Today Mahmoud and I are visiting Our Lady of Peace again. The patients we spoke to a week ago are coming back for the next phase of their prosthesis and I’m going to conduct follow-up interviews with them. I couldn’t be less nervous about these interviews than I was a week ago. In addition to having six interviews with refugees under my belt, simply being in Jordan for nine days has made my anxieties about standing out or being privileged so repetitive and boring that they no longer register.
When we reach the prosthetics center Maher and the team are busy preparing the patients' new legs. Work surfaces are littered with plaster casts, plastic foot casings and half-sanded, half-sculpted and half-screwed-in pieces of artificial legs. To add to the frenzy, a huge school group enters the shop room, all dressed in neon green t-shirts. Mahmoud tells me they’re from a middle school in the West Bank who have come here on a service trip. It’s noble in a way, but Amman seems like a long way to go for a service trip when there’s so much to be done in the West Bank itself, thinks the American. They crowd around the same metal shelf that Maher showed me, taking up most of the room. By a cruel coincidence, the patients arrive at the same time that the students are filing out of the room, and so the patients have to wheel themselves past a gallery of ogling teenagers. Only two of the patients, Mohammad and Ahmad, were able to show up today. Moneer, the 28-year-old, couldn’t come due to unspecified “security reasons”. Mohammad and Ahmad enter the fitting room and Mahmoud and I follow to conduct our interviews.
Mohammad is getting measured first, so we interview Ahmad. He seems significantly happier than the last time we saw him. He actually smiles this time, and he is more relaxed, which is probably partly due to my being far more relaxed. Mahmoud and I ask him how life has been at the Ramtha hospital. He says that things are good, that he’s comfortable and he’s been given time to relax. He has friends at Ramtha who he says are “like brothers,” and that he spends most of his time with. He also speaks to his family daily. He’s the youngest of 15 – 8 brothers and 7 sisters. Everyone in his family is safe and uninjured from the war except for himself. In addition to socializing, Ahmad spends the rest of his time at the Ramtha hospital doing physical therapy. His doctor told him that he’s made the best progress of all of the patients. He says he does extra exercises on his own time. Even though his situation is beyond many people’s worst nightmares, Ahmad, at 19, has managed to keep his mood up by focusing on his improvements, however small. Mahmoud and I press him for anything negative, anything that he wants help with, and we get nothing. As you may have noticed, it doesn’t take much to get me to complain about something.
Next we interview Mohammad. He still has his teenager spunk. Today he’s wearing a backwards Miami baseball hat. He also reports satisfaction with life at the Ramtha Hospital. When we press him for his living conditions, he tells us he’s living in a large room with three to five other men. But he says it’s comfortable. He spends times with friends he made before the war; he likes to go outside and smoke with them. He is also in daily contact with his family. He has three brothers and three sisters, and one of his sisters just had a baby girl. However, Mohammad’s father was killed a year and a half ago. He says his physical therapy is going well. He is also praying regularly, which is the “best thing for [him]”. When I reach the end of my questions and struggle to think of new ones Mohammad grabs the opportunity and speeds outside to smoke a cigarette. Interview over, I guess.
Mohammad and Ahmad depart. I’m much happier with these interviews than their predecessors. Our Lady of Peace feels familiar now as well. And although I can’t communicate much with the staff here beyond nods and smiles, there’s still something nice about it. Not that nice though, because when Mahmoud tells me he’s leaving to get everyone lunch I immediately insist that I come with him. We’re going with Majed, the trainee that I’ve spent the least time with. Majed is a young, scrawny Syrian man with a permanent cocksure smile on his face. His movements are almost stoner-esque. We follow him out to his car, past the line of students repainting the chapel. Majed’s brother is sitting in the passenger seat of the car. Whereas Majed is scrawny, his brother is emaciated. I go to shake his hand, and he lifts a limp half-fist that I awkwardly grab a hold of and move up and down. I realize that Majed’s brother suffers from a serious medical problem. Majed gets a wheelchair out of his trunk and brings it over to the passenger door. He lifts his brother into the chair and wheels him over to the prosthetics center. I wonder what it would be like to do that with my sister.
Majed returns in a few minutes and we drive off to buy lunch. On the way, Mahmoud suggests that we interview Majed like we did Husom and Khalid. Majed agrees to it, so I pull out my notebook. Majed is 27 years old. Before the war, he was working in Lebanon, mostly at restaurants making shawarma and khabbab, which are the middle eastern equivalents of burgers and hotdogs. Once the war began, he returned to Hummus, his hometown in Syria. I ask him if the food hummus comes from Hummus and he just laughs and gives me a high five. After some research (days later) I discover that there is no town or village in Syria called Hummus. The closest thing phonetically is the Homs governorate or the Homs district inside of the governorate. Given that Homs is the largest governorate in Syria, that it borders Lebanon and given its phonetic affinity to “hummus,” that’s probably where Majed is from. Incidentally, it is quite possible that hummus comes from the geographical region that is now the Homs governorate.
Regardless, after the war began Majed traveled home to be with his family. He is one of eight brothers. Soon after he returned the brother I met was injured in the war, leaving him in the condition I saw him in. Majed’s family lived in Syria for three more months, but life there became increasingly intolerable, they left for Jordan together. While his brother was receiving treatment at a Jordanian hospital, Majed heard about ADT, so he signed on as a trainee. Today, Majed is continuing his work with ADT and caring for his brother. His family is spread out now. His father is in Lebanon, and he has brothers in Turkey and Syria as well as Jordan. Majed wants to return to Syria one day to work professionally in prosthetics and orthotics.
