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The Middle East @ Work

A very humble home in Jordan

Alisa Roth Mar 5, 2008
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TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Amman is one of the most expensive cities in the Middle East. Prices for apartments and land have soared up to 300 percent in the last couple years. One reason is the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis into Jordan. The housing costs are hard on those refugees as well.

This week, we’ve been spending time with one of the families: Ayssir, Maher and their three kids. Alisa Roth takes us to their home.


Alisa Roth: Weesnaa, the family’s oldest child, hasn’t invited a friend home since the family moved here more than a year ago.

It’s not that Weesnaa — who’s 14 and blond and wears a bracelet of the Iraqi flag — doesn’t have friends.

Weesnaa (voice of interpreter): I’ve made a lot of friends here — Christians, Iraqis, Jordanians . . .

But:

Weesnaa: I can’t invite them here. The house is in bad shape, and I’m ashamed.

Because her mother says:

Ayssir: She saw other girls’ houses, she saw the difference. She said they have the same house we had back in Baghdad, so I cannot invite them to this house, I can’t.

This house is on the wrong side of the tracks, in East Amman — the poor part of town. Where a lot of Palestinians — Jordan’s first refugees — live. The family’s landlord, in fact, is Palestinian. Young men hang out on the street corners, and it’s hard to find a taxi late at night.

To get to the house, you walk down an alley, past the little kids playing marbles in the dust, up a shallow set of uneven concrete steps — where the family’s laundry hangs against the wall, trying to dry in the pale winter sun.

Even beyond the metal front door, it’s bitterly cold inside. If you don’t count the bathroom and a dark little kitchen, there are three rooms. Plus a hallway that’s been turned into a dining room of sorts.

The family abandoned their furniture and stuff in Baghdad. Moving from one house to another, trying to escape the explosions and shootings. The furniture here has been donated or scrounged. Like this desk Maher made the kids from an old closet door — where they sit on plastic deck chairs to do their homework.

Not that the family’s apartment in Baghdad was lavish. They rented it in a middle-class neighborhood called Adamiya. But it was comfortable. They had a computer, CD players, stuffed animals. In this apartment, the cups don’t match. Some are missing handles.

Ayssir: They sleep on the floor because we don’t have beds.

Mattresses on the floor and broken cups are just the things they can see. The real pressure comes from the uncertainty of waiting, to see if they’ll get resettled or if they’ll get sent back, or how much longer they can stay. In the meantime, even the most basic of household tasks are complicated by their circumstances.

Ayssir: Sometimes washing dishes is a kind of pressure, because we don’t have heated water. Washing clothes. If I kept watching my life in this misery way, I would feel sorry for myself for the rest of my life. But I will not do this. No. Never.

So the family takes turns washing the dishes in cold water. Scrubbing their clothes by hand. And when they can, buying things like the cheap tape recorder the youngest kid, 10-year-old Abdelilah, is playing with.

Ayssir: I tell them that we bring similar things, it might make them feel that they have a little bit of it.

A little bit, because Abdelilah only has one cassette to listen to.

But in the hallway next to the door is a whole shelf full of empty cassette boxes Maher rescued from the trash. He keeps them there to remind the family of the CD collection they had in Baghdad. And that he hopes they’ll have again someday.

In Amman, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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