Help keep Sudanese & Somalis in Jordan warm this winter
There are hundreds of Sudanese and Somali refugees in Amman about to face the coldest winter in Jordan in 100 years. Please help us provide blankets, heaters, and gas to help them this season.
I was surprised to receive an email yesterday from fellow Princeton alumni Zayn Siddique ‘11. He came to Jordan on Fulbright two years ago and was one of the first guys who started JRS’ English classes for the Sudanese community in Amman. When he and a few other former teachers read my last article, they decided to raise money to buy winter supplies for the Sudanese and Somali refugees. Of course we need long-term policy solutions, but Zayn and co. wanted to help directly just for this winter, just for these people they know and love, just so they won’t be cold.
Mohameddain and I skyped Zayn together in Ashrafiyeh last night. He told us, “We already have over 1/3 of our goal. Just help coordinate how to actually buy and distribute the supplies, since you know who’s there and most in need.” After class, I shared this link via Facebook and email and went to bed.
One of the Sudanese guys asked me during our interviews, “Why are you writing this? How is your story going to change anything?” I told him inshallah it would make people notice, maybe care, perhaps spark a policy change, I don’t know, I just hope. Even then I couldn’t quite meet his eyes, afraid to make promises of change that wouldn’t happen.
This morning I woke up to find that our $1500 goal had already been exceeded! I cried. I am moved because I didn’t expect how many people would respond to this piece, how someone on the other side of the world might take action, and then how quick and kind and generous so many others would be to give.
I’ve struggled often with loneliness here, especially over Thanksgiving last week, and the refugee community became my family here when I most needed it. They understand what it’s like to feel alone and far from home - only they can’t just count down to Christmas like I am. They stay here, somehow with so much more strength and graciousness than I. My greatest wish this Christmas was that these friends of mine would not go cold.
A few volunteers and I are going to help Mohameddain coordinate the purchase and distribution of supplies next week. I’m still astonished, amazed, thankful - please continue to give. Thank you. It means the world.
5:53 am • 3 December 2013 • 3 notes
It’s 5 a.m. and I just snapped awake in the dark.
I dreamed I was standing back in my old bedroom in Shanghai. My little sisters Victoria and Andrea were there, and I knew we were revisiting an old memory from my childhood. There was a big tub in the middle of our room with three hamsters inside. One was fat, bulging, a few times larger than the others. We had just fed them but this one was meaner than the others.
"Look," I said to Victoria and Andrea, "I hate this one. It’s so mean. It won’t let the others eat anything."
There was a smaller hamster trying to get some food, but the larger one kept pushing and shoving it aside. Small Hamster grew bruised, turning green and purple and blue, first frail and then crushed, smashed and crumbled on the side. Meanwhile Big Hamster was snarling and snuffling, shoveling mouthfuls of sugar into its mouth. Half the tub was filled with a mountain of sugar, but no one could get any except Big Hamster. It didn’t even swallow one mouthful before stuffing in another.
My older sister came into the room and stood by us. We watched, disgusted, but she didn’t seem to remember what was going on. We were so mesmerized by Big Hamster stuffing himself, cruelly, unstopping, we didn’t notice when the tub disappeared and water started swirling into the room. All I saw was the hamster chomping, gorging, swelling bigger and bigger. At some point the small hamsters disappeared and I knew Big Hamster had swallowed them whole, crunching their bones with sugar, not even noticing.
"Jie, you don’t remember this?" I kept saying to my sister. The water started swirling in rhythm with the hamster’s crunches, swoosh, swoosh, one, two, three -
Something was in it.
A second passed, Hamster chomped into a frenzy and then, SNAP
A shark flashed out of the water, jaws wide
Victoria flinched, Andrea yelped
I stood and watched
The shark’s eyes were wild, whites rolling
It ate the Big Hamster whole, flipping back into the water, gliding in circles in rhythm as it crunched,
blood dripping from between its teeth, spiderwebbing into the water
"I remember this! You don’t remember??"
