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Reflecting on real meaning of love on Valentine's day, walking through refugee colony of Amman, Jordan

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
Amman, the capital of Jordan, is a wonderful city complete with history, tradition and modernity. Amman, however, on a very cold (temperature less than 5 ℃) and rainy day is not the most exciting place to be in. Above all, since Amman is built on hills (jabal) and has several valleys (wadi), walking distances from one house to another, is certainly not something that one easily relishes.
Nevertheless, walking today in the rain with Esraa and Mohamed, two volunteers with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) here in Jordan, was indeed a very special experience. ‘Camp Hussein’ not far from downtown, in north-west Amman, was set up in 1952 to house thousands of Palestinian refugees, after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Today, the winds of change have blown over this sprawling area. It however continues to be one of the poorer quarters of the city; the people who live here are not only Palestinians but also refugees from other countries like Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Somalia besides poor Jordanians.
Esraa and Mohamed had prior appointments with six refugee families, who had contacted JRS sometime earlier. As a ‘Family Visit’ team of JRS(there are four two-member teams) this ‘first visit’ is important : to make a personal contact with the family, to listen to their pain and suffering, to assess their needs and above all, to see in what ways JRS can serve, accompany and if needed, to advocate for them.
There was always a warm welcome at every house. As one listened to the heart –rending stories of these refugee families, one often wondered if compassion and love were just dreams of the past. Everybody had fled war and violence; their travels to Jordan were arduous, but somehow they made it.
Once here, there are issues of loneliness and isolation, of not being easily accepted, of education for the children and of employment. The rented ‘homes’ they now lived in had the minimum of facilities (one could see it); the rentals kept increasing. Most find it extremely difficult to make both ends meet.
We listened to the Iraqi woman who fled Mosul and also a violent husband; to the Syrian woman with three children, whose husband is now taken away from her and now detained far away in another camp, because he was ‘working’ and that is against the law; then, there was another woman whose husband has been deported back to the country from which he had fled- and the family has absolutely no knowledge of his whereabouts. Some want to die; others feel totally helpless and hopeless. 
 Listening to their pain, seeing their tears, made the rains and chill, the steep climbs and the slippery slopes, pale into insignificance. As one walked on, the words of Charlie Chaplin kept tugging at my heartstrings, “I always love walking in the rain, so that no one can see me crying.” We did however experience the refugees crying.
For the refugees, JRS represented by Esraa and Mohamed, comes as a lifeline. The two of them listened with their hearts. The bonding was infectious, the warmth was palpable. One could feel this, as Esraa embraced an elderly woman and as Mohamed took out some sweets from his bag to give the little children. 
Today was also ‘Valentine’s Day’, when the world celebrates ‘love’ – even if it is very commercial and cosmetic! (Plenty of reminders in the shops, newspapers and WhatsApp messages). One could not help reflecting on the real meaning of ‘love’: the courage to reach out in compassion, to our sisters and brothers who are displaced, excluded and marginalised. In a very extraordinary way, through seemingly ordinary deeds, I was part of an experience in which Esraa and Mohamed communicated to those they encountered, what love actually means!
When I was young, there was a popular love song ‘Walking in the Rain’; it was a boy-girl romantic song. Today, in a very different context and a more challenging reality, I cannot but help remember the chorus of that song:
“Feels like I'm walking in the rain
I find myself trying to wash away the pain 
Cause I need you to give me some shelter
Cause I'm fading away 
And baby, I'm walking in the rain”
---
* Indian human rights activist, currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Written on 14th February 2017, Valentine's day, during visit to Amman, Jordan

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