FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Dancing in the Darkness

Amman, Jordan.

Last weekend was an important one, regarding education, here in Jordan. Jordanian high school students learned the results of exams qualifying them (or not) for University studies. Television news showed students – among the 52% who passed – dancing for joy. And, King Abdullah announced that Jordan will open its public schools to Iraqi students under fifteen years of age. Along with this news came a UNHCR request for $129 million in funding to help provide schooling for Iraqi children living in neighboring countries, especially Jordan and Syria.

I hope this will be good news for several of Abu Mahmoud’s children who have already missed three years of school.
Abu Mahmoud came to Jordan three years ago, after assailants attacked him while he was driving home from his job, in Kirkuk, Iraq. He has pictures of his bullet-ridden car. Having narrowly escaped, he and the family moved into a dingy apartment in Amman, Jordan. Since then, none of his children have attended school. He begged the authorities at one school to permit his oldest son, Mahmoud, to just sit in the classroom and listen, but it wasn’t allowed.

With the government’s new ruling, Mahmoud and his brothers, Ahmed and Ali, may be able to gain admission and perhaps even some remedial help in a Jordanian school. Their sister, Najima, is sixteen years old. It seems that the new ruling won’t open classrooms to children over fifteen years of age. Although Najima has missed formal schooling for the past three years, she experienced a very unusual kind of education during two of these years. Slight and quite beautiful, Najima worked in a printing factory, ten hours a day five days a week, for very little money, making books instead of reading them. The paper-cutting machine she operated was much larger than she is, and I asked her if she ever had trouble with it. “No!” she replied, “Never! And I learned how to lift very heavy loads.” She’s proud of her skill, and should be.

The family relied on her income as the only means to help them make ends meet. Her father had sought work, but he was caught, twice, for working “illegally.” The second time, co-workers had to beg the Jordanian police not to deport him, and the police agreed, but he never risked returning to work. If he is deported across the Jordanian-Iraq border, he could be beheaded, as has reportedly happened to many Shi’a people who were taken to the border and had no choice but to ride along the exceedingly dangerous highway from the border into Iraq.

Najima told me she felt proud of her father because of the work he did in Iraq. In one of his jobs, he had been part of a team, in the northern governorate of Kirkuk, which helped educate Iraqis about democracy following the U.S. invasion. He had also helped to resettle homeless Iraqis who were evicted from housing granted them under Saddam Hussein’s regime. He was the “go-to” guy for many families that struggled to obtain housing, blankets, food, and health care. When he came to Amman, he hoped that the U.S. authorities might help him to resettle, since he had clearly risked his life working for a U.S. NGO. But he has yet to be granted even temporary refugee status, a necessary step before being allowed to approach the U.S. Embassy for a visa.

Now, he feels he has nowhere to go, and no one in Jordan to whom he can turn. Najima has stopped working at the factory. Her father could no longer bear the anguish and humiliation of watching his little daughter work so hard. What’s more, he learned that Najima was being paid much less than other older workers.

Najima leaned on her father’s shoulder, as we talked, but sat up straight when she wanted to make a point about her factory work. She was happy that all of the customers knew her. One day, when the owner was away, someone entered the shop and asked who was in charge? “I am!” she said. This story became a favorite amongst many of the customers who were no doubt charmed by the pretty, elfin child. I told her that when I was 17, making money for college, I worked in a Chicago meat packing factory, slinging nearly frozen pork loins onto the conveyor belt of the machine that injected them with pickle juice. We laughed together, sharing “foreman” stories. I recalled not understanding when the foreman was shouting, “Andele! Andele!” – which means “Speed up! Speed up!” in Spanish. I would generally smile and wave, thinking he meant, “Hello,” and then feel baffled when this made him angry. “I know this!” she said, easily identifying with my zany memory. “Yes, I understand!”

I told her about a film, “Dancer in the Dark,” in which a woman from Iceland, a famous star named Bjork, plays the role of a factory worker trying to help her son who is going blind, as she herself is, from a hereditary disease. The woman commits a murder rather than allow someone to rob her of the money she has saved for her son’s treatment.

The film zeroes in on how members of her community react to her and judge her, some giving her aid, others seeking her death. Najima listened attentively, nodding her head and telling me, again, that she understands.

Abu Mohammed’s parents are now here with the family. They left after a neighbor’s small son was killed by an explosive just outside his home. Much of the neighborhood decided it was too dangerous to stay and left homes, cars, and favorite belongings behind them as they fled the country.

