Terra incognita - in a somehow unfamiliar country


By Thomas Schwarz

Terra incognita - in a somehow unfamiliar country image 1
Breathtaking sunsets in the city: Amman calls it a day.

PHOTO: © 2012 CARE/Thomas Schwarz

It's impossible to be in Jordan and to pretend that there wouldn't be any other issue than the refugees. For sure, it is the most important, with which I have to do here. It is important enough, no doubt. The refugees from Syria are the reasons why I am here and not sitting on my desk back in Bonn, Germany. I am reading the English speaking papers here, like the Jordan Post. I watch TV: the English Program of Al Jazeera, BBC or CNN wherever they are available. I find a profusion of news, reports, interviews, blogs, assessments and many numbers, figures and data on the net. They are important for my work, too. Without them I wouldn't be able to class the refugee problem with the overall situation here.

I speak with many Jordanians and foreigners who are here, who are living or working here. The openness of the Jordanian people against foreigners is terrific. You can be in the smallest café, in a restaurant or even along a street while waiting for the next bus: there will always be a possibility to speak with them. Even without being able to understand Arabic or them understand my English or German, there is an interaction. Be it with the eyes, gestures or facial expression.

Yesterday evening I was in a book store, in the same building you have a café as well as a restaurant. You can sit inside our outside, with a great view to the seven jamals, the mountains of Amman, the capital of Jordan. You can chose if you like to eat something, doing your work with a Wi-Fi-connected computer or just have a freshly squeezed orange juice and enjoy your time. The books@café ist kind of a melting pot for local, regional or international guests. As the New York Times put it a couple of years back: Many of those Jordanians, who studied in the US or in Europe and then came back home again, wanted to find an environment similar to the places where they had studied. In books@café they find it. Here, in Jabal Amman you also find the Rainbow Street, which could be easily found also in Paris or Barcelona, Cologne or San Francisco. It is not comparable with the huge, up to six lane, noisy roads which lead across Amman. Instead, it is a hot spot tourists of any age and modern Jordanians. You will find the British Council here as well as the embassy of Saudi Arabia as well.

No refugees, nowhere - seemingly

The sun sets in Amman and around the city are breath taking, also while sitting on a terrace in the books@café. Compared to here, where the streets don't seem to have any flat plane, one could think, that even Hill Street in San Francisco would be one single plane surface. All that, the vibrant restaurants, cafés and the mixture of cultures, nationalities and languages, the permanent hooting of taxi horn to get new customers, all the diversity of races and religions - all that makes me believe that I am in the middle of a terra incognita, in a somehow unfamiliar country, I don't know much of. Nothing here reminds me on the refugee crisis, the drama of individuals as well as families, who were forced to flee their homes back in Syria. Its is not existent, seemingly.

But as soon as I scratch on the surface, everything comes back what played such an important role in the last days and weeks, and even months. I can hear - or someone translates it to me - how in the cafés and restaurants and other public places people talk about it. Yes, sure, they say, it's important to support the Syrians. How would it be the other way round, they add with a big question mark. They would "help us as well, that's for sure", they say. Murad, a young man from Amman, told me the other day how he collected money together with friends to buy food. Then they somehow delivered it to Syrian refugees. That was in August, when Ramadan had ended. "This is a duty for each and every Muslim," he explained to me. "Everyone must share what he or she has and give it to people who are poorer than your self." That being written in the Holy Qur'an. One is studying, the other working in a bakery and so on. He has no rich friends, he says smilingly. But everyone had done his or her part. "Qur'an", they always pronounce this word in a very special way, significantly. Not, how we would say "Bible", if we were Christians. The Qur'an is holy, and it sounds like that when they name this important book.

And then the events which happened last week, the attacks on US-American and German diplomats and embassies. Because of a video which somebody put on line on the world wide web. A hater has done this. Someone who does not accept the Qur'an nor the prophet. Someone who does not even have the slightest respect for both. Those reactions of violence are not visible here in Jordan. In a very small traditional restaurant a Jordanian was sitting next to the counter where I ordered a falafel. He told me in English, even without being asked: It is not acceptable to insult the Prophet or the Holy Qur'an." then he added: "Nor violence is acceptable, this is not good." He smiles, stands up and shakes my hand strongly. He expresses what probably the majority of Jordanians are thinking. Islam here is the predominant religion in Jordan. More than 90% are Muslims. There are only approximately 50,000 Roman Catholics. They are respected and accepted.

All these very different impressions, the conversations, chats and encounters paint an overall image on its own. It is impossible to elude those impressions. Everything belongs together. A mosaic or a puzzle generates a picture only with all of its pieces. It's the same for me here, a western European in a unfamiliar, unknown country, somehow. It is possible to get to know it. To understand it fully seems to be very difficult. But its worth all efforts to give it a try. Only then one will be able to lead the testified, so called "clash of cultures" into a peaceful togetherness.