Ten and One Nights in Jordan

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DSC03716Today is exactly one month since I left Jordan. But everything is still bright, and even bulkier. Because the mind is always throws us this trick - when you're interested in something, then you meet the subject at every turn, it seems like the whole world screams about it and is related with it by thousands of invisible threads, or thick clear ropes. For a month I live under the pressure of news, talks, movies, articles, items, references to/about the Middle East. And my news now have bindings to my own experience and to the specific people, it gives a different perspective, a different perception of the topic. This in fact was the main point of the project, in which I happened to participate. The essence and value of such a study visit is to feel the position and state of refugees and migrants from the East, which are inclined to believe to be the wild hordes from the East, leading to the death of the West. Try to understand the new neighbors. Break some of my prejudices. See the ways to live together.  

 Why the EU finances such projects? 

I often encounter a lack of understanding of why the EU finances such projects. The EU in our case is Erasmus + program. Well, what is the purpose to give tens of thousands of euros in order for the representatives of public organizations from several countries, in our case, from the Netherlands, Germany, UK, Sweden, Greece, Estonia, Turkey, Morocco to go to see another country, exchange different experience with migrants and refugees, speculate on what you can do for the "bright future". Is not it better to give the money to some public organization, which would work directly with migrants and refugees? But these are different levels of tasks. Yes, organizations working with refugees are necessary to finance. But how to make those organizations that do not work with the refugees to get interested? How to motivate them to integrate refugees and migrants in their activities?DSC 0757 How to conduct extensive outreach activities in relation to "non-indigenous" and to overcome the prejudice and discrimination? How to promote the idea of ​​small organizations up - to the European bureaucracy, and on the other hand - how to promote the idea from ​​a pan-European meta-level to the "ordinary" people. Erasmus + seminars is one of the tools to meet these challenges. Through this program, we work with active NGOs in different European countries, giving a chance to understand complex problems, the ability to obtain the necessary contacts, experience, motivate - and, ultimately, get a change in the work of NGOs and the dissemination of ideas from person to person, gradually, step by step, we change public opinion and attitudes.


Who is the best? Where is the center of the world?

When you stand in the ancient Petra and see the dead layers of civilizations, one after another, somehow you feel different the essance of the world. Of course, we all know about the Mercator map. Of course, we are aware of some of the historical upheavals and remember where the cradle of the Abrahamic religions is. And of course, we see who, when and how intercepts the economic baton of our planet as poles of influence and power shift in this world. But knowing all this is one, and walk through the land of ancient civilizations of the past - is quite another. Such projects are very useful exercise for churning snobbery, for irritation of ones stereotypes, perceptions and habits. You suddenly feel a cultural layer of those who now live next door to you. You also feel that in this world money, fame, palaces and churches eventually are the blocks of stories. They do not save and protect the Egyptians, or the Assyrians, or Europeans. World Center is an unstable phenomenon. It roams. There will not be a single one.


Everyday life and civilizations

DSC 1112In Jordan, people like roofs. They do not have gardens on roofs, as in Morocco. I hear this garden story repeatedly from participants from Morocco and those who managed to visit them. There are few gardens in Jordan. Desert. Semi-desert. And a roof is comfortable to sit. It's on the roof that we have our evening classes. You look down at the evening bustle of the streets, which does not stop until 3 o'clock at downtown (Friday's concert ended exactly at 24.00, but after it the town was crowded as well). Or at a new moon on steep hills with cascading homes. Or at hawks, whom the compassionate proprietor bought on the illegal pet market and is growing to unleash. And here it is, the moment of cognitive dissonance - wrapped in hijab women, prayer rugs ... right outside the ancient walls of the six thousand places ancient Roman amphitheater. The current Amman evening social life is concentrated around these ruins. And the bright lights in the stuffy air merges with the calls to prayer from the minarets... These intersections of civilizations are everywhere. In Amman. In Madaba, where the early Christian church and the mosaics are the most visited archaeological sites. At the Mount Nebo, where Moses died after showing the promised land to his countrymen. In Petra, where at the same place you have Bedouin, Edom, Nabataean, Greek and Roman culture ... Change and layers of civilizations.


Radical individualism

I was always interested in Islam, was also fond of Turkish and Arabic tales, stories of the relationships between Europe and AsiaDSC 0384, I read Vostochnaya Kollektsiya[1], I associated a lot with friends and acquaintances from Islamic regions. Nevertheless I imagined the Arabic dimension quiet differently. Namely so, it was one-sided and more abstract, but it became many-sided and more real. It works always like that, the more you get to know a country, the more you have impressions and variations in your mind touching the country. I am being more inclined to 'radical individualism', i.e. national culture is just a part of a person, there are also the genes of ancestors, personal social experience and mass of identities. So, there is no any collection of absolute features for peoples, particularly for refugees, especially for Arabs. There is the eternal quantity of different variations. In a Jordanian family one sister wears Hijab, another one doesn't and engages on sports (Kung-Fu), in another Jordanian family one person works as a gigolo for tourist girls, another works for a social organization. Sitting together on the stairs of ancient Roman amphitheatre is a guy who has been creating a modern controversial street-art and a conservative family father.

