Monday, February 2, 2009

"I found myself beating my children because they were crying about being cold"

Maha received a lengthy text message last night from Neda, a mother of three living in Salt, a town just outside of Amman. She apologized for having to ask but said that her family had no heater and that she lost control and beat her children when they cried because they were cold. She feels horrible for losing control. She wondered, "Is there any way you can help me?"

So, while Maha and I were at the market today picking up the food relief boxes, we bought Neda's family a propane heater. After unloading the food boxes at Maha's, we took the long taxi ride out to Salt to deliver it to Neda.

The drive to Salt was a lovely reprieve from Amman. Amman has few trees but the road to Salt was mountainous and forrested in areas. The views were stunning. Just before we enter Salt, the taxi driver points out the area that is an exclusive community for members of the Jordanian royal family. Anyone wishing to build a home in this area must first receive permission. But, as we drive deeper into Salt, the road narrows and the shops that line them are shabby.

The roads wind up along a high hillside. Maha is on her cell phone with Neda, getting directions for the driver and he drives down a narrow lane, stopping when we need Neda and her two youngest children standing at the side of the road waiting for us.

We follow a trail up the hillside, past ancient buildings that are in poor repair but are homes for those who live in this impoverished area. Neda and her children carry the heater almost until we reach their home and a neighbor man offers to take it the rest of the way.

The kids run off to play in the last daylight while Maha and I drink coffee Neda serves us and discuss her family's situation.

Neda, her husband and children came to Jordan in 2001. They were both secondary teachers at a prestigious school in Mosul, Iraq, but sanctions had reduced their wages to only $2 for each of them per month. Neda said "We could not even afford to buy socks." So first her husband came to Jordan with Neda and the children following soon afterwards.

At first, things were better. In those times, before the US invasion and the exodus of Iraqis to Jordan, Iraqis were welcomed here and Neda's husband's employer was able to successfully apply for him to get Jordanian residency. So he is able to work legally. He is under-employed, working as a laborer in a furniture-making shop. His wages are 75 JD per month - only enough to pay their rent of 70JD. Neda worked for a few months as a paid volunteer with an aid organization but this was a temporary job and she was laid off. Their furniture was provided by the generosity of neighbors. Neda's mother sends a little money to help out but most of the time they struggle to make it month-to-month.

She is proud of her children, telling us that all three attend school, walking down the mountain to attend and then up at the end of the day every day.

Neda returned to Mosul three months ago in hope of getting her teaching position back but she had been away for too long and her file had been deleted from the Ministry of Education there.
She said that things in Mosul are very bad now: there is no water, no electricity, no heating fuel. Prices are high and income is low. The infrastructure is in shambles because, as it deteriorates, no repairs are done. She said, "The people are sad and tired."

She then shows us through their simple home - the one bedroom shared by the entire family, the tiny kitchen. Neda proudly shows us framed photos of her chidren.

Maha points to a photo on a high shelf. It is Neda when she was a teacher. Her face unlined and smiling, unlike her face now, lined with worry and dark around her eyes.

The view from her living room is stunning but the mountain air is even colder than that in chilly Amman. We take heart knowing that the family will be warmer now because of your generosity.