For anyone that hangs out enough in the second-floor office of the youth center at the Collateral Repair Project, this question functions pretty much as the soundtrack for the work, a mantra of sorts, repeated over and over again by a variety of passersby – beneficiaries, CRP employees, volunteer colleagues, you name it.
The usual answer is “maa barif” – “I don’t know”, because while we all know Mohamed is somewhere in the premises, he can be literally anywhere, since he pretty much does everything: maybe in one the English classrooms, one of the other offices, teaching a dance class to the kids who come for the Summer Camp program, hanging out with other interns. Too many options.
First time I met Mohamed, I was struck that such a young kid – he is 19 – would be the volunteer coordinator for the whole substantial operation that is CRP. While he was showing me around for the first time and introducing me to people, I quickly realized why he landed the job: there is something deeply charismatic about him, fluidly transitioning between Arabic and English depending on his interlocutor, smiling and cracking jokes. The second time I saw him, he had a Naomi Smalls t-shirt on. I was sold.
Originally from Baghdad, Mohamed has been living in Jordan for the past 4 years, as a refugee himself. “I came to visit my sister who lives in Amman. While I was here, visiting for 2 weeks, the whole ISIS thing happened. So my mom decided I would just stay in Jordan”. This is not the first time he fled conflict. Before that, Mohamed also had spent a couple of years in Syria, with his parents and sisters, from 2006 to 2008, when sectarian violence reached overwhelming levels in Iraq. This is something particularly preoccupying for his family, since his mother and father come from different groups in the country. They went back to Iraq once the situation settled.
“When I got here, in 2014, I had a bag of clothes, I had nothing with me basically, since I was supposed to stay only for two weeks. It was difficult to get my school papers, so I ended up missing one school year”. While waiting to go back to school, he split his time between working at his brother-in-law’s restaurant and learning Japanese. “Languages are one of the things I am very good at”. The facility with languages can be attested by the fact that Mohamed learned his fluent English from watching TV – mostly US programs – what explains both the Californian accent (which he tested to figure out) and the extensive repertoire of American pop culture references.
He managed to go back to school, but after graduating in Amman, by mid-2017, Mohamed found himself without much to do. “The main thing here, for a refugee is that you cannot work and that is really tough. If you want a decent job, a career, you cannot do that in Jordan. There are some opportunities, but they are very minimal. And people cannot get an income that is consistent”.
While he, as a very small minority of the refugees in the country, can count on some economic support sent from home, sitting idly was not something Mohamed particularly enjoys. “My mental health got really bad, throughout October to January, because I had nothing to do. I think the biggest issue with refugees here in Jordan is having nothing to do, is having their lives on pause. It’s really boring. Humans are made to do something they are passionate about. When they are not, it is really difficult to cope with that. I just sat at home, gained a lot of weight, I was depressed. So, my friend, who was volunteering here, asked me if I did not want to come and be a volunteer at CRP”. After just a few months, he found himself as volunteer coordinator, which involves organizing a relevant number of activities offered by CRP and all the people who participate in them. And also, sometimes, dancing with kids, as you can see below.
For the future, Mohamed hopes to go to university, eventually, but somewhere other than Jordan. “Anywhere really, I am not picky, but if I could choose, probably Canada”. And after that, plans get even bigger. “I really want to keep working in the humanitarian field. And I hope someday to start some sort of organization of my own”.
Posted By Teresa Perosa (Jordan)
Posted Jul 18th, 2018