Monday, July 6, 2009

May God Paint Smiles Upon Your Faces - Always

On the second evening after we arrived in the big city of Amman, Sasha and I walked several blocks down the main street of our neighborhood. We were expecting our first guest the following day and had only two cups in the cupboard, so it was time to go out and buy another one. We walked along a busy, 4-lane road to the Mukthar Mall, passing many small businesses and shops of all sorts.

It was my first 'taste' of Amman and of our neighborhood.

The Mukthar Mall is a conglomeration of many types of businesses, all housed under one big roof. It includes a hardware store, a grocery store, a store which carries household goods, and what we would consider to be "regular" mall shops of every possible kind. It is a busy place, filled with many people.

As we entered, Sasha was greeted by a woman named Rukaiyah, part of a family the CRP had helped in the past. Rukaiyah was with her nephew Firas, who appeared to be approximately nine or ten years old. Rukaiyah does not speak very much English, but she tried hard to communicate with Sasha, who she obviously holds in high regard. After reconnecting with Sasha and warmly welcoming her back to Jordan, she launched into her broken story, speaking quickly, almost breathlessly.

Firas is her sister's only surviving son -- her other four children were killed in the street in their hometown of Baghdad in 2006. Firas was with his brothers, and saw them all die. His parents owned their own home there. One was Shia, the other, Sunna, which was quite common before the war.

With the ensuing dismantling of the infrastructure which keeps peace and provides social services , sectarian violence blossomed where before there had been tolerance. Firas's parents were targeted by fundamentalists, who told them to "get divorced." When they did not, their home was mortared while they were inside of it. Firas's father was kidnapped. He has never been heard from again, and is presumed dead. Firas’ mother’s hips were broken when their home was mortared and have never set properly. She no longer has use of her legs and is in constant pain. Somehow, they made their way -- mother and son-- to Amman. They now live with Rukaiyah and her two brothers in a small two-bedroom apartment. Rukaiyah begged us to come and visit her sister, to see if there is anything the CRP could do to help them.

A few days later, with our Iraqi counterpart, we went to their humble home. We learned that not only is the mother crippled, she also suffers from major heart disease which would require expensive and extensive surgery. Sasha explained that, sadly, the CRP does not have the money to attend to her complex medical problems.

Sasha asked about Firas and we were astonished to learn that he is thirteen years old. Like many other children of war, he seems to have stopped growing shortly after witnessing his brothers’ deaths and his father's disappearance. We learned that he, too, is not well: his stomach does not 'hold' food well, he is weak, small and not thriving. It would cost, they said, 48 JD (approximately $60) to see a doctor and have tests done. The CRP gave the family 50 JD ($70), enough to cover the cost of the doctor and the taxi ride to and from the doctor's office.

We also told the family that CRP would help them to get some summer clothes for Firas, as he had none, and the weather was getting hotter by the day.

One June 28th, we met Rukaiyah and Firas in the old downtown area of Amman, where prices are generally much cheaper, and the dollars can go further. Firas was ill that day. He had a fever. We went to two shops, and CRP money purchased him 2 pairs of pants, a pair of long shorts, 3 pairs of underwear, 2 short-sleeved shirts, a tee-shirt, and a new pair of pajamas. Firas was all worn out by now, but beaming with happiness and relief, too.

Rukaiyah told us that the doctors said that Firas has severe anemia and that he must have an iron-rich, meat-rich diet in order to heal and to grow. They have no money for meat, she tells us. The doctors wanted to do more tests, she said, but it would require an additional 27JD.

Through CRP’s Heart to Heart-Hand to Hand campaign, one generous American donor had given the $40 dollars which would get Firas the rest of his tests. Rukaiyah was overwhelmed and happy for this "miracle."

Standing there, in the open cavern of a hallway surrounded by bustling crowds, her eyes full with sincerity and grateful beyond wildest imagination, she said "We THANK him! We thank him. And may God paint a smile upon his face and the faces of his family, always. Always. I will pray for him, at each time of prayer, forever. We are having a hard summer, and CRP has come in time."

By the end of this beautiful thanking, all of our eyes were wet. There they were, so small, so honest, so real, filled with radiant humanity and absolute humility. They shone.

Firas, too, said, "Thank you! Thank you!," using up his entire English vocabulary. His eyes said all the rest, in bright eloquence, times two.

We will see them again to find out the results of Firas’ medical tests.

We hailed them a cab. The door closed, and with a last wave, they disappeared into the traffic like a whisper, like a thought that dissolves before morning erases the clouds from our eyes.

by Annie Tanner - CRP volunteer in Amman