Near Jerash Camp, this scenery is pervasive – and absolutely beautiful.
Rania rapped with confidence – in Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinian. She spoke of prisons, living proudly as a Palestinian woman, and the mixed life of being a refugee.
Mohsen proclaimed we would be playing “musical chairs” – a game I vaguely remember as a child but can instantly recognize how it made me feel by the excited faces upon its mention.
Shams still wanted to learn – she even wanted to teach others the little English I had written on the board. I, My; He, his; She, hers; They, theirs; We, ours. When I asked them about their most valued possession to put it in a sentence, everyone responded in delectable dishes:
I smiled, thinking, “We’re all hungry, aren’t we?”
Soon, food would arrive on a large plate. I asked one of the staff members who had traveled with us throughout the camp to eat with us. He held the fork above his private plate with unsteady hands, nervous almost. It seemed unnatural to him to be eating amongst us. I dug straight from the larger plate upon noticing and he quickly followed suit.
This was at Jerash “Gaza” camp in Jordan. I went there with a foundation – unnamed for security reasons – which is funded by one of the wealthier families of Jordan, especially compared to the refugees in the camp. It costs 1 dinar ($1.5) to go there from Amman, the city, if you’re okay with sitting in a crowded minibus. That’s 54.4 km (or 33.8 miles). But our Ford was parked downstairs in a camp devoid of infrastructure as apparent by the houses loosely built. (I scrapped my hand against one, finding that the blocks started almost breaking, its surface falling apart. If you had enough time, you could make a hole in the house by the force of your fingers.)
When we arrived, boys and girls were crowded awaiting a teaching session by a British intern. They learned about the possessive form and found extreme joy in playing hangman. I was asked to lead the older group shortly and to ensure they were able to introduce themselves and their dreams in English. “Aseel wants to be a doctor.” I made each girl introduce the one next to her. Shyly, and with a smile so innocent and kind, each did so, sometimes revealing the nickname of the other. “Shabasheebo wants to be a rapper.” We laughed loudly because shabasheebo translates to flip-flops.
The staff pushed us to end for the groups to return home and for us to make rounds in the camp. We entered houses with roofs made of toxic, cancerous material (sprayed zinc) needing replacement. Bathrooms, kitchens, and bedrooms layered with this material. In one house, separated into two bedrooms, one made with an aluminum rooftop and the other made with the toxic material, the air smelt different – almost deathly. Your chest clenched and breathing became uneasy. This is their house. This is their land. An area of 0.75 square kilometers for more than 29,000 people.
In the Gaza camp, at least one child dies every month because of the lack of infrastructure. Playing in the street, living out childhood, a child is easily hit and run over. In the camp, without a governmental ID number, people are unable to attain assistance – Palestinians who needed to flee not only once but sometimes twice, in 1948 and then again in 1967. The wars still fresh in minds.
Before we left, I asked one of the staff members what was the best way to raise awareness about the camp. She said, “To promote that life here is not like what most people expect it to be. People are working to implement community programs, people want to make our situation better. Our dreams are just restricted.” In a world where crises never end – Palestine, Iraq, then Syria – Jerash has become almost forgotten.
Our team leaves in the air-conditioned Ford that cruises through the camp, garnering the looks of the inhabitants. In my head, I could still hear the wheezing child in one of the houses.
If you’re interested in donating or helping people in Jerash, I would recommend reaching out to the UNRWA or Greening the Camps. More support for local organizations such as the latter. Links below.
Greening the Camps: http://greeningthecamps.com/portfolio_page/jerash-camp/