al-Hussein Camp (part 2)
Aggies in Jordan
Published: Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 23:07
The next morning came quickly and soon we found ourselves outside the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) office again. However this time the UNRWA office was not our destination, the DPA (Department of Palestinian Affairs) office was. We were supposed to be at the DPA office by 8am so we decided to get there a little early. We look to our right, and see the entrance to the refugee camp. Apartment buildings towering next to each other as wires criss-cross throughout the upper levels of the buildings. We walk through the narrow street. It can barely fit two cars and becomes impossible when people decide to park in it. Market vendors yell out special prices for their goods and children in uniforms are going to the UN school.
The DPA office is in the middle of the camp. We had to walk about 10 minutes to get outside the entrance of the office. When we did we saw Mohammed sitting outside with some friends. Mohammed was one of the men we met yesterday. He is a short, stocky man with white skin and has less than four wisps of hair on his head. He makes incredible tea however (and good coffee if you can drink it). He greets us and goes to open the front door to unlock it.
He takes us inside the DPA office and we sit down in the lobby. It was only a few minutes until Abu Tariq walked in. Abu Tariq looks like he had a few too many falafel sandwiches. Last time we saw him one of his buttons popped and he created a rip in the inside seam of his pants. Nevertheless he has been one of the main people who have helped us be able to go through the refugee camps and interview people. He is incredibly nice and we owe him a lot. Abu Tariq takes us to his office and we sit down. Neither Abu Tariq nor Mohammed are completely fluent in English. Because we are not completely fluent in Arabic our conversation was strained. Mohammed made coffee while Abu Tariq read the newspaper and we sat there talking between ourselves.
Finally Ahmad, our unofficial translator arrived. He walked in and we all exchanged greetings and pleasantries. Now that the three DPA officials were here we assumed it was time to leave and tour the camp. Little did we know we had to have breakfast first. Ahmad asked us if we wanted breakfast with everyone else and we agreed. They took us to a larger room with even more chairs. Soon we were with the three DPA officials as well as numerous Committee officials, the volunteer organization of the DPA. Soon Mr. Ghazi from the UNRWA and the Mukhtar had also joined us.
We now had eleven people in this office waiting for breakfast to be served. Apparently it was late. Mr. Ghazi was becoming quite stressed because he was on a tight schedule. He kept looking at his watch and asking where breakfast was. While we were waiting in the office we had a chance to interview our first person: Ibrahim Anatoor. Although the office was pretty loud, with many people talking, we were able to record a very good conversation with him. After the interview breakfast was finally ready.
It was 9am, an hour after we were supposed to leave and we all gathered around the large table filled with pita bread, hummus, and falafel. More conversations revealed themselves that I wish we could have recorded. We need to just have our video camera on at all times. As soon as breakfast was over, a relieved Mr. Ghazi pushed us out of the DPA offices in order to start meeting families. We were over an hour and a half late and he needed to get back to his office. Mr. Ghazi and the Mukhtar led the way out into the refugee camp. We look behind us and see our posse, made up of UNRWA officials, leaders in the community, DPA officials, as well as committee members. It's hard to say we weren't impressed with ourselves.
Our posse took us through the camp, the Mukhtar randomly asking for pictures with people. Cameras do not seem to cross through the refugee camp often. The first person we were taking to was an old woman's home. It was in the lower part of one of the apartment buildings, was small, and had very little lighting. As we interviewed her she kept asking for us to have tea with her (a normal custom in Arab culture) however time was too short and we had to move on.
As we interviewed people we noticed something: our translator was not giving us the full story. His translation was much shorter than the answers given by our interviewees and we knew enough Arabic to know the translation we were getting was not correct. We heard certain words many times, such as "Yahud" (the Arabic word for "Jew"), however our translator left those parts of the answers out. Our translator Ahmad has been a great friend of ours and it is easy to see why we "skipped" some parts of the translation. Ahmad is part of the DPA. It is a government agency used to keep an eye on the refugee camps. His job to make sure they are represented properly. If anything were said that could hurt their reputation (such as hateful comments towards a certain group) it would be his job to stop it from getting out. I will talk more about the relation between the UN, the DPA, the government, and the Palestinians more in a later post.
Through the morning we went to three different homes and one business. We interviewed people, picked their brains, and discovered their histories. The Mukhtar would randomly grab drinks from people's stores and hand them to us and people from throughout the community wanted to see what we were doing. We were greeted warmly and openly. Even in refugee camps we see hospitality unrivaled by anywhere else in the world. The refugee camps are part of a unique system where Palestinian, the host governments, and the UN fight for control in order to use the Palestinians as needed