By Kelly Sweeney, Advocacy Chair
The morning is announced with the day’s first call to prayer. Making my way to the café to meet my ORU travel companions for breakfast, I take an elevator that would breach any United States safety standard. The students are enjoying a breakfast of hummus, pitas, and Turkish coffee. Sitting down to join them I realize the milk in my cereal is warm, and it serves to remind that cold beverages are an American-style custom. Two students chat in Spanish as the inn keeper bends his ear trying to discern what language it is. Today, we are going to M’fraq, Jordan in hopes of bringing basic supplies to Syrian refugees and hearing their stories. After some discussion, we break into groups. Each group gathers into one of the two vehicles and we begin our journey from Amman. Nobody wears seatbelts and ironically, no driver pays much attention to curbs or street lines. The ride is similar to a New York taxi cab, but the music is in Arabic with the trademark lyrical sound of an Islamic prayer set to a techno beat. After our arrival to the M’fraq mission, we go through a clothing check ensuring the inoffensiveness of our garments. This results in a few minutes of changing for some of the women, who are asked to change into long sleeves and high necked shirts. Our designated groups then pair with a translator and begin visiting homes. The following are four brief accounts of the changes and current lifestyles of Syrian refugees.
As the journey to M’fraq winds down, one of the local missionaries agrees to take us to the larger refugee camp. He is nervous as we draw close to the Syrian border and warns us to mind our camera. Police and their vehicles pepper the sides of the road. On the horizon hundreds of cinderblock houses emerge. Rooftops are made up of old, torn UN tents and people mill around. Two boys ride bikes on the dirt road leading from the camp. They stare at the van as we pass. Catching the eye of a roadside officer, our driver quickly turns around for the return trip to M’fraq, nervously saying today is not a good day to try and make it to the camp of over 100,000 Syrian refugees. Upon our arrival back, we meet the incoming group of volunteers for next week’s deliveries and visitations. Before taking my ride to the Amman airport from a local family, I make one last trip to the unfinished rooftop making up the building’s fourth floor. Looking across the city to the Syria, I think about the Jordanian bombers that flew and banked over the border leaving smoke plumes in the distance hours before.
During the hour ride to the airport, I process the interactions, cultural differences, and surprising similarity in human relations. Teenage girls gossip in texts, fathers take pride in their crafts and workmanship, grandmothers dote on their grandchildren and mothers brag on their children. Although many of us are divided by loyalties to societal standards and ideologies, schools of thought that conflict—the basic respect for humanity surrounding the refugees in Jordan is notable.
The UNA EO blog is a collective venture. The purpose of this blog is to highlight meaningful experiences had by Americans in Eastern Oklahoma as well as to promote diplomacy in our home state.