done a good amount of Arabic translation, but this was my first time doing real-time interpretation. The first place we visited was the headquarters of the General Union of Volunteer Societies, which works with over 3000 charitable organizations spread throughout Jordan. The second place was the headquarters of the Jordan Family Protection and Planning organization which runs 19 clinics throughout the country. It was strange for me that we were meeting with the heads of these huge organizations who employ hundreds if not thousands of people, and that they went to such great lengths to be so respectful, almost deferent to us. I realize that part of that comes from the culture; Arabs pride themselves on their hospitality and generosity. But I think there was more to it than just that. Something related to our coming as representatives of a government entity that finances and regulates their operations. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it made me vaguely uncomfortable. But overall I think it was a good experience.
The rest of the week, Monday through Thursday I was assigned to help out at the Al-Hussein orphanage in Jabal al-Ashrafiyya with two other interns who are actually University of Utah students. The ministry has said they want me to visit centers like this to get a feel for their operations so I can write a report on them with recommendations for improving things. When I first heard that my immediate thought was, “I’m sure I won’t have the slightest idea what to say about how to improve things.” My first day there the administrators sent me to the infant center to have the pediatrician give me a tour. When I explained to him that I wanted to understand how things work so I can write a report for the ministry he insisted on taking me on a full tour of the entire orphanage, so I could give a complete report. And I have to say, I shouldn’t have been worried about having recommendations for improvement. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, the orphanage does a lot of good and the living conditions for the kids there aren’t awful, but it was easy to see how much better off things could be if certain changes were made. Honestly I have to give most of the credit to the pediatrician himself. He was very thorough about making sure I saw everything and understood the problems they have. He took me to every department of the orphanage, explained how everything works, and gave me the opportunity to speak with the employees and ask them about what they do and what problems they may face in accomplishing their jobs. I suppose it would be easy for a sceptic to say that he saw me as a government official and so put on a good show for me, but I felt like he genuinely cares for and is concerned about the children and employees and wants to help them to the best of his ability. Some of the biggest concerns include a lack of qualified care-givers to look after the kids and a lack of needed medical supplies. The center has around 150 kids ranging in age from infancy to 13 or so. The infants are kept in a separate department where three crews of care-givers look after them 24/7. Each care-giver has to look after 8-12 infants at a time. Can you imagine that? At about three years old, if no one has adopted them yet, the infants get moved into the “family houses.” The family houses are basically normal apartments there at the center where an employee, a “mother,” looks after a household of 10-12 children. Each mother is assisted by another employee who is in charge of cleaning up, which frees the mother up to deal with the kids. Each mother’s shift is a week long, but often they have a hard time getting their replacement to show up, so their shifts often go longer than that. The cleaning assistant employees have things pretty rough themselves. Their work includes a lot of physically demanding labor and their pay is really low. They don’t get weekends or holidays off. Many of them have children of their own, but they center doesn’t offer them childcare so they have to pay for outside childcare from their meager salaries. Anyway, these are just some of the main points I plan to include in my report. I hope something good actually comes from it. But seriously, can you imagine spending a week looking after 10 kids between the ages of 4-9? I know how overwhelming things got for my own mother, and there are only 8 of us, and usually there were older kids who could help out with the younger ones. I get tired just thinking about it.
For the rest of the week I worked with the other interns in putting together fun, semi-educational activities for the kids. I really enjoyed working with the kids, but sometimes it was pretty heartbreaking and discouraging. There are classrooms at the center for the kids but many of them are still not very well educated. Hardly any of them knew how to even write their names, including some of the ten and eleven year-olds. Many of them have behavioral problems. I have a good amount of experience working with kids and have something of an idea of how to maintain a semblance of discipline with them, but I had a harder time with these kids. My inabilities in the language are probably part of that, but even with the kids at Waqe3 I had an easier time (in case anyone is wondering though, the phenomenon of having to tell a child to “come here” about 20,000 times before they’ll actually listen appears to be cross-cultural. That’s one Arabic command I have down pat. And I’m getting pretty good at “don’t hit each other” and “say you’re sorry”). Despite the frustrations, I am hoping I can get my supervisors at the ministry to let me continue working there. I would rather spend my days working with these kids than sitting in an office in front of a computer. One of the administrators at Al-Hussein said, and I agree with her, that many of the kids need positive male role models. Almost all the employees at the center are women. I won’t delude myself into thinking that I can be some superhero come to the rescue of these kids, but I hope that some act of kindness and guidance can make even a small positive impact. My first day, a little girl named Sarah came into the office I happened to be in. I tried to get her to say hi to me, but all she did was stare back at me expressionlessly. When she left the administrator explained to me that she is always very quiet around men because her father was very cruel to her and used to burn her before she was taken to the center (and the scars from that were clearly evident on her arms and neck). I think a lot of the kids at Al-Hussein have similar sorts of backgrounds. Again, I don’t know how much I can do for them, despite the overwhelming feeling I have that something must be done. But I would like to think that kindness can be just as powerful as cruelty. And while I still haven’t been able to get Sarah to say a single word to me, I have been able to get her to smile and yesterday after drawing a picture she brought it over and showed it to me. Let’s hope I get more opportunities to show kindness to these kids.
Inside one of the amphitheaters at Jerash. I didn’t touch up this photo at all. This was just the natural colors and lighting.
Once again, I had more I was gonna say, but I’ll leave it here for now. الله معكم