In our modern time a country or a citizenship is not so important than a social group, as well as activities, personal experience, cognized values. If you ask to define a successful woman/man in your culture, the answer would be one. But if you ask, what does female/male success mean personally for you, the answer would be totally different. But sometimes, ephemeral collective vision could become a reality.


Let's play

DSC 1861Discussing in a group, what reaction would be typical in the case of a corrupted revenue inspector? The only 'No way' answer appeared in 'Western Europe' subgroup, with 'How much?'  in the 'Eastern Europe and the Balkans' -  But the reaction of 'Middle East' subgroup was surprising for me - 'We will appeal to the higher authorities'. Generally, there were interesting results of that game. Do you want to check yourself, what do you think about other different cultural groups and what do they think about themselves - let's try.

There are four groups: 'The Western Europe', 'the Eastern Europe', 'the Middle East' and 'the Magrib and Turkey'.

Let's try to say (better to write), what reaction will be in these four societies in the next situations:


1) A revenue inspector hints at some huge problems with your accounts and bookkeeping, but if you grease his palm, there won't be any problem.

2)  Your niece is going out tonight with unknown guys for you, and in your opinion she is dressed quiet wrong.

3) During an international youth training you find out that your roommate is a gay (for boys)/a lesbian (for girls).

4) You promised something, but you can't keep your promise.

5) The police prevents a mass-meeting (a protest), on which you have come.


Now you can check your guess-work. Here the answers, which we've got.






No way! Forget it!

How much?

Complain to higher authority


Let go, but discuss dress and give taxi money

First conflict, then advice, then let go

Not let her go, but invite guys to get to know them

Lock her

No action, don’t care

Don’t care till they don’t try it on us

Ask to change the room

No visible reaction, but internal discussion with sending organisation

Try to inform ASAP, apologize, try to find solution

Apologize, try to find alternative

Apologize and try to find solution

Apologize. Feel embarrassed

Private: go away. Call the police or lock them out

Oral conflict

To show they are wrong

Confront or try to explain or ignore

However, if you will be taking a decision about a person according to our results - read our previous part. And it is important to remember about many other traps of thinking and socio-psychological effects. We have been also guided by them while interpreting the results.


Syrians in Jordan

The world is very anxious about Syrian refugees in Europe. If you take a look at number of refugees in Turkey, Jordan, andDSC 0941Lebanon (just check up on Wikipedia that gives proper numbers), and your picture will change drastically. Most refugees stay in the region because of the same religion, much closer culture and everyday life. If they see no prospects there they flee to Europe. Just imagine the burden that lies on the neighboring countries of Syria taking into consideration their economics, population, etc.

The Syrians we met hope to return home. If the war ended most of them would rush back to Syria. They hope upon the political settlement of the conflict, as the reality has shown that power methods do not resolve it. In Auranitis Life Line, an NGO we visited, work mostly Syrians. Being in opposition to the official government and having been imprisoned for providing medical help to the victims of war, the director of this NGO fled Syria and settled in Jordan. He fled because he feared for his family’s safety. He refused to move to the USA because it is necessary to stay in the region to overcome the crisis. He and the like-minded people have a lot of humanitarian projects that they implement in Syria: from infrastructural ones (for schools and hospitals) to educational. One day the war will end, and it will be clear what kind of problem the whole uneducated generation is. Here you may watch the interview with him.

DSC 0537One of the participants of the project was a wonderful lady from Syria. She has three higher educations and adores children. She is a professional in pedagogics and psychology and is a professor of the University of Jordan. She fled Syria three years ago, and her family are scattered in different countries. Most of the family members she did not see for seven years. And this situation is still good. Many other families face death, pain, and tears. What saves her from depression? She works with children as a volunteer for NGOs. Here is Jadal Project, a small cozy café in the historical center of Amman, where we were every morning till the merciless afternoon Jordan sun turned us from the inner yard. This is a hipster place, a stylish one, with playbills of concerts and lectures on critical understanding of Islam, European volunteers and very tasty lunches. A place, where people appreciate public space and community. Earning money, a family of a local Syrian community cooked the lunch. A nice big-eyed girl in a black shawl helped her mother. She comes to Jadal several times a week to learn English. She is also going to take part in the children’s summer camp that Jadal is going to organize for the refugees’ children and the local kids.

We were not let in the field camp for refugees. It might be dangerous, but for whom?


