Written by Lauren Burns (University of Mississippi) Student Correspondent CET Jordan: Internship, Spring 2018
One day, our program took an impromptu trip to Northern Jordan. We escaped the unusually cold weather of Amman and enjoyed the sunshine and humidity of a local orange grove in Irbid, where we spent the day shaking trees to collect some of the tastiest oranges I’ve ever had. As we finished boxing up our day’s work, we started walking down a dirt path to eat dinner, and I stopped dead in my tracks. Before me lay a breathtaking view of the hills of the Golan Heights, seemingly just steps away from where I stood.
The next week we visited Umm Qais, an ancient city also located in the Irbid governorate. I was checking my phone’s map application just to see how close I was to the Syrian/Palestinian/Israeli borders when my friend tapped my shoulder and said, “Look.” We had hiked up a hill to find the most magnificent view: the Sea of Galilee, the Yarmouk River, and Golan Heights were so close I felt like I could dip my hand into the cool, rolling waters. On these trips, two of my friends said something that really stuck in my head. The first was “Imagine how many people have never seen a border before.” For most Americans, the only border they’ve crossed by land is going from state-to-state—a particularly uneventful endeavor. Yet, before me lay borders of three different countries—in one of the most tense and volatile atmospheres in the world.
As we stood on that hill in Umm Qais, my other friend asked me: “Do you realize the privilege this little blue book gives us?” she said, clutching her American passport. My heart sunk as I stared at Syria, the Golan Heights, Palestine, and Israel. I can (and have) easily crossed some of these borders, which my closest friends in Amman may legally never be allowed to do. That night I flipped through my own passport over and over, thumbing over the dozen or so stamps I had from the Middle East alone.
That’s how I really came to understand the phrase “you had to be there.” At my university at home, I’ve read so much about the refugee crisis in Jordan and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But being here, seeing the effects of the conflict in person and talking to Syrian and Palestinian refugees has deepened my understanding tenfold. They’re not numbers or statistics—they’re people. And that’s not something you can get from a book.