A Tale of Teaching Refugees in Jordan
I scribble the word narrative across the white board. It is another day of teaching, and we are nestled within the bland walls of a classroom inside of a quaint church. My students are looking back at me from their charcoal tables as I ask them if they have completed their homework of finding an example of a narrative. A brave student, Hassan* raises his hand from his place in the back of the classroom.
“Yeah… I have one. We left Mosul [Iraq]. We packed what we owned and could in our car and we drove out to Jordan away from our home. ISIS took it all over.”
I become speechless as I look at Hassan across the tense room. His words tell a common story in my classroom, one of hurt and confusion that these students share. Hassan’s words soak deeply as I learn about his life…his life before he joined the other .5 million Iraqis living in Jordan.
I look around this packed classroom. I look at doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, engineers, and a kindhearted architect who all have become equal under the umbrella title of refugee.
As a college student myself, I find notes of relatability in his story. Hassan spent his early 20s studying to become a specialized architect at The University of Mosul in order to soothe his bold passion for creating. After years of hard work, he graduated and went on to attain his dream.
It seemed impossible that anything could stunt his developing tale. I see Hassan’s eyes soften as he tells me about meeting his wife and his early years of starting a beautiful family within a charming home in the heart of Mosul, Iraq. Hassan filled his weeks with work, caring for his family, and attending church. Then Hassan pauses and takes a deep breath. I can feel the temperature in the room rising as Hassan turns the page to a new chapter within this fairytale.
Within six days, it all fell apart.
Mosul fell at the hand of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the comfortable lives of many were crushed with it. Hassan’s hard work became covered with rubble, his home emptied, and his family separated along continental lines.
From here, the stories of my 90 adult English students become clumped together. I look around this packed classroom. I look at doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, engineers, and a kindhearted architect who all have become equal under the umbrella title of refugee. Some of these families clung together during the process of evacuation. And, others were split with tears flowing.
I have students who have been waiting for three years to be able to hold their children who have been resettled in the United States.
While the weekends were once spent enjoying the large city of Baghdad with family and friends, they have become replaced with studying English. And, applying for residency across the globe. Now my students hope to get closer to something more stable than being a refugee unable to work. I have students who have been waiting for three years to be able to hold their children. Their children — who have been resettled in the United States.
These tender tales often don’t seem real until I sit across from a person, transparent, pushed to humility, and afraid of the stinging that will likely occur between the spoken words of a broken past. Our shared humanity creates an ability to dialogue, to feel, and to search for hope. With a population consisting of more than 1/3 refugees, the streets of Amman, Jordan are filled with these tender stories.
As a teacher within this unique area, I have the privilege of standing in solidarity with my Iraqi students over the soreness of losing what seems like everything.
While I work with the other teachers to plan another lesson for English class, we end up spending our time reflecting on our students. It is hard to carry a lesson through for a whole two hours when a room full of joyous laughter has an undertone of a murky reality. Each lesson could soon become somber. It’s all under the weight of a mention of the events that have unfolded within the last few years.
This classroom is supposed to be a tiny white safe haven for these students, but it easily slips into a place of tattered conversation over tea and potent filtered coffee.
I get to sit with these beautiful Iraqis and listen when they feel like sharing, cry with them when the hurt upsurges, and support in whatever ways I can.
I get to sit with these beautiful Iraqis and listen when they feel like sharing. Cry with them when the hurt upsurges. And support in whatever ways I can. Sometimes my help comes in the form of providing an English lesson, sometimes in creating a space for dialogue, and sometimes it is just about smiling with my students over an unexpected funny moment. Whatever the time may turn into, I am amazed that I do more learning than teaching.
My students teach me the truth that the news does not usually portray. Those nitty-gritty stories that fail to be glorified in headlines.
I glimpse what it means to be refugees in Jordan. As I enter into a collectivist culture of care and relationship. The best narratives of all, the real ones, the ones that bring me to my knees at the pain of this world. And those that build a real sense of what hope looks like, are those that I want to teach about, to share, and to listen to until the reality of this situation is brought to light.
*Names have been changed.
A Tale of Teaching Refugees in Jordan
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