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Handing out Cash to Help Save Lives: Refugee Health in Jordan

This week we had a miracle in our family: my brother and sister-in-law brought Carman Douglas Hamilton, 7 lbs 10 oz, into the world.  I’ve spent hours just staring at pictures of him in the two days since, marveling at his teeny tiny hands and his big feet and his round head and his chubby arms and his puckered lips. It’s my first time being an auntie, and what an amazing feeling!

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Many of you have been witness to a similar miracle – whether you’re a mom or dad or auntie or uncle or grandparent.  And I want you to imagine…

What if just before that birth, you were caught in the middle of a war zone – and had to flee for your life and for the life of this baby?  Or can you imagine having left everything behind, being a stranger in a foreign country, and all of a sudden going into labour?

For a refugee family, birth is still very much part of life.  Yet, many aren’t allowed to work so their finances for paying health bills have been depleted.  Most don’t own a car or have extra money to buy diapers and baby clothes.  And the health facilities that are dedicated to public health care, including for refugees, are overcrowded.

The Government of Jordan has been extremely accommodating for Syrian refugees – for the first four years of Syria’s civil war, all refugees had access to free health care in Jordan.  However, since November 2014, the government had to start charging very nominal fees to help cover the continuing cost of providing health services for a million refugees.

One of Medair’s programmes in Jordan is a “Cash for Health” programme for Syrian refugees.  This programme identifies extremely vulnerable families and gives cash grants to help cover medical costs at public health facilities – including costs for delivering a baby.

Heba and Sham’s Story:  The very first family enrolled in Medair’s cash-for-health programme included little baby Sham and her parents, Heba and Qasem.  When Heba was pregnant, she had an emergency situation with her health.  The first hospital she was taken to refused to give her treatment or deliver her baby due to not matching their admission requirements or being able to pay the fees.  So Qasem had to take her to another hospital in a different governorate.  The Irbid Specialist Hospital agreed to take on Heba’s case.

Despite the medical complications with Heba’s health, baby Sham (which means “Syria”) was born healthy.  Qasem was overjoyed that both his wife and daughter made it through the delivery.  However, next came the challenge of paying for the delivery.  Even after collecting loans and donations from neighbours, friends, and family, Qasem was still not able to pay the fees (equal to just over $100 CAD).

The hospital made Qasem turn in his ID papers until he could pay.  (ID paperwork is quite important here for a refugee.  Without it, refugees can be deported back to Syria.)  Shortly thereafter, Qasem, Heba, and Sham became the first family enrolled in the cash-for-health programme.  Once he received his cash grant, Qasem said:  “With the cash I have received from Medair, I can now pay the rest of the fees to the hospital and get back my Government Identification, buy Heba good food and winter clothes, and get a heater for Sham. Thank you so much Medair, I really don’t know what I would have done!”

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Celebrating Jordan’s 70th Independence Day

We celebrated Independence Day alongside thousands and thousands of Jordanians this week – even Google’s home page in Jordan featured Jordanian colours on May 25th.  Jordan is a strongly patriotic nation – that day, almost every car on the road had 1 or more flags flying out their windows.  The traffic was incredible – a normally 7-minute journey took us over an hour.

We joined the celebrations at King Hussein park, proudly carrying our massive Jordanian flag through the crowds, amidst many people shouting to us (the seemingly only foreigners present) “Welcome!  Welcome to Jordan!”  At the park, we watched as a dozen sky-divers floated to the ground, their parachutes proudly bearing the colours of the Jordanian flag.  The sky-divers also had a cord attached from their trousers to their parachutes, off of which another Jordanian flag flew out into the wind as they descended – it was one of the coolest displays I’ve seen at a national celebration – to look up and see one after another parachute descending proudly bearing your national colours is amazing.

We shouted and waved at police and army helicopters who circled just above the crowd, swooping down over us to screams and clapping.  (And this wasn’t just young folk screaming – the old ladies were right there alongside us, arms in the air!)  We took pictures, had our pictures taken, oohed and aahed at the stealth planes and the F16s as they proudly circled the skies, and watched as trick-planes did loops and upside-down stunts and stalled their engines and caused our hearts to jump into our throats in the airshow.  We enjoyed snacks from vendors – popcorn and roasted nuts and fried bread – and played Frisbee and football and tried our best Arabic with some very curious children in the park trying to make friends with the foreigners.  We laughed a lot and thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Independence – istiklal (in Arabic) – with Jordan.