Abu Mahmoud’s children eagerly welcomed the grandparents into the family fold. Fourteen year old Mahmoud sat next to his grandfather, massaging his feet; six year old Ali sat in his grandfather’s lap and the ten year old brother, Majid, leaned against his shoulder. The grandmother, sitting next to me, occasionally took my hand in hers, smiling softly. When Abu Mahmoud’s wife entered the room to collect empty tea glasses, the children scrambled to help her.

But of course the arrival of Abu Mahmoud’s parents puts the family in even greater financial insecurity. His father has diabetes; his mother, heart disease. Unable to wait until an appointment could be available through a local charity, he took her to a Jordanian heart specialist, whose fee has cut heavily into the funds he has available for rent, water and electricity. Majid rolled up his pant leg and showed me stitches he recently needed after he fell on broken glass and gashed his leg. This emergency cost the family the equivalent of a month’s electricity and water.

Last week, when I visited with Abu Mahmoud, he received a phone call from a cousin who had fled from a death threat and is now living with his pregnant wife and two small children in a Syrian border camp, under very strained circumstances. Distraught by the news and despairing of life in Jordan or Syria, he told me he sometimes feels so desperate that he thinks of risking a return to Iraq in hopes of finding some means there of providing for his family, although, of course (after calming down) he admits this is a crazed notion. .

Last night, I sat with an Iraqi friend who told me he feels like he and many Iraqis are in a cave, a very dark cave. “But God doesn’t create this darkness,” my friend said. “People are responsible. And we will be judged by the ways we seek to solve problems.”

I responded, “You have a very deep faith,” “Yes,” he said, “I’m grateful to God for this faith. Without it, I think I would become psychologically sick.”

Before leaving the home of Abu Mahmoud, I asked Najima what she would most like to study when next she gets a chance, as I hope she someday will, to be in school. “Science!” she said, her eyes dancing yet again. “This is because I will become a doctor. I will help people who are sick to get better,”

The she added, becoming quite serious, “And I won’t charge them any money.”

KATHY KELLY is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams. She can be reached at: kathy@vcnv.org

 

More articles by:

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 07, 2020
Marshall Sahlins
Election 2020
April 06, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism
W. T. Whitney
Donald Trump, Capitalism, and Letting Them Die
Cesar Chelala
Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer
David A. Schultz
Camus and Kübler-Ross in a Time of COVID-19 and Trump
Nomi Prins 
Wall Street Wins, Again: Bailouts in the Time of Coronavirus
Dean Baker
Getting to Medicare-for-All, Eventually
Dave Lindorff
Neither Pandemic Nor Economic Collapse is Going to Be a Short-Lived Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
Capitalism in America Has Dropped the Mask: Its Face is Cruel and Selfish
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 7 Pro-Contagion Reversals Increase the Coronavirus Toll
David Swanson
A Department of Actual Defense in a Time of Coronavirus
Ellen Brown
Was the Fed Just Nationalized?
Jeff Birkenstein
Postcards From Trump
Nick Licata
Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image
Kathy Kelly
“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”
Graham Peebles
Change Love and the Need for Unity
Kim C. Domenico
Can We Transform Fear to Strength In A Time of Pandemic?
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Files Lawsuit to Stop Logging and Burning Project in Rocky Mountain Front Inventoried Roadless Area
Stephen Cooper
“The Soul Syndicate members dem, dem are all icons”: an Interview with Tony Chin
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
Kathleen Wallace
The Highly Contagious Idea
Kenneth Good
The Apartheid Wars: Non-Accountability and Freedom for Perpetrators.
Andrew Levine
Democracy in America: Sorry, But You Can’t Get There from Here.
Ramzy Baroud
Tunisia Leads the Way: New Report Exposes Israel’s False Democracy
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the State-of-Emergency Pandemic
Matthew Stevenson
Will Trump Cancel the Election? Will the Democrats Dump Joe?
Ron Jacobs
Seattle—Anti-Capitalist Hotbed
Michael T. Klare
Avenger Planet: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Mother Nature’s Response to Human Transgression?
Jack Rasmus
COVID-19 and the Forgotten Working Class
Werner Lange
The Madness of More Nukes and Less Rights in Pandemic Times
J.P. Linstroth
Why a Race is Not a Virus and a Virus is Not a Race
John Feffer
We Need a Coronavirus Truce
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”: the Ultimate Floating Signifier
Victor Grossman
Corona and What Then?
Katie Fite
Permanent Pandemic on Public Lands: Welfare Sheep Ranchers and Their Enablers Hold the West’s Bighorns Hostage
Patrick Bond
Covid-19 Attacks the Down-and-Out in Ultra-Unequal South Africa
Eve Ottenberg
Capitalism vs. Humanity
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 2: Panic On the Streets of Tehran
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail