Dressing the wounded: Iraq / Jordan
Report By James Addis World Vision Correspondent: Jordan-Iraq Border
World Vision staff James Addis and Andrea Swinburne-Jones help out with a clothes distribution – GIK from World Vision Australia. The Australian office sent a container containing thousands of items of adult and children’s clothes for those suffering from the war in Iraq. Some of the clothes were selected for use in the Third Country National camp at Ar-Ruwayshid near the Iraq/Jordan border.
Andrea helps distribute.
A distribution of clothes from Australian donors is greeted with delight by refugees, condemned to wear the same thing for weeks. World Vision staff James Addis and Andrea Swinburne-Jones helped with the distribution at the third country national refugee camp in Jordan.
Abu is just about last in line for the clothes distribution but the combination of relief and joy on his face when he escapes the scorching sun and gets inside the large Rubb Hall and at the head of the line, is a delight to see. He explains he and his family have been wearing the same clothes since he arrived at the camp 20 days ago. Something of a bitter irony for a businessman, who just weeks ago was running a prosperous garment factory in Baghdad.
“Now we are washing our clothes at night and putting the same ones back on again in the morning,” he says.
Sadly for Abu, a Palestinian, it’s just one of many humiliating blows, delivered by the war in Iraq, which have turned his family into paupers almost overnight.
As diplomatic efforts failed and his adopted country moved inexorably towards war, his nine Egyptian staff took the opportunity to flee. But Abu with his home, his factory and everything else he owned in Baghdad, decided to stay. Unfortunately his home was close to a police station which was obviously high on the list of coalition forces’ targets. As missiles rained down near his home and blew in all the windows and the front door, he decided for the safety of his family he had better get out.
His family managed to get a ride with his daughter and son in law, also making a hasty exit. Other relatives and friends joined them. There were 20 people in a car built for seven, says Abu, with a shudder as he remembers the crush. There was no room for luxuries like luggage. The desperate band made their way to Jordan negotiating a road riddled with shell holes and burned out vehicles.
Abu and his wife and three children arrived at Jordan’s third country national camp on 22 March with little other than the clothes they stood up in. It’s nice to know that the family are among the first to benefit from a container of clothes kindly donated by Australians who gave generously through World Vision.
Colleague Andrea Swinburne-Jones from the Australian office, and myself, assist on the first day of the clothes’ distribution. When we arrive it’s the men’s turn to pick and chose something. Shirts, football jerseys, trousers and some children’s clothes are spread out on a big tarpaulin on the floor. Men are ushered into the Rubb Hall (essentially an enormous, warehouse type tent) a few at a time to make a selection. Despite the hanging around and the desperation refugees feel to find something fresh to wear, the atmosphere is good natured and jovial. I cannot understand the language but one can’t help smiling as the men josh with one another about the style and fit and whether they cut something of a dash in their new outfits.
Abu is among the most appreciative as he picks out shirts and trousers and tops for his children. He is assisted by Andrea, who hunts around for things in a suitable size. It feels good to be able to restore to him some of the dignity stolen by current circumstances. A little later his three-year-old son Taha evades those monitoring the door and cheekily sneaks in. Andrea helps kit him out a green coloured top. His cheeks and ears are painfully sunburnt – there is an urgent need in the camp for sunscreen – one of the many minor deprivations, which can make camp life a dismal experience. Taha is shy at first but warms up when Andrea engages him in a game of flying racing cars.
Abu is enormously grateful for everything and expresses it by inviting Andrea and myself around to his tent for lunch.
“Welcome to my suite of rooms,” he beams when we arrive.
He is referring to the fact that he has succeeded in connecting two tents together so that the entrance of the second tent connects to the back door of the first. You have to admire his sense of humour. Two days ago he was told his factory and home have been looted and trashed.
“Our life in Baghdad is destroyed,” he says sadly.
For a Palestinian the statement has an especially cruel ring. Other refugees at the camp – which is for non-Iraqis - have home countries they can return to. Abu and his family are among the generations of Palestinians who have nowhere they can call home. They have no citizenship or documents and are condemned to an uncomfortable, rootless existence. The point is brought home to me when I speak to Abu’s eldest son Ali, 17, a promising soccer player. Some time ago he was due to play in the Arabic Youth Cup but his lack of a passport prevented him travelling to other countries in the region to play.
“I would like to go professional but I can’t find a country to play in,” he says.
His mother Aum has more immediate concerns. Each night she turns over the children’s bedding on the look out for scorpions. It’s no idle search. Later a Red Crescent volunteer tells me if a child gets stung he or she has one hour to be administered an antidote. So far no lives have been lost, but the volunteer described a situation a few days ago when he was involved in a hair-raising rush to the town of Ar Ruwayshid – 15 minutes away – with a child victim who got an unwelcome dose of deadly venom.
But it would be a mistake to picture the family as crushed by their circumstances. Abu cannot stop repeating how thankful he is to God that his family is together and safe and none has been maimed or wounded. Even though the family have had to live in the same clothes for nearly three weeks you would not guess it. They have their pride and are all remarkably well turned out. Abu clearly was not joking when he talked about the nightly washing exercise.
The family also make wonderful hosts. Daughter Omnia, 13, scurries around the tent scraping up food scraps and finding somewhere for us all to sit. We settle down to a meal of bread, rice, sardines and olives – all procured from the World Vision supported camp kitchen. We fritter away the afternoon laughing and joking. The family teach us a little Arabic. Andrea shows them pictures of her own family back home in Australia. They are genuinely delighted and interested.
At one point Abu expresses his regret that he should have to entertain in such impoverished circumstances and with such a simple meal. Of course he need not have worried. For me it was one of the most enjoyable meals I can remember. When I leave I’m reminded of a proverb: Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fatted ox where there is hatred.