But the whole celebration made me realize I don’t know that much about Jordan’s independence story.  So I thought I’d just compile a summary of points about the history of Jordan (thank you Wikipedia), and how Independence Day came to be:

  • 1200 BC – Moab, Ammon, and Edom: Jordan has been populated for a loooong time (remnants of communities from 20,000 years ago have been found here). But three nations emerged in the land currently known as Jordan around 1200 BC (~ish): Moab, Ammon, and Edom.  These guys are referenced quite frequently in the Old Testament of the Bible as enemies of Israel and Judah.
  • 300 BC – the Nabateans: Around 300 BC, the Nabatean Kingdom was established in the south of Jordan, with Petra named as their capital (you might know Petra from the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).  The Nabateans were nomadic Arabs who had a pretty big monopoly on trade routes through the desert – thus becoming very wealthy.  They also had an impressive water storage and pipe scheme – you’ll see it when you visit Petra – as a water engineer, that was one of my favourite parts.
  • 300 BC – The Greeks: The Greeks (under Alexander the Great) influenced northern Jordan, creating cities such as Amman, Jerash, and Um Qays (all places you can still go and visit today – the ancient structures are incredible).
  • 63 BC – the Romans: The people in the Jordan area were assimilated into the Roman Empire around 63 BC.  An interesting note is that the Romans (in many places) took all the Greek structures (and gods and temples) and just re-named them to the Roman equivalents.
  • 390 AD – the Byzantines: Christianity became the official religion of the area around 390 AD, under the Byzantine Empire.  Churches built between around 400 AD in Jordan had incredible mosaic floors, which you can still visit today around the Madaba area – as many of them were preserved after being buried by a massive earthquake in 749 AD, and only re-discovered around the beginning of the 1900s.
  • 600 AD – the Muslims. Islam swept through the Jordan area around the 600s AD.  A few empires existed during this period – there was the Rashidun caliphate, then the Ummayads, then the Abbasid caliphate, then the Fatimids.  From this time period, you can go and visit the “desert castles” in northern Jordan.
  • 1100s AD – the Crusades: Then came “The Crusades” – nine crusader castles were built in the Jordan area – during the 1100s.  Karak castle is a remnant of this period, with some pretty gruesome stories.
  • 1200s AD – Saladin and the Ayyubids: Saladin, a Muslim military and political leader, defeated the crusaders and established the Ayyubids dynasty, which existed from the end of the 1100s to mid-1200s.  You can visit Ajloun castle from this period (a castle Saladin had built).
  • 1200s – 1500s AD – the Mamluks: Then came the Mamluks, who ruled the area from the 1200s to the early 1500s.
  • 1516 – 1918 – the Ottomans: The Ottoman Empire took over the Levant area, including Jordan, in 1516.  Jordan was quite important as a way-point in the Muslim pilgrimage by rail from Istanbul to Mecca.
  • 1916 – The Great Arab Revolt: The Hashemite army secured present-day Jordan from the Ottomans (the Ottoman authorites apparently neglected the areas and peoples of the Levant).  They were supported by local Bedouins, Circassians and Christians, as well as by the Allies during WWI. (2016 marks the 100th anniversary of this revolt – we celebrate this next week!)
  • 1921 – the Emirate of Transjordan: After World War 1, the Ottoman Empire was broken up, and the “Emirate of Transjordan” was created in 1921. This emirate was a British “protectorate” – which essentially means they were autonomous, but still under the rule of the sovereign state of Britain.
  • 1946 – INDEPENDENCE! Then, on May 25, 1946, Jordan became an independent sovereign state – named “The Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan”.  (Today, the Hashemites include descendants of the man who initiated the Great Arab Revolt – but their long-ago ancestor after whom they are named was “Hashim ibn Abd Manaf”, the great-grandfather of Prophet Mohammed)
  • 1948 – Arab-Israeli War: The story didn’t end there.  There was the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, which followed the creation of the state of Israel, when Jordan captured the West Bank (the other side of the Jordan River).  That’s when Jordan took its current name:  “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” on December 1st, 1948.  During this period, over 700,000 refugees (Arab Palestinians) fled Israel, many landing in current-day Jordan.
  • 1967 – Six Day War: the West Bank became under Israeli control during the Six-Day War.  Another 300,000 Palestinian refugees fled the West Bank, again, many to Jordan.  Resentment towards Israel is still strongly felt among the Palestinian refugee groups of 1948 and 1967, especially among older Palestinians who feel that they can “never go to their homeland” because of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine.  There were continued tensions through the 1970s and 1980s between Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Lebanese contingents.
  • 1994 – Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty: Even today, you can actually visit Israel from Jordan.  No stamps are put on your passport (as an Israeli stamp on your passport can prevent you from entering several other countries, including Lebanon and Sudan), but there is general acceptance of the current state of peace.
  • 2003 – the Iraq War: When the US invaded Iraq, many Iraqi refugees fled to Jordan.  Jordan, at this point, was starting to become the peaceful island in the midst of regional turmoil, and was playing a large part in becoming a country of refuge to fleeing peoples. 
  • 2011 – the Arab Spring: This period has seen King Abdullah II try to put in place political reform to ensure stability in the country.  This has largely been successful, as no large-scale destabilization or revolt has occurred in the country.  But during this period, Jordan has also taken in about 1.5 million refugees from neighbouring Syria as a result of their civil war.

