Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I spent this morning at home, actively neglecting emails and recycling old wine (read: vinegar) into a hearty tomato sauce. While washing dishes, my doorbell rang. And continued ringing. There's a boy's school nearby, so I thought maybe some kids were messing with me. I peered out my peephole but couldn't see anyone. I cracked open my door just enough to see outside (and hide my uncovered legs) and found a young woman, a little girl, and an older woman on the steps of my apartment.

Hey. The young woman explained that she was Syrian, pregnant, and needed anything I could give her. I was a bit flummoxed, and asked if I could pass on phone numbers of people and organizations that could help her. I know someone, for instance, who distributes baby kits to Syrian refugees here in Jordan. But the young woman did not have a phone. In retrospect, I ought to have written down numbers for her, directed her to an NGO in the neighborhood, and called the baby-kit-distributing woman myself. But I didn't think clearly and was worried about tacitly inviting many more people to come to my house. So, instead, I gave the little girl a bottle of water and wished the women well.

I feel horrible. More than that, I feel bad for saying I feel bad: why am I focusing on my own discomfort, rather than the struggles of those around me?

This isn't the first time I've been approached by Syrians struggling in Amman. A few weeks ago, I visited a  restaurant in Jebel Hussein. It had opened recently, and boasted the Syrian versions of fuul (full beans and extra garlic) and falafel (doughnut-shaped). Shortly after I finished my food, a little boy came up to me, holding a laminated piece of paper. I bent down to say hello. The paper, I realized, was his family's copy of their UNHCR registration--a paper listing the names of his family members and an official UN stamp certifying them as refugees.

Confrontations with difference in privilege are hardly confined to Amman. Growing up in California, I grew used to seeing homeless people on street corners, grew used to the jarring contrast between their lives and my own, and grew used to driving by, justifying my decision by affirming the importance of donating to organizations rather than individuals. Who knows.

Okay, mundane moralism. You've heard this before, but I still have to ask: why the hell was I lucky enough to be born where I was born? Why have I gotten to live a life of relative security and comfort? I'm grateful beyond grateful that I've never had to flee my home and that the only lethal gunfire I've heard has been of the Hollywood variety.

Here's to hoping I remember my luck, and am a bit more prepared to help people out in the future.