Monday, November 5, 2007

Baghdad Dreams

My work at the UNHCR has so far been unrelated to Iraqis, although the crowd of them downstairs every day means that they are never far away. Instead, I get to determine whether the Sudanese and Somalis who somehow made it to Jordan are entitled to refugee status. Since Jordan, like most countries that border Isreal, isn't a signatory to the refugee convention, getting refugee status here means very little. Jordan doesn't want them here, and so they aren't allowed to work, receive microfinance, or government benefits. Instead they survive on charity after their money runs out (if they somehow arrived with some), and hope that they can be resettled to a western country, the odds of which are pretty bad. But all of which is still better than returning to Somalia, which is in the midst of the worst fighting since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991, and has the distinction of being the only country in the world right now with more refugees than Iraq. What little government there is has resorted to indiscriminately shelling parts of the capital for days on end in its efforts to fight of the Islamists, who briefly led the only stable government that Somalia has seen in 17 years, as well as the only peace time.

The UNHCR can do about as little for the 750,000 Iraqi's in Jordan (bringing the country's population to about 6.5 million). And since they can't work, many find that they have to go back home. Of course some people take it as a good sign.

After being in South Africa, where you're generally better off if you never have to talk to the police, Jordan is refreshing in that the police, like most people, are ridiculously nice to westerners. I was trying to find a restaurant the other day, and so I asked a cop. He ignored my question, and insisted that we become friends. We talked, in a mix of my extremely broken arabic and his mostly broken english, about all the important things - where we were from, if we're married, what we like to do for fun, etc. - for a good 15 minutes, before I realized that I was late, and again brought up the subject of the restaurant. After asking a few people, he took my arm, as friends do, and lead me there, where we exchanged phone numbers and I promised to call him.

In the interest of keeping this a non-travel blog, I won't ramble at great length about Syria, but I will mention a few things.
  • We waited at the border for almost 10 hours. Which gave us lots of time to do fun things like look at this sign:
  • The people are ridiculously friendly. Well, to foreigners. Although probably not to Iraqis.
  • Syrian men hold hands. Full-on, fingers intertwined, holding hands. It's amusing, until some does tries it with you, and then it's a little weird. They're very touchy everywhere, even in the baths, where friends wash each other. I saw one guy slap his friend's ass to tell him he was done scrubbing.
  • Boys play with guns. A lot. Even in mosques:
  • The president is everywhere. But people refuse to talk about him, except to say that the love him. And how could you not love this face?

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