So that’s a quick summary of Jordan’s history – and this last point about the Syrian refugees – that’s why we’re here!  And maybe Independence Day is not just about 1946, but maybe it’s because of all the pride people feel at being Jordanian, or at living in a country that has adopted them, adopted their ancestors, and it’s a place we all feel proud to call “our home”.

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Are you “allergic” to your partner’s personality?

This week was a special week in the Rous House.  Two years ago, Steve and I hosted 17 Canadian visitors and 83 British friends as we celebrated the commencement of our marriage in Oxford, England!  This week, we celebrated our anniversary at “Kan Zaman” (which means ‘once upon a time’), a fantastic restaurant here in Amman that serves classic and non-traditional Arab fare.  Two years down…fifty more to go 🙂

But more than just an opportunity to have a nice meal out, we also took the chance to reflect on a game we’d played with our team here over the weekend.  The game was called the “Core Quadrant”.

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  1. Quadrant 1: Your Core Quality. Out of a whole bunch of different personality qualities, you select one “core quality” that people (and you) recognize as the key quality they would use to describe you.    Words like “courage”, “generous”, “determination”, “thoroughness”, “spontaneity” – these are all positive qualities.  There were over 60 to choose from.
  2. Quadrant 2: Your Pitfall. Then, as a team you go through a whole stack of “negative” qualities asking yourselves the question: “if a person had TOO MUCH of this good quality, what kind of negative outcome could happen?”.  Typically, we found between 5 and 15 possible negatives for each core quality we assessed.  For example, we chose “calmness” as a core quality.  Some of the “too much of a good thing” negatives we then selected included “passivity”, “boring”, “resignation”, etc.  The person who was the focus of the exercise then went through all the options and selected the one negative word that he or she most recognized in themselves as their pitfall, when their strength essentially becomes their weakness.
  3. Quadrant 3: Your Challenge. Once a pitfall was decided upon, then once again we as a team went through all the positive words asking ourselves: “what’s the positive opposite to this negative pitfall?”  In our example, we had chosen the word “passivity” as the pitfall of “calmness”.  Then, for the positive opposites of passivity, we selected a range of words including “determination”, “drive”, etc.  And once again, the person who was the focus of the exercise chose the one that he or she most admires in other people, or most misses in her/himself.  This word is this person’s “challenge”.  In the core quadrant, this “challenge” is the quality that will most bring you balance.  For example, if “calmness” is your core quality and “drive” is your challenge, you will grow the most as a balanced person if you learn more and more to be “calmly driven”.  You have the most to learn from people who have your challenge as their core quality.
  4. Quadrant 4: Your Allergy. As the last part of the exercise, we once again went through the negative cards asking ourselves “if a person had TOO MUCH of this good quality, what kind of negative quality would emerge?”.  For “drive” as the challenge, we came up with negatives such as “egoism” or “pushiness”.  The cool part of the quadrant is that once you determine your allergy based on your challenge, you’ll recognize that your allergy is a negative opposite to your own core quality.  In our example, “pushiness” would be the negative opposite of “calmness”.  So often, the very quality that we admire in others, in this example we used “drive” as our challenge, we get confused with “pushiness”.  So when you notice you have an “allergic reaction” to someone (for example, a pushy person), actually – there’s also probably something in that person that you have a great deal to learn from, and probably something you admire!!  Not their pushiness, but indeed, their drive.

