Azraq

Day Four in Jordan – Jaz’s Diary – Azraq Camp

Azraq camp took my breath away. I couldn’t believe it. Rows and rows of shelters, thousands and THOUSANDS of them, as far as the eye could see, in every direction, in the midst of the desert.

Life here is impossible. With temperatures of up to 50 degrees in the summer and below zero in the winter, (even snow on the ground,) the thousands of people living in metal boxes with no electricity, experience a constant struggle.

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They have access to NOTHING. No heating, no fans, no phone reception, no internet, no shops, no freedom. The camp is vast and far from anything, meaning the kids walk for ages, across challenging terrain, just to get to the school we were working in today.

Residents can apply for permission to leave the camp for up to 7 days in the year but I can’t even imagine where they could possibly go on those days, we drove for two hours into the desert to get there… For the rest of the year they are completely trapped, clinging on to the hope that some day soon, something will change, and they can go home, back to Syria.

The amazing thing about working within the incredible school facilities provided by Relief International is that it was the only place we saw any colour. Not just on the murals covering the walls, but in the demeanour of the children, who still laugh and play and sing and run around, despite the trauma most have gone through.

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Kids are my inspiration in this respect. They are so in the moment, dealing only with the here and now, everything focused on ‘right-this-second.’ And this is the only way.

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In this situation, thinking about the past or the future is enough to break you; embracing only what is right this minute, what is real right now, is the only way to keep going; one day, one hour, one moment at a time…

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‘I left a part of myself behind in Syria’

Day Three in Jordan – Jaz’s Diary – Za’atari Refugee Camp

Back in Za’atari camp, home to 85,000 Syrian refugees today, we interviewed an old man for our documentary. He had fled Syria with his children and grandchildren three years ago and spoke about the journey so emotionally. He told us that when he knew he had to leave,he spent days looking at each precious item in his house thinking ‘should I bring that or should I just leave it behind?’ Eventually he realised that there was nothing that he could bring, just his family and his hope, and he left with just the clothes on his back. He described the moment where he crossed the border into Jordan, atop of a hill. He looked back and his village was burning; he knew he has left just in time.

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Three years later and he has a new grandson who has been born in the camp…he proudly showed me pictures. His family wait in this limbo until they can return home to Syria, but he knows if / when that happens, life will be hard. He had owned a farm, and previous to them leaving, his animals had been killed (even his beloved horse) and his land bombed. He explained it would take him a few years to get the land back to how it was, but he dreamt about how he would do so often. He can’t wait for this day. ‘I left a part of myself behind in Syria,’ he told us, ‘and everything I know and love. My whole life.’

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He passes the time teaching handicrafts to the kids in the education centre. He makes giant models of everyday items used in Syria, to remind the children of the culture and keep it alive, things like the pestle and mortar used for grinding corn. He had also been shocked by the violence prevalent in the drawings of the children and had made a giant gun which when triggered, fired out sweets.

We spent the afternoon documenting the art project we are working on, which saw the kids moving on from pencils to paint and getting very expressive!

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On our way back to the city, we were behind a truck that somehow swerved off the road and into the staircase of a bridge, knocking it over and taking the entire staircase with it. Petrol poured out on top the dusty road as we braked in shock, but before we knew it people were running from every car towards the accident. A bus on the opposite side of the road stopped and about 20 men ran across, climbing onto the upside down cab of the truck to help the guys inside it. In the space of a few seconds, there was more people there than I could believe, making our efforts redundant and we continued, the fate of the driver still unknown. It reminded me of the complete fragility of life, the randomness, the unpredictability, but also the beauty, kindness, love and compassion we all have inside of us.

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I Can’t Believe What I’m Seeing

Day Two in Jordan – Jaz’s Diary – What the girls in Za’atari Refugee Camp drew…

We woke up early for the two hour drive from the city, into the midst of the desert, and there it was…

Barbed wire, security and dust; we had our passports and equipment thoroughly checked before entering. As we drove through the camp the vastness of it became clear, sand-coloured shelters in every direction, as far as the eye could see; the homes of 85,000 Syrian refugees.

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We turned off the bustle of main road – donkeys and carts and shops and people, and into the school we are working in, run by Relief International. I was instantly overwhelmed by the positive vibe; kids playing football, running around and laughing, so so many kids… Relief International support the disrupted education of 2000 kids in this camp.

Anyway we soon got to work with 30 girls, all about 6/7 years old. Our lovely tribe member Hannah is running an art project this week with the intention of providing the kids with the means to creatively express themselves; and that they did…

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What the girls drew was heartbreaking. Tanks, soldiers, ambulances, crying children, dead babies, blood and burning homes. It was pretty far from your average flowers and sunshines with smily faces. I didn’t know what to say. Proud of their work, they told us about their drawings enthusiastically, innocently and openly, unaware of anything other than this reality.

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These kids, these beautiful little girls have all actually experienced these atrocities first hand. The things that we read about in shock in the pages of a newspaper, is their lives. And the pain and trauma is not over…

Life in the camp is hard. No electricity, rationed food and awful risks I don’t even want to talk or think about…especially for the little girls… The thing is, a place like this breeds desperation and can harbour bad behaviour amongst many; it’s not surprising when you have so little, you do what you can to survive.

Yet people smile, and those we spoke to demonstrated that desire to survive, to continue and to make the best of the situation in the way I have consistently experienced but still amazes me.

Just look at these drawings… I still can’t believe what I’m seeing…

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Welcome To Jordan

Day One in Jordan – Jaz’s diary – experiencing the refugee camps of the Middle East…

Yesterday morning we arrived from London – Beirut (Lebanon), then Beirut to Amman (Jordan) after flying all night. We had the day to prepare for this week in the camps, set up some interviews and get a feel of the city. It is beautiful…

I was instantly overwhelmed by the richness of culture and history. A Roman citadel and amphitheatre, street art, roof top terraces, music, shisha, humous with humous with more humous and the word ‘welcome’ spoken to us from the lips of countless people we passed throughout the day.

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I felt instantly happy and calm as we walked, shooting some views of the city for our documentary.

Our documentary is about the people, the individuals affected by the current refugee crisis. The population of this city has apparently gone up by a million (someone told me that yesterday so not sure of the facts), and I understand there are over 4 million refugees currently living in Jordan, but daily life goes by beautifully…

As the sun went down we noticed a man whistling to a flock of birds soaring through the cloudless sky from his rooftop balcony. They flew down and around him, joining him on the roof of his home. We looked on in awe and he signalled for us to come up… We climbed up a dark staircase and back out into the sun to find him surrounded by birdcages. He showed us new born babies and let us hold a couple of his 100 birds! He told us about them with love, and explained that they were free, if they wanted to, to fly away, to go where they wished, but that they always came back to him.

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His brothers poured us sweet tea and we sat with them on the balcony as I felt overwhelmed by the demonstration of warmth and openness we had been shown in just one day in the Middle East.

It’s easy to dismiss what is far away, ‘different’ from us, unknown. It’s easy to develop fear and prejudice based on what we read, the experiences of others; it’s normal, we all do it. But I’m constantly reminded, daily, by everyone I’m meeting, from all walks of life and from all over the world, that people are good, people feel love, that we all want the same things from life…simple, basic things…

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