Suddenly the door to my bedroom opens. We look outside and see the water start flooding into our house. We are standing in water up to my waist. Christine says, “The furniture is going to be damaged! Call Mom and Dad.” I’m thinking, That small hamster was swallowed whole. I wonder if it even knew what happened. I wonder if it’s still alive.
I snapped awake and I’m crying. I have Arafat’s face in my mind. Arafat is the silliest student in my literacy class. He’s maybe 40 years old, wears these wiry glasses that make his eyes bulge out too big for his mousy frame. I call him mushkelji in my class, troublemaker, because he is forever making abrupt jokes through our grammar and phonics attempts, yelling things about “welcome to Jordan” and this morning’s falafel and whatever else.
Arafat is from Somalia. He works every day outside of Amman at a university cafeteria. He doesn’t originally speak Arabic or English, but is so smart, learns so fast, and has the best sense of humor. He wore peach colored gloves last night. They were awkwardly knit and oddly colored, a bizarre clash with his usual puffy blue sports jacket. I noticed as we were collecting tests. It’s probably just whatever he could get from charities, I thought. At least he has gloves.
Last week I wrote a story about Sudanese refugees in Amman. I went to visit them in their homes. Many of them live just 10 minutes’ walk from me, 10 minutes from Rainbow Street, the trendiest area where all Amman’s hip young kids come to smoke shisha and harass girls. There are neon lights, big TV screens playing pre-World Cup games, organic tea bars that look like they dropped straight out of California.
i visited my friends, who crowded, 34 men in one room crouched on the floor, telling me they all sleep there, sharing the rent. The newest one came two days ago, the oldest two years. I notice that one man’s shins are thinner than my forearms. There are little cockroaches crawling across the walls. I try not to react.
"We eat only lentils or beans every day," my student tells me. His grin is so broad and genuine. I’m nodding, taking notes, writing things they say.
"We all lived in camps. Darfur. But things are bad there."
I nod, professional, journalistic.
"Our families? Maybe we can talk to them every one or two months. But it is expensive and there’s no electricity over there sometimes."
One grown man starts trembling when I ask about his family. He clutches a bed sheet over his head, stares at the floor.
"Some of us don’t have, we lost them," my student cuts in, gently. Explaining.
Oh, I see, I see, I take notes. More notes. How many of you have had a family member die?
Everyone raises their hands. I look them in the eyes.
I went to Beirut this weekend to renew my visa. I couldn’t stop thinking the whole time that I live in the safest safest world. I couldn’t stop thinking, I am here I can go to this beautiful farmer’s market, buy sugar free gluten free maamoul biscotti and organic homemade fig jam, I can drink gins and tonics and compare the mezze at cafes here to mezze back in Jordan, I can go to the seaside and order fresh grilled fish, and a man will carry bottled water to me on a tray -
On the last day I’m with Swedish friends, drinking coffee and lounging at a Lebanese mezze brunch. The spread is abundant, I am feeling so full. A beggar child, maybe Syrian, comes by asking for money. He comes three or four times. We reason with him, Habibi, we can’t give you money. The same reasoning comes up, same as always, he probably belongs to a beggar gang lord, money won’t go to him anyway, OK how about we give him some bread? We give a thin piece of bread. He scampers away, but passes again two minutes later, scarfing it down, flicking grimy hair out of his face and then brushing the crumbs away
"See? He’s hungry." Manar, my Lebanese-Swedish friend says.
I nod. Swallow. Nod again.
Last night we were practicing sight words, so we played this “stand up-sit down” game. Like, stand up if you have a sister. OK sit down! Stand up if you were on time today. OK sit down! Stand up if you’ve lived in more than two countries. Three countries. Four?
Two people stayed standing longest, Arafat and Hassan, my Iraqi friend whose family has become like my own here. Arafat had five countries, Hassan had six! They name them: Somalia, Chad, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan…
Ha but in the end Alison asks “Alice, how many countries have you lived in?” I count a few months as living, so I say America, China, Taiwan, England, Morocco, Oman, Jordan - seven countries. Ana fa’iza. I win.
On the bus home the Sudanese are shivering. They’re rowdy, yelling, “Man it’s cold! It’s so cold!” It’s not like this in Sudan, huh? I ask. Ha ha ha ha ha sister no, Sudan is desert!
