Friday, December 19, 2008

Whatever You Do Unto the Least of Them: Reflections on Mukhayyim Zarqa (Zarqa Refugee Camp)...

So yesterday I was afforded the unbelievably moving experience of going to deliver Christmas food boxes collected by the Bean's KG to the Zarqa Palestinian Refugee Camp. Unlike my previous experience with refugee camps, I was actually able to go inside and visit briefly with the residents of the camp. For all those who doubt that there are people in Jordan living on practically nothing every day, I invite you to spend some time in one of these places.

We began our visit at the Nadi Ittifil operated by a Christian organization. The Club provides after school activities including support learning English, opportunity to play in a safer environment than the streets, computer classes, etc. Basically they find ways to build skills and give the kids new experiences. Sadly, they have found that among the kids up to age 12 typically their English education has not been as well retained as one would hope. On average they know two letters of the English alphabet (A and B).

During the course of one of their special events in the camp, they had children come who started talking and discovered they were Christian. Prior to that, the assumption had been that there really weren't any Christians in the camp. They discovered that there are ten Christian families in the Zarqa camp. Here's a lesson in assumptions, I suppose. And, to all those who erroneously believe that there are no poor Christians in Jordan, I assure you that this is not the case.

After visiting for a few minutes with the ladies who run the club, we began to visit some families and distribute food. These people were kind enough to invite us into their homes and their families to help us understand their situation better. Without exception, their surroundings were meager. Actually, that's an understatement, but I don't have the words to adequately express their living conditions.

In the first house we visited, we sat in the living room with the family. It was basically an outdoor walkway that had been roofed to make it a living room. The roof was incomplete with large gaps from section to section. It had holes everywhere and I fear for their health come the cold rainy days that mark Jordan's winter. Yesterday was quite warm and the room was rather cold. As far as we could see, there was no soba, definitely no central heat, no real way to stay warm. We did not see the bedrooms or kitchen in this house, but it was clear that the entire house would fit quite comfortably in your average West Amman salon. The space was small and family not. From what I understood (knowing that my Arabic is limited), the family is a family of 6. The mother was there to speak with us and explained that she had been working, but the job ended and she was unable to find another. For those who are thinking she's probably picky and doesn't want to work, she's been looking for some sort of work where she can prepare coffee and tea, serve it, be a general office gal, whatever. She isn't asking for much, but nothing is coming. Her son was also home, he looked to be about 12. I worry about the circumstances that have him out of school. I fear that he helps around the house instead of getting an education, which could be his only ticket out of those surroundings.

The next two families we visited (also Christian), consisted of an elderly woman too old to effectively work (and even to see very well in one case) and a man who is too ill to work. Each lived in an apartment that would fit inside a small West Amman bedroom. The apartment consisted of a bedroom (complete with mattresses on the cold floor), a kitchen which was actually simply a hot plate in the entry "hall" (big enough for two people to stand immediately next to each other) and I assume a small bathroom although we didn't see any. The second of these two next door neighbors was an elderly woman who was taking care of her son. He was clearly both ill and mentally challenged. They lack the money to buy the medications he needs every month and his illness appeared to be of the chronic variety.

The family that tugged hardest on my heartstrings was the last one we visited. The young woman is ill and has 6 children. We met the youngest four who range in age from 1 to 4. I understood them to say that 10 people live in the home which consisted of a single room, with a large kitchen bare of everything except a stove and a refrigerator. The only sink was in the walkway from outside. This family lives on the second floor and the stairway up to their house was precarious and terribly dangerous. The stairs are steep, the wood on one of the steps has broken and only half is left barely managing to hold on. Most of the steps wobble as you make your way up them and the handrail is fused into the wall making it difficult to grip. Their all-purpose room (living, sleeping, etc.) was the cosiest of the families we visited, but I can't imagine how they can fit so many people into such a limited space.

The conditions that these families are living in are heart breaking. They remind me how blessed I am. They also help me remember the lessons that my children need to learn. It is far too easy when brought up surrounded by the trappings of wealth (and even middle class is wealthy compared to these brave souls) to not understand that there are many people in this life who don't have what we do. I was brought up in much more modest surroundings than I live in now, with a single mom doing her best to get by. And yet, I never experienced the kind of soul destroying poverty that these people live with every day. This visit was a call to remember to share our blessings, to find ways to make a difference, and to support the work of organizations like this one that put so much of their heart and soul into being with these communities. I challenge each of you to remember as well the blessings you have. However little it may be, it is certainly more than these families whose dreams likely don't even include Internet access. Together we must create opportunities to help these families. We must find ways to better their lives. We must remember that all of us are in this together... And at this blessed time of year, I am so proud that my kids' school spent some time focusing on helping those in need. Providing toys, clothing, and food to these people who know such need. Understanding that it isn't about religion, it's not about nationality, it's about humanity.

For as Christ reminds us:

" For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you cam to visit me. Then the righteous answered him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in
prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Thank you, God, for those who find their calling in clothing the needy, feeding the hungry, and visiting the prisoners. I know that You will reward them and use them as a calling to each of us.

Happy Opportunities!


At 2:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

MB, thank you for taking me/us on this tour with you. Very sobering as my mind is filled with 'stuff' that seems inconsequential when poverty like this is facing so many families.

Thank God for those who are willing not just to know, but to follow Christ's teachings as we celebrate His birth.

Little tear falls.

At 5:18 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

I do find it very difficult when visiting poverty stricken homes. How do these people feel when visitors, especially foreigners, come and see how they live? And having to show that they are not successful in their lives to strangers. It seems to be such an intrusion. I think the Zerqa camp is a place of little hope and without hope what are we?

It is a salutory lesson to all to see how so many people live. T

At 9:27 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

T, I totally agree. All of us felt a bit uneasy at first and yet the women were so open, so welcoming. What they had, they were happy to share with us. Fortunately, they didn't feel the need to entertain or provide material things. They were a blessing to me. And, I agree that hope seemed to be limited, a reality in their lives that I hope we can change.

Kinz, I agree once the basics are covered the inconsequentials take over don't they? Seeing others' lives helps remind us how unimportant it really is...

At 11:26 AM , Blogger UmmFarouq said...

Trappings of wealth, indeed.

Today I was just thinking how bummed I am that I've been married this long and never have had a dining room "set."

Boo hoo. Believe me, I know exactly how you feel. It is overwhelming, eye-opening, and a reminder we need to show ourselves and our kids "bil istimraar," not just once in a blue moon. Thanks for this heartfelt post, and you also reminded me it's time for me to start another project.

Much love.

At 12:09 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Umm Farouq, I was thinking of you ladies and the good you do monthly while visiting with these folks. Isn't it funny how quickly you fall into the culture of consumerism wherever you are?


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