Friday, June 15, 2012

Raising Awareness

This post might seem a little chaotic and without a clear focus. However, this chaos reflects the feelings I have been overwhelmed with since last night.

Yesterday my second week working for Tamkeen ended wonderfully. Myself and my fellow American volunteer were told that we would start working on a research study that would raise awareness about the conditions and hardships that Egyptian migrant workers live in and experience when they leave their country to come to Amman. We will be conducting field visits to various places throughout Jordan where Egyptian migrant workers work, conduct focus groups with Egyptian migrant workers, interview them, and talk with members who work at the Ministry of Labor and the Egyptian Embassy about the state of Egyptian migrant workers. We will be conducting quantitative research as well in the form of passing out questionnaires to gain information on the what motivates Egyptians to travel to Jordan to work, how they get here, whether or not the Arab Spring has affected migrant workers, and the problems they face once they get here. This study is comprehensive and covers a lot of ground; it does so in order to raise awareness and provide recommendations for how the lives of migrant workers can be improved in Jordan. This study will hopefully be illuminating and enlightening, especially because I have yet to find a recent study that focuses specifically on Egyptian migrant workers in Jordan. The audience that this study is targeting is not the general Jordanian population, but rather other non profit and civil society organizations, the international community, and Jordanian governmental organizations. My boss actually told both of us that normal Jordanians tend not to care about migrant workers. "If they read anything," she said, "it will definitely not be about the depressing state of Egyptian migrant workers." I immediately felt an immense desire to change that mentality, that lethargic perspective and reluctance to change. I have always believed that change starts with galvanizing the general population; if we can make the general public aware of what is going on, anything is possible.

But more specifically, this study will shed immense light on the plight of Egyptian migrant workers. I was talking with a Jordanian attorney later in the day, and after I told her the research I was conducting, she told me that she was surprised. "Everyone here normally focuses on domestic workers," she told me. "I don't normally even recognize that Egyptians working here are migrant workers." She explained that herself and others usually think this way because domestic workers from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, etc., normally experience such a greater discrimination than Egyptians. The negative stereotype against these domestic workers, and the problems they have to face, are much more present and greater than anything Egyptian workers face. While I agree that the problems faced by domestic workers are heart breaking, I likewise believe that the problems facing Egyptian workers are likewise just as hard and difficult to solve. Because Egyptian workers are Arab, they do not stand out as much as domestic and migrant workers from other areas of the world do. Even though they are different from Jordanians, from Palestinians, from Syrians, from Iraqis, Egyptians have a solidarity of identity simply because they are Arab and speak Arabic; while they face discrimination and poor treatment here, they are arguably more socially accepted and integrated than other migrant workers.

I believe that this 'solidarity of identity' might be one of the main problems that allows poor living conditions and treatment of Egyptian migrant workers to persist. Because they do not stand out as much, Jordanians like the attorney I was talking with, often forget they are even there. This phenomena of 'blending into the back ground,' of being left in the corner of society and your pain forgotten, is a phenomena that is pervasive in Jordan. Forgetting and ignoring pain seems like a facet of Jordanian culture. Jordanians seem to mask pain with happiness, to try to forget the the death and destruction happening all around them in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon. Every single day refugees flood into Jordan, every single day this true melting pot of different cultures receives a harsh reminder that pain is ever present. And so they try to forget, try to trivialize what they are facing just so they can emotionally survive another day, just so they can carry on their daily lives.

But it is not only Jordanians that try to forget, try to ignore the pain that is so clearly present within their lives. The entire international community is. Last night I had the fantastic opportunity to go to the Royal Film Commission and watch the documentary 'The War Around Us.' This documentary is about the experiences of the two Al Jazeera reporters who were in Gaza during the Israeli invasion in 2008. I encourage you to watch this movie; it will change your life in ways you never thought possible. The death and destruction I saw in this movie; the women and children, mothers and fathers and daughters, these innocent civilians I saw trying to survive.... It broke my heart. I have always gotten into arguments with my Jordanian friends about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have always been one who believes that this conflict can be fixed through understanding of all parties, of the Israelis, of the Israeli government, of the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas. I have always tried to compartmentalize these groups, and explain to my friends here that they are all different, and all play different roles in the conflict, and have different levels of responsibility for the deaths that happened. I never understood how my Jordanian friends could take such a black and white perspective of the conflict, how they could tell me that it was religious (Muslims vs. Jewish) or ethnic (Palestinians vs. Israelis). I never understood until last night. In the documentary, the footage they showed of Gaza, a prosperous, cultural, and cosmopolitan city before the attack, being hit by the Israeli air strike, made me understand. Even though they said the missiles were supposed to only hit targets where Hamas fighters and weapons were suspected of being held, Israel was openly killing innocent civilians; they bombed a U.N. school; they told civilians to get inside buildings in Zeitoon (a nearby city) and then bombed the buildings. This wasn't a war on Hamas; this was a blatantly illegal and systematic killing of innocent Palestinian civilians. Footage showed Israel shooting white phosphorous onto the streets of Gaze where innocent civilians walk every day. This act is a blatant violation of international law. To see the families broken, to see these people enduring, to see their tears... it broke my heart. I had never seen footage like this; my experience with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had come through text books and newspaper articles. This documentary humanized the conflict. I finally understood why people could not compartmentalize the conflict as I did. When civilians are dying in such blatant and horrible ways, and when no one in the international community is outraged, when no one even tries to help or change the situation, there is no compartmentalizing. There is only trying to survive, and fight for the lives of the people you love.

I also have begun to understand why people around the world try to forget pain. When you experience atrocities like the Israeli strike on Gaza in 2008 on a daily basis, all you can really do is try to forget. I was sitting, watching this documentary, and crying at the pain I saw on the peoples' faces. I was crying partly because I could not believe that human beings could do this to each other and justify it, but also because I felt helpless to stop it. This helpless this, this loss of faith in your fellow human beings... it is arresting. You almost feel like you cannot breath. And so you desensitize yourself to it. You find ways to cope.

If I want you to take away anything from this blog, I want it to be that, even though there is this helplessness, there is still hope. Even though people have told me that there is no hope, all I can do is believe, believe that raising awareness and cultivating understanding will strengthen human beings morality and make them realize that we are all alike, all trying to live, laugh, and love. We all need to start believing that there is hope, that their is the possibility that one day everyone will be able to exercise their fundamental rights in a society free of conflict. We need to realize (especially in this globalized world) that our identity as human beings transcends our gender, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. The value of my life is equal to that of a Palestinian, an Israeli, a domestic worker. Even though forgetting the Egyptian worker, forgetting the Palestinian child orphaned after the Israeli air strikes helps us mentally and emotionally survive on a day to day basis, we need to start opening our eyes. We need to push ourselves outside our comfort zones, and try to start trying to understand the other perspectives of these issues. These issues are not just about politics, are not just about religions. I am determined, more than ever now, that these issues can be solved through understanding, through humanizing the 'other.'

The other night one of my friends asked me what my main goal in life was. I told her immediately that it was to change the world. She laughed and asked me what my real goal was. I told her the same thing again; I want to change the world through cultivating understanding and finding balance. Understanding and balance will in turn foster empowerment.Tamkeen, in Arabic, means empowerment. I think that now, as the world is becoming closer, and cultures are trying to find a way to integrate into other cultures, every single human being should make tamkeen their goal.

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