Challenges and opportunities

Discussing in the group what challenges and opportunities provide the influx of migrants and refugees.

There is a thought that impressed me: migrants - are not unhappy, unable, not the people who have not been able to settle inDSC 0287 their homeland, in other words as ballast, but on the contrary – these people are bold, are not afraid to try something new, such people are primed for overcoming difficulties. And this energy should be used in the proper way.

Of course, during our training most of all we were talking about the work with refugees. Definitely our opinions were different from each other. There were many people in the group who had a strong experience. Someone in our group works like a consulting lawyer, someone works with the communities, someone works on the Turkish-Syrian border in the middle of the stream refugees and someone works with refugees in Morocco. Moreover we had students with little knowledge about the refugee problem. But for everyone the theme is close – due to work, friends, acquaintances, street.

The next day after the start of the training has happened Nice. And the day after that - a takeover attempt in Turkey. Well, and of course everyone asked the British colleagues about Brexit. And like it or not, all the situations were related to the refugees. Non-integration, non-socialization of migrants and refugees can be fertile ground for the increasing of the terrorist threat, flourishing of the crime and discrimination, for the strengthening of the xenophobic and right-wing radicalism in the society, for the emergence of radical nationalist groups, for the desire in an establishing the order. But the main danger is not so strong on the part of refugees, as in changes in the society - in its radicalization, polarization, tendency to the isolating of the objectionable people, regression towards the level of the division of people into friends and foes. However, I look through the notes from this seminar, and I see that many participants voiced the idea that refugees as a certain chance for the manifestation of humaneness, humanity. Participants talked about this for the establishing of these values in our society. Yes, perhaps, this chance of solidarity will take away something from overly high European standard of living to which people used to, but it will give more quality in other aspects of life - in a joy of diversity, energy and the zest for life, in the birth of new forms at the confluence of the old, the new dynamics, in the update as a whole.



And what do we have in our power?

DSC 0009Then we are thinking of the role of civil society in this whole story with migrants and refugees. There are several points on which we agreed. And it seems they have nothing fundamentally new - such things we can often hear from the European stand, but it is important that it is a consolidated opinion of the representatives of different countries and different organizations – a kind of common vision. And in fact these points – the criticism of the current situation - sore spots, pits, in which society and government broke down. This is an assessment of the situation and call for support from the side of the official institutions and for action on the part of society.

An interesting fact – sometimes it happens with very different countries when they evaluate in different ways the sphere of responsibility of the civil society. Participants from Germany declared that civil society - well, of course - should form the agenda, define vectors, adjust the activity of the government policy with regard to refugees. The "Eastern" unit is more concentrated on the local field work, distinguishing all the things about what the state should think and worry, but the state exactly must think most of all about their citizens.

But probably you are waiting for listing these points now. Here it is. Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda. That is to say - information, enlightenment, public education - the creation of a counterweight, alternative against fears, accusations, prejudices and discrimination. Show the positive examples, successful stories of local heroes. As from the number of migrants / refugees such as from the number of those who are actively working with them. The involvement of migrants and refugees as early as possible into social life through education, enlightenment and public organisations. We should not give them the time for (self-) isolation. Take them as volunteers, participants, members of different institutions, employees, do not turn away from them.

To explain the ways and options for everything in this life, to show the procedures and possible strategies, but we must makeDSC 1564 these options really available and less bureaucratic for people. For example, legislation differs greatly in various countries from each other regarding the opening of business. It is necessary to facilitate the ways to self-employment and self-sufficiency, to work with local communities and to correct the situation with the help of the technical ways, without leading up to the hostility between the neighbors. We need to work at the atmosphere of solidarity and cooperation within communities, between organizations. We must create conditions for people to meet each other, to communicate, to solve issues together. And of course, we need to hear people, recognize the problems, speak them up and jointly to look for solutions. 



Long ways

Almost all the participants were able to boast of  some adventures on the way to Amman. As to me and my colleague we had a long conversation with Jordanian border guards at the entrance from Israel. It was Jordanian Broken English. Maybe it was such a tactic to repeat the same questions for three times with the aim of catching on the discrepancy, whether it was real misunderstanding of what it means a social organization, and what for they must learn and interact with one another. But on theDSC04120 way back to my home I had already had many questions in Israeli airports because I had got a Jordanian visa in the passport. The customs officers had asked many questions about contacts, goals, and so on. No understanding. No trust. So the roads will be long.


I wish that some of them have led once again to Jordan.

I walk down the street. Someone tugged at my sleeve. I turned around. Cute girl about eight years old preserved with pronounces: "Welcome in Jordan". Apparently, she began to learn English at school. We shared a kind smile with her mom. I heard "Welcome in Jordan" five times a day from all kinds of people.

Elena Bobrovskaya

July 12 - 20, 2016