We reach the restaurant we’re buying lunch from. It’s a shawarma restaurant. Behind the counter stands a three foot high conical mass of seasoned chicken meat, slowly rotating past a vertical heated surface and oozing juices. An unfortunate, sweaty employee stands by it, continually carving off thin slices. To his right another man collects these slices and places them inside of pita wraps with some cheese and throws the wraps on a grill. Watching them reminds me the time I worked at a hotdog stand in New York City, grilling buns over a similar grill in 100+ degree heat. I am deeply grateful that my current job is writing.
Mahmoud places the order and they set out eleven styrofoam box. Along with the shawarma wraps, the boxes are filled with pickled vegetables, cumin covered french fries and their homemade mayonnaise. The boxes are stuffed into four bulging bags. “This is good shawarma,” Mahmoud tells me, “It’s perfect,” as he takes a few preemptive french fries from a bag.
We get back to Our Lady of Peace and distribute the shawarma. Mahmoud settles down to eat at Maher’s smoking spot and I join him. The shawarma, being loaded with meat, cheese and lots of grease, is indeed perfect. Mahmoud reaches into his bag and pulls out a fat, green pickled pepper. He holds it before me. “Be careful, very spicy”. I’ve heard this warning before, but Mahmoud really seems to mean it this time. I leave my own pepper to the side, not wanting to damage my palate before enjoying the shawarma. I save one piece of shawarma before going for the pepper, in case I need something to dampen the heat. Mahmoud calls the trainees over as I’m about to eat the pepper. They’re highly interested and amused. Khalid eggs me on while Banya waves her finger and urges me to not eat it. I pop the whole thing in my mouth, which is good because it’s filled with juices that would have spilled all over me if I’d bit it partway. Now, I like spicy food, and I have a pretty high tolerance for spiciness, but that’s not the only flavour going on in this pepper. If you’ve ever been swimming in the Atlantic and been hit by a wave or something, causing you to get a big, unwelcome mouthful of seawater, then that will give you an idea of what this pepper tastes like if you just add to that a good dumping of cayenne. It’s disgusting, which my face must have betrayed because Mahmoud and the OLP staff burst out laughing. It seems I’ve made a rite of passage, however, and Khalid gives me an approving nod. Mahmoud offers me his pepper and I kindly refuse.
Mahmoud and I depart from the prosthetics center. We drive to a part of Amman that’s new for me to meet up with Akram and the General. We arrive at an apartment building with a flatbed full of busted furniture parked in front of it. Akram and the General arrive and they and Mahmoud speak to a couple of men hanging out by the truck. I hope that this isn’t the furniture they’re getting for the new center. We all head inside the building and cram ourselves, six adult men in total, into a pretty small elevator and ride it up one floor. Down the hallway we enter into an apartment that’s been converted into some of electronics storage facility or mausoleum. The whole space if flooded with partially dissected printers, computers and televisions. What’s truly astounding is that nothing is labeled, so who knows how they find anything. We gather inside of the one small clearing of empty floor. Akram and the General negotiate with the two men in Arabic while Mahmoud and I stare vacantly at a pile of transistors. Akram turns to me and fills me in. We’re here to buy computers for the Salaam center. The people here buy the computers that the US embassy and the UN ditch once the latest models are available, so you can get good computers here for a cheap price. Fortunately, this means that we’re not here to buy the busted furniture.
After the negotiations are complete, Akram, the General, Mahmoud and I drive back to ADT. As we step out of the elevator, there’s an odd sight to our left. Two workmen are jamming a pair of bathroom doors, complete with male and female stick figures, into the adjacent elevator. It looks like a geometrically impossible task to me, but they persist in the face of this adversity. This is the beginning of the renovations for the new center, which will come to dominate all of our activity at ADT for the following week.
Akram beckons us over into the new center to be. We open the door and walk into a thick cloud of white dust. Down the hallway there’s an ominous booming sound. We turn a corner and see a man with a sledgehammer smashing a huge hole in the bathroom wall. He’s pummeling at the center of an outline for a handicap-accessible threshold that’s been penciled onto the wall. I wonder how he’ll get at those straight edges and ninety-degree angles with a sledgehammer. The air is saturated with pulverized drywall, but no one seems bothered by it except me. Akram watches the sledgehammering eagerly as my ability to hold my breath is pushed to the limit. Finally, we leave the site and I retreat to my desk to get some writing and breathing done.
After an hour or so of writing, Akram shows up with Kinder chocolates that he drops on my desk. He plops down in the chair across from me and speaks to me about his plans for the new center, his philosophy on management, and maybe some of his philosophy on women too. Then he tells me that tomorrow night he will be meeting with Prince Ali bin Hussein. Prince Hassan is the brother of King Abdullah II. As a members of the Hashemite Dynasty, Ali and Abdullah alike are purportedly descendents, specifically 41st descendents, of the prophet Muhammad. In short, Prince Ali bin Hussein is a big deal. Akram also reveals to me that the prince will be attending the grand opening of the new center on August 22nd. I never thought I’d get to meet a descendent of Muhammad before this moment, but isn’t life full of surprises.
This blog is written by Sam Copeland, an intern with the Polus Center and Asia Development Training, about his time in Amman during the summer of 2017. It is meant to be read in a linear manner, so scroll down to the bottom and then go up for the full experience.