Seeking safety in Jordan

Can you imagine that you have to leave your house because bombs are falling out of the sky? We visited a family who had to do just that.

At 9.30 in the morning, a minivan picked us up to go the head office of UNHCR here in Jordan, Amman. After a couple of minutes in the van we arrived at the UNHCR head office. We stopped in front of the gate and the van was checked with a mirror. This was to find any strange things under the vehicle, like a bomb. It gave me a safe feeling but after a few seconds I realised that it is really strange that that is needed.

The IKEA Spain and IKEA Netherlands team with the UNHCR representatives. Photo by Brian Pauw.

When we were all inside, we had a small security briefing. Amman is a safe city but UNHCR did not want us to get hurt, so they told us some basic safety instructions. You can think about simple things like: don’t go on the streets after dark on your own etc.

Besides the safety instructions we were also told about how to behave. Of course, it is different from what we do back home. For instance, a man can give a man a handshake, but a man cannot do that with a woman. If you want to greet another person of a different gender, you have to put your hand on your heart and say hello. In this way you are sure that you are doing it right.

When you are entering a house, you should take off your shoes. This way you show some respect. It feels strange to take off your shoes when you are entering a building. Here in The Netherlands, it’s not so common.

The son of the Syrian family we visited was a little shy when we first arrived, but he quickly got used to us. Photo by Brian Pauw.

After the briefing at the UNHCR head office, we could put it into practice. We were going on a home visit! I must say, it was a little bit exciting. I was constantly thinking of how I should behave. I wanted to give everyone a handshake, but that is just not normal here, so I just nodded to every person who looked at me.

When we arrived at the home we were going to visit, the father of the family was already standing outside waiting for us. From a distance he looked like a friendly person and the closer we came, the more he smiled towards us. I still had in mind that I could not give him a handshake.

When we entered the room, we took off our shoes just as we were told at the UNHCR office. The father showed us the living room. The mother of the family was sitting there on the ground with their four children. A cabinet was the only furniture that stood in the room. On the ground was a mattress. We sat down on the mattress. I looked at the children, who are aged eight, six, three and one. I think that they found it exciting too. The children sat still around their mother.

We introduced ourselves in English but the family only spoke Arabic. A translator from UNHCR joined us on the home visit to help us out.

The IKEA Spain and IKEA Netherlands team visiting a Syrian family. Photo by Brian Pauw.

After a few moments, when we had gained their trust, the father told us their story. The family fled Syria in March 2015. Their house was bombarded a couple of weeks before their journey to Jordan. The bombardments were horrible, but the family stayed at their house. At that time, IS controlled the area where they lived. Once, IS stopped the family on the street because the mother did not wear a veil. At this point, the family thought they had had enough and fled towards Jordan. When they crossed the border, they were given shelter in Azraq refugee camp. You have to imagine that Azraq lies in the middle of the desert. The temperature can be very hot and dust travels in the sky. The father has breathing problems, so the air in Azraq was not so good for him. They tried it for a couple of months but then decided to travel towards Amman.

After a period of searching they found a house that they could afford at that moment. Unfortunately, the rent was raised, and the family was forced to leave the house and find a new one.

A member of the IKEA Spain team giving a thumbs up to our Syrian hosts’ daughter. Photo by Brian Pauw.

After a couple of minutes, the children got used to us and started to walk around the house. We were looking at a small girl who is eight years old. Her father told us that she still wakes up at night with the idea that their house is being bombarded. We hardly understood what her father was telling us. And everyone was a little bit quiet. It is unreal that it is just not possible to protect this girl from her dreams.

One of us quickly asked what their biggest dream was. They told us that it was to go back to Syria as soon as the situation is safe enough. This family was so warm and gave us so much respect. The father thanked us for listening to his story. What an experience…