By: Hayley Smith
Amman is a modern city that boasts thousands of years of history and hospitality. You can wander for hours through the winding urban streets, the ancient Roman amphitheater to your left and a modern hipster coffeehouse to your right, mosques—ranging from picturesque to utilitarian—on every corner. It is a sprawling concrete fortress oozing with charm and always-heavy traffic.
No matter how many times I’ve driven from Amman up north to Mafraq, I’m always taken aback at how quickly the city fades and the scenery transforms into stark, empty, vast desert. The only living creatures you see for several miles are flocks of sheep, goats and camels, grazing on small plants that they instinctively know how to find.
An hour and a half later, and miles after driving past Zaatari Refugee Camp, its perimeter crowded with guards, children, and UNHCR Jeeps, we arrive at one of hundreds of small rural refugee settlements. (Only 16% of refugees in Jordan live in the 3 main camps). We help those who live along the Jordan/Syria border, working in Jordanian farms, each orchard or crop a green oasis in the desert.
We know this particular camp well—we were only here 3 weeks ago distributing goats to families who became our fast friends. We came to follow up on the goats and how they’re benefiting families. Before getting down to business, they usher us into a shade structure, and 2 minutes later bring a tray of steaming cups of amber-colored tea and juice, the trademark of Arab hospitality.
Most people in this camp are members of a large extended family from Idlib, Syria, a city hit hard at the beginning of the war. The beginning of the war was in 2011. They’ve been in this camp, working the farmland for pennies, season after season, since 2012. They consider it half-Syrian soil, since the rainwater that nourishes the orchards flows in small creeks from Syria, whose border is only 100 yards away.
They are so friendly, so welcoming, so positive, so happy to host a few road-weary and jet-lagged foreigners. They immediately thank us for the goats, pointing to the little flock eating green foliage in a neat pen nearby. The camp is strangely beautiful. One woman in particular, Umm Bisaam, took it upon herself to plant no less than a dozen herbs, vegetables, and flowers. Each tent is lined with bushes, bright flowers jutting out, as if demanding to be seen.
She takes my hand and shows me each plant, lovingly stroking the leaves of the more fragrant basil, rosemary, mint. As we walk along, she plucks flowers, presenting me with a complete bouquet at the end. I kiss each of the cheeks on her beautiful face. Her love is sudden, sincere, sisterly. Our next stop is the goat pen, where she pops in and expertly milks the black goat, skittish at first, then calm, as if relieved to empty some milk out of its bulging udder. Umm Bisaam and her husband were goat keepers in Syria. They had hundreds of goats.
10 minutes later, Umm Bisaam’s young son brings us a tray of warm goat’s milk in small glass cups. It is sweet and delicious. I ask for a second cup. There is no reason to be shy here. She beams, saying that her children now have milk before they go to the local makeshift school. And she can now make traditional labna (yogurt) and cheese, a staple in the Syrian Bedouin diet. It’s her turn to kiss my cheeks.
I’m not attempting to humanize refugees here, which is often a knee-jerk reaction we humanitarian orgs tend to impose on our supporters. There’s no need to do that when there are Umm Bisaams in the world. They’re kind. They’re resilient. They’re humble. And they have specifically asked for your help.
Goats increase their quality of living exponentially. There are hundreds of families in the area, many of whom have been waiting for two years since this program began. We can only give them goats if this fundraiser succeeds.
Please help us raise enough money to buy 1,000 more goats for families just like Umm Bisaam’s wonderful family. We have received a generous matching grant, and all donations made before October 31 will be doubled! Click here to donate now!