al-Hussien Camp (Part 1)
Published: Monday, June 7, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07
We were dropped off beside a small, white, one-story building. A sign hanging on the side read, "UNRWA – United Nations Relief Works Agency – al-Hussein Field Office" A light bulb went on over our heads as we realized when the cab driver was saying, "oonrwa" he wasn't saying a new Arabic word but pronouncing our destination. To us it has always been the UNRWA. We walked in hoping that we could get some information regarding filming and interviewing inside the al-Hussein Refugee Camp.
We decided to go to the field office in person because our other attempts have not been successful. While I have been emailing officials in the UNRWA throughout the spring semester and we have made multiple attempts to call the DPA (the Department of Palestinian Affairs), things were not progressing. Time works differently in Jordan (and the Arab world in general). Things go much slower. People prefer to meet in person, have a cup of tea or coffee, and get to know each other before moving on to business. Since our emails and phones have not worked we decided to go in and watch what happens. This has been our policy for the past year and has worked nicely so far.
We walk into the field office and look around. We didn't know who to approach so we started to explain who we are to anyone who would listen. Before we could finish a man invites us into his office. He wears a nice tie and button up shirt and his glasses are so large they looked like they could fall off at any moment. He definitely isn't Arab. His Arabic has an accent I've never heard before. We walk into his office and notice a second man in the office. This man is definitely Arab. He is wearing traditional clothes with a kufiyah. He is much older and has an aura of wisdom around him. The man with the glasses tells us to sit. He introduces himself as Mr. Ghazi, the field director of the al-Hussein Camp Field Office. We were also then introduced to "Mukthar," the man sitting beside us in the traditional dress. We just met two of the most important people in the al-Hussein camp in less than three minutes of arriving! The Mukthar can be considered a "mayor" of the camp. He acts much like a tribal leader would, mainly making decisions on family matters that occurs in the camp.
Adam said it best when he said, "If I were writing a book I could not make these people up."
It is true. The people here are characters. Within minutes we saw the quirkiness, the funny relationships, and the happiness they all had. Mr. Ghazi simply smiled as we explained our project. He was very happy to see people our age going out and trying to help other people. The Mukthar would randomly toss his cigarette ashes on the floor (even though there were about 4 "No Smoking" signs in the office) and Mr. Ghazi would suddenly have a look of distress as he ranted in Arabic and threw the Muhkthar an ashtray.
We handed our Royal Film Commission filming permits to Mr. Ghazi (our magical permits that let us go where we want) and he made copies for the UNRWA. Later he tried to find them again and realized the Mukthar took them for himself. After running outside and taking them back he came back to his office to start talking "business." He made a few phone calls and soon DPA officials came into the office as well. We decided to return the next morning to make rounds through the camps and interview families. The DPA would bring a translator just in case we could not understand some of the Arabic. We quickly thanked them and left, happy that our spontaneous decision to come the camp was productive.
Although the "business" portion of the trip only took five minutes, we were in the UNRWA office for a few hours. They want to get to know us first and find out who we are.