The Month of Change

One Amman. Two Amman. Three Amman. Welcome to Jordan.



This was one of the things my classmates and I would say whenever we were preparing to ask our next question during the Syrian and Iraqi interviews in which we were participating.


Over the past few days, many friends and acquaintances have walked past me on campus, all surprised and elated that my classmates and I have returned from the Middle East safely. The biggest question we have continuously gotten, all of us, is “How was it?” Truly, I don’t know where to begin.

There is the programmed pause, almost completely voluntary, that I do wherever someone asks me about the trip. “It was a lot”, I say. “Interesting”, I add. “Definitely an experience” is the go-to, but I think the best way to describe my trip is “extremely difficult but so rewarding.”

When I decided to go to Jordan, I never imagined I would leave emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. The trip to Jordan was an experience that I knew would push me, but if someone had told me a few months ago how far I would have been pushed, I would have looked at them and laughed. Jordan was no joke. I have never been busier than I was while there, constantly working day and night. Jordan challenged me in a way that was more unique than anything I have experienced at Duke. I was out of my element, one of the only students on my trip who had never been abroad, constantly trying to discover where I would be able to find the peace that exists both at home and at Duke. I was exhausted spiritually, constantly trying to find time for God in my days, but not being able to talk to Him as I much as I should have. There were moments of despair when I desperately desired to be back home in a place of warmth and comfortability. But there were also so many different moments of joy that consisted of listening to refugees tell me that they envisioned me as their daughter and friend because I was someone that took time out of my life to sit with them for two hours and listen to their wildest dreams, greatest fears, hopes for the future, and scariest moments of their lives.


In Jordan, I participated in 13 interviews with both members of Syrian and Iraqi families. Their pain became mine, touching me and letting me know that there is nothing okay about human beings losing their personhood and becoming something that is represented in this world as an “it” or entity—a refugee. Whenever the other students and I would experience times of fatigue and exhaustion, we reminded ourselves over and over that these interviews mattered more than anything we were currently experiencing. We were able to disappear from Jordan in a month to a home of comfort and security, so whatever trials upon us at the time were invalid. It was a month of constantly recognizing my own privilege that will never go away. I went from imagining myself as a victim to someone that is blessed and prosperous. I had forgotten before coming to Jordan that as an African American female living in the United States, I am lucky. I am lucky to live in a place that, at least for the time being, protects me and allows me to continue my education peacefully without great worry concerning my safety. I interviewed many young men that were very close to my age who weren’t able to continue their education because of the Syrian revolution. During an interview, I watched as three Iraqi children with mental and physical defects crawled and rolled around on the floor due to the chemical gases that caused health problems in their mother’s pregnancies. I learned about an entirely different world here, a world that is not pretty and does not at all resemble the world that America often portrays.


I walked away from Jordan very tired. Tired from all of the work we did and exhausted after hearing about so many different sources of pain. But I also walked away with beautiful perceptions of Syrian and Iraqi people. There was one time in an interview when I watched a mother and the way she caressed her daughter’s hands - I then saw my own mother; I saw my mother’s mannerisms and the same type of love she gives me. I felt the warmth of community, especially when I was greeted by so many families who had never-ending love for me, though I was a stranger to them. I saw pain and poverty so brutal it churned my stomach, but through the entirety of this experience, I saw that the people of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq are just like us. They want to live lives just as we do—lives of pride, honor, safety, and purpose. To invalidate their experiences and dreams because of a few groups and people that don’t represent who they are as people is simply insulting and wrong. I was able to get to know these people, one by one, and let them know that I was here for them, even if I could only be there for a short window of time. I left to United States to discover the effects that displacement has on a person’s sense of identity, but I left Amman, Jordan and the surrounding areas I visited with so much more.

Idalis French