Ah but Sudan is also forest and mountain and waterfall, I’ve seen it! I saw pictures at Ustaz Yusuf’s house, when my other student invited me to lunch with his family, cooked Sudanese asida and told me his and his wife’s whole story about moving Sudan to Kuwait to Iraq to Jordan to Sudan again and then here. He just had a feeling when he first saw her, Yusuf says, hand on his heart, chuckling. “My heart! It went so fast!” Love at first sight, that’s what we call it in English. She laughs. “You just wanted me to do housework for you, huh?” But there is affection in her eyes.
Sudan’s government took the money Yusuf left behind in Kuwait when Saddam invaded, and then didn’t give it to him. When he asked for more than the 8,000 out of 200,000 USD they’d taken, they threw him in jail. Torture, 3 weeks.
Was this a long time ago?
"No, this year, during Ramadan."
Yusuf is 55 years old, almost my father’s age.
He’s almost my father’s age
You’re not supposed to be tortured then
I was running around Oman during Ramadan, learning cultural exchangey things, Instagramming the desert, watching baby sea turtles hatching on the beach
You’re not supposed to be tortured. Yusuf!
You’re not supposed to be tortured then.
I wake up with Arafat’s face flashing in my mind and I’m thinking, He moved so many times because no one wants him, he’s always been cold, he’s so friendly, sings beautiful Somali songs, he’s the jolliest silliest best but he moved because he never had a home
I’m remembering last night on the bus, asking my friends, You don’t have blankets, right?
They laugh, “Sister, no.”
I rant on the walk back home to my Syrian friend. I want them to have blankets. I’m so cold. I’m so cold but I have friends waiting for me at home. It’s my neighbor’s birthday and we’ll have tabbouleh and mushroom soup. Then I put on Princeton sweats and snuggle in my bed, it’s four times larger than me. I’m ranting to this Syrian girl. “You know there isn’t winter like this in Sudan? You know they’re not used to the cold. You know I met a family with four kids, all under age 2, their mom was pregnant. Her baby’s coming in 3 months but the air in their room is moist and water is dripping from the ceiling.”
They need blankets, I think.
The babies are going to be sick, I say.
Maybe I can just buy blankets? But I don’t even have enough to buy blankets for half the men I interviewed, let alone all the families in Amman, let alone the Somalis too, let alone the Palestinians in the camps where open sewage runs in the streets, let alone the Syrians who are sprinting over the borders before they starve, just to come here and be hated except when they find people they can tell stories to.
I just listen
I take a lot of notes.
I listen to people tell me that their brothers were stabbed in the gut,
or they watched their homes explode,
or they left their mothers behind
"I don’t call her every day because I don’t like to hear her cry," Hamzah shrugs, adjusting his hipster beret. We’re sitting on the floor at a mutual friend’s party. He’s my 23 year-old Syrian friend, the goofiest kid I know, so witty and immediately lovable.
He ran across the Syrian border, dropping to his stomach to crawl every few hundred meters. I overheard my friend Taylor talking to our teacher-volunteer-coordinator last week, saying Hamzah has been missing class, but it’s not because he doesn’t want to teach. He’s just low on funds again, can’t quite scrape together the taxi money but would never ask for help.
"Of course I’ll still call though, just because. I might not hear her again."
Macklemore starts pounding in the background. It’s Thrift Shop. “Oh shit, I love this song, yallah!” The conversation is cut. We jump up, join the crowd, sing along and laugh and dance.
I haven’t been talking to people much because I don’t know what to say. I take notes, write things down, and I don’t know how to think. They must have built up because my dream snapped me awake, crying, thinking God. God.
I want the sharks to go away. I want the blood to stop swirling. It’s flowery swirly spiraly through the water that’s about to flood our lungs.
I want the Big Hamster to stop swallowing. I want the baby hamster to live.
I want to blanket the world, God I don’t want my friends to be cold
I want this to be a dream
I want to wake up
all I do is take notes!
crying is so useless
I don’t want them to be cold.
*Some names changed.
10:39 pm • 18 November 2013 • 5 notes