Sunday, February 8, 2009

Visit to Nawal and her family - Feb 4

In late afternoon, Maha and I hired a taxi to take us the 20 kilometers out of Amman to Baqa'a to do a follow-up visit to our last Micro-Project recipient, Nawal and her 7 children. (see Current Micro-Projects on our web site to read about this family)

We left behind the crowded capital to open vistas and tawny mountains dotted with occasional clumps of trees. Now and then we'd pass a stand of colourful produce set up at the side of the busy highway. But the landscape flattened and became monochrome as we entered Baqa'a.

Baqa'a is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, with a population of over 180,000. It is extremely impoverished and some Iraqi refugees have fled the higher cost of living in Amman to live here.

We park in the central area of town to wait for Nawal to meet us and direct us to her home. Around us, street commerce, pedestrians and cars all seem to occupy the same space. I am regreful that I do not have time to get out and explore this lively area.

Nawal arrives and joins us in the car to lead us through a maze of streets to her home. Maha points out that many walls along the way have "THIS IS PALESTINE" written on them in Arabic. We go down a road that is mostly auto repair garages and park in front of Nawal's home. It is no diferent from the others we have seen as we approached it: pitted and crumbling wall and splattered graffiti.

We enter to a room piled with huge plastic bags of diapers. Paint is peeling off of the walls and there are holes without glass for windows. Nawal explains that the diapers are all sizes, mixed together in the bags, she sorts them by size, attaches tape closures, and repackages them in sets in smaller sealed plastic bags to sell to merchants in town. Each large bag will bring her about 21JD - and then, after setting aside enough money to pay for another bag to replenish her stock, she will have made only about 5-6 JD in profit. I mention that this is a lot of work for such small proft but she explains that she sells the diapers only when she has sorted and repackaged the entire room full so that she receives a relatively large amount of money all at once. She then purchases another lot of diapers so that her business continues. It is painstaking, time-consuming work and I admire her tenacity - especially since she does this while caring for her large family.
The children are shy. Some peek from behind the curtained door briefly and others hurry through the room we are in. Only 13 year old Mariam sticks around and teases me by sneaking up behind me and poking at me gently. Her older sister, Asma, joins us long enough for a photo and then, Ali - age 11, ventures out. Nawal tells us that the two older girls have left school. Mariam, at age 13, is only in the 5th grade.

I ask if I can see the rest of their home. We enter the curtain to the single room that appears to be both living and sleeping space for this family of 9. The ceiling looks higher than the length of it's walls. The two youngest are asleep on mats on the floor, nestled in blankets. I hear a giggle and look up to see 6 year old Ahmed perched high on top of a tower of foam mats that are stacked on top of the tall wardrobe. The ceiling is falling away in strips over his head but he smiles mischieviously and we all laugh, telling him that he is a strange little "bird".

I am stunned at the degree of poverty this family lives in and I wonder about the cold winter nights in this house with open window spaces. I hope their lives improve with their Micro-Project and, seeing how Nawal keeps her family clean and cared for in these trying circumstances; I know she has the determination and tenacity to make it work the best that she can.