Life in a refugee camp after dark

Azraq camp in Jordan is divided into seven “villages” (areas of about 7-8,000 people). After having visited village 6, where UNHCR has installed 500 street lights using funds from our Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, we arrive at village 3 when the sun is just about to set, a village without any street lights—yet.

A young woman approaches us immediately, inviting us for coffee in her shelter. All the families we have been visiting have shown a great hospitality, and their cinnamon-flavoured coffee has been highly appreciated every time. Sharing stories and experiences over a cup of coffee (or glass, in this case) makes people talk, whether in the desert of Jordan or downtown Oslo.

She collects the solar lanterns from the roof top, where they have been recharging in the sun all day. She hangs them in the shelter while she prepares the coffee. The lanterns light the shelter sparsely. There is light, but it’s certainly not bright.

Her husband has been missing ever since her little boy, now age two and a half, was born.


She fled Syria with her two younger brothers and her mother, and she now cares for all of them. Her niece, the most charming little girl, approaches Gustav and starts singing for him. Every evening her mother plays songs from her cell phone for the girl to sing along. That is, until the phone runs out of battery, and there is no more music to fill the shelter until the lantern is recharged the following day.

There is no more music, and according to the mother, no more life; the sun provides life, and with little or no light in the evening, life ends. There is no music and no possibility to cook a proper meal. Back in Syria, cooking used to be her favourite thing to do, and she wants to resume this, but she needs more electricity to be able to do so. She repeats: a life worth living requires light and electricity.

After having finished our coffee, we ended the visit and decided to say goodbye and head towards the car parked a little further down the street. We cannot find our way, and I realize how intense the darkness in the desert is. There is a sky full of stars above us, but it doesn’t help much. We decide to stay at her shelter until the car comes and picks us up.

In the horizon we see village 6, all lit up by the street lights. They ask us when their village will have the same luxury. I wish I could promise her tomorrow, or at least next month.

She invites us back for dinner the following day, and I have no doubt it would have been an excellent introduction to the Syrian cuisine, even though it would be prepared in a very simple kitchen.

Azraq - by Chris Williams
Azraq – by Chris Williams
    Anette Platou