This exercise is really applicable to life on a team – whether you work in an office, or like us, if you work on a Medair humanitarian team.  Sometimes, you have such frustrating people to work with!!  And yet you’ve got to work together to accomplish a greater purpose!  The Core Quadrant can really help you separate someone’s positive core quality from what you perceive as your allergy. It can help you appreciate the amazing qualities of that person apart from the elements that most annoy you.

One of the realizations I had going through my own core quadrant, when I got to my “challenge” quadrant – was that the three key challenges I recognized in myself were three of the core qualities I most admire about Steve – “kindness”, “unselfishness”, and “helpfulness”.  But the scary part of that realization was that his “too much of a good thing” outcomes were also my allergies!  And guess what?  My pitfall – it showed up on Steve’s allergy list, too!

So during our week of celebrating, we pretty vulnerably got to open up and discuss what we most admire in the other person, but also how that thing that we most admire also becomes the most frustrating thing about one another.  This is what I celebrate two years into marriage:  that more and more I can appreciate the core qualities of my husband and forgive him when those qualities sometimes come out too strongly.  And that more and more my “pitfalls” are lessening as I try to emulate the qualities I love about him so much.  And I love that through this refining process, God is using marriage to shape each of us to become a better reflection of Him!

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100 Years after Lawrence of Arabia: Exploring Wadi Rum

Over the Easter Weekend, we were given a special gift – a chance to explore Wadi Rum in southern Jordan.  Jordan, a land full of fascinating history and unique experiences around every corner. Steve and I spent two nights sleeping in a Bedouin camp and the time in between scrambling over rocks and trekking through soft sand, taking in the vast and harsh beauty of Wadi Rum. Let your eyes feast on our day…

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Dead2Red 2015: How to Run 242 km with the Waves of Dread!

Want to know how to run the Dead2Red race, a 242 km relay race through the southern Jordanian deserts, in under 18 hours?

Here’s a video of our team’s run this year, and you can find some prep tips down below:

Dead2Red Waves of dREaD fb from Janna Rous on Vimeo.

Tip 1:  You should probably train a little.  Focus on interval training.  Focus on speed.  And do a long-run every week just to prep your body for the length of time you’ll have to stay physically engaged in the race.

Tip 2:  As long as you’re relatively fit and a decently average semi-sprinter, you’ll be okay.  The bigger battle during the race is the mental fight against sheer exhaustion and pain in your thighs that may remind you of being stabbed.

Tip 3:  Get your running rhythm right.  Decide how you do it…some teams pass the baton to the next runner every so many minutes, some teams pass the baton after a set distance, some teams leave their runners to run through the dark unaccompanied, some teams have a car accompanying their runner at all times.  Whatever your strategy – know it and make sure all your runners are comfortable with it.

Tip 4:  Most important:  have fun.  This is the craziest run of your year, you can bet your bottom dollar on that.  Enjoy it.  You’ll look back on it with fond memories.

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Saturday Morning: The Rous House Kitchen

After a week of long hours in the office, often one of the best parts of Saturday morning is getting up while the world still sleeps and working on a delicious treat for Saturday breakfast!

cinnamon bunsThis morning’s treat was cinnamon rolls, warm out of the oven.  Isn’t there something wonderful about the smell, sight, taste of homemade cinnamon buns?  Steve and friends visiting from England were the taste-testers.  (I didn’t actually taste due to my slight aversion to anything too gluten-ful…but I got to eat some of Steve’s delicious homemade granola instead..a fair trade, if you ask me.)

I used to make these  many a weekend when I lived in Sudan (yeast dough is an easy option no matter where you are in the world!)  My opinion:  everyone always goes a little too light on the cinnamon.  Go bold.  Make sure the spicy cinnamon flavor comes out.  Check out the recipe I used here and enjoy your own weekend delight.