The day of two halves

This is not a post that I thought that I would ever write. It’s not a post that I ever wanted to have to write. I have mixed feelings of even whether I should write it. It is very much a case of experiencing two very different halves to the day. One half good the other not so.

Anyway here goes…….the good half!

Today I attended the Open day at the Al Hussein Bin Talal University. I was invited to attend with two of my girlfriends (wives of Atef’s cousins) who are Doctors in the English Language Department. When they invited me a week ago I jumped at the chance to attend as it was something very different for me and I was really looking forward to it all week. Reem and Nuysabeh told the head of their Department that they had invited me to attend and from there it was suggested that they should ask me if I would like to be a guest speaker as part of the English Department activities. I was more than happy to be part of the day and they were all thrilled that I was willing to participate.  There are lots of things that make me weak at the knees with nerves, but public speaking isn’t one of them, especially when I’m speaking and answering questions on a topic that I’m confident about and in the case of today I certainly was as I was talking about Me!

Alia and I headed to the university which is over near Ma’an, about 15 minutes from Wadi Musa, and arrived at 11am. The day was just starting to get underway and the tent for the English Department was being set up. They had face painting, colouring, balloons and goody bags for the kids as the staff had all brought along all their families as it was much a family day as it was for the students and prospective students. There were fun games for the students to take part in such as tug of war, sack races, egg and spoon races and the like. The vibe and atmosphere that was being generated from the English Department tent was attracting lots of people and even garnered a comment from the Dean of the University that it was the best tent of the day.

Sabah and Alia with their faces all painted up.

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The stacks and crashes of the sack races.

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I introduced them to the concept of a three legged race, which they added a Jordanian touch to by instead of running three legged, they jumped with the “third leg” off the ground the entire race. Very funny to watch.

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I was introduced to the people in the tent and after giving some information about myself I was interviewed by one of the students from the department. There were questions from people in the audience and the heads of three different departments and the Dean of the University were all in attendance listening to me. I got a few laughs and was told that I did a great job and I had a good time.

After some poetry recitals and a short play by some students the staff and their families headed inside for a buffet lunch.

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Everyone had brought food to share including me as I was asked by Reem to make hedgehog slice which is a favourite for those whom I’ve made it for here. It was a delicious spread and I enjoyed being able to meet and talk with the staff and their families.

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I wish that I could leave this post here on such a high note but unfortunately it’s here that the second half of the day begins…….

During lunch there was a bit of a commotion outside and people were looking out the window (we were on the 3rd floor). I asked what was happening and was told that there was a fight going on outside. Noone seemed concerned and it was dismissed as just one of those silly things and boys being boys.

We finished lunch and the commotion outside had definitely escalated. I decided to take a look myself and the fight, which in my mind I had pictured as a bit of fisty cuffs between a few people and others standing around watching, was actually groups of boys standing on opposite sides of a road and quadrangle hurling stones and other projectiles at each other.  For me it was like watching a scene from the news where you see groups of youths hurling stones at police and protesting about something. Not long after the police turned up. In numbers. In heavily secured vehicles. With guns. Automatic weapons. Tear gas. It was more and more like watching the news, except this was happening not more than 150m from the building where we were watching.

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Evacuating students from the IT building to a safer building. There were a few thousand students on campus whilst all this was happening.

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Tear gas canisters going off in the background whilst the students are being evacuated.

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Blockades set up by tribal members of burning car tires.

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Strangely I felt detached. I could see the drama, I could smell the tear gas, I could hear the gun fire, but yet I didn’t feel it was real. Shock maybe, but I definitely at no stage felt scared, frightened or threatened.

We were unable to leave the building as the situation outside was too dangerous and we were informed that at least 1 person had been killed and that he was the son of the leader of one of the biggest Bedouin tribes in the area.  What had started out as a stand off between a couple of students who were family members of opposing tribes had escalated into a full blown tribal clash. Car loads of family members and supporters had arrived from the surrounding areas bringing with them knives and guns turning it into an armed violent battle. The police were unable to get the situation under control on the campus as the number of people involved had swelled with the arrival of members from each tribe. To stop even more people arriving and entering the battle the police surrounded the campus and set up a shield – no one in, no one out, including us. We were unable to leave and told to say inside.

Around 3:30 we were told that we could leave so we all headed out to the cars and in a convoy headed to the main gate only to be turned back as that situation outside the gate was deemed to dangerous to allow us to leave. Family members from the tribe whom the son had been killed had set up road blocks of burning tires and rocks as they were determined to exact retribution for the death in their family. Even at this point I didn’t feel that we were in danger. The police  had decided that it was best for everyone that we turn our cars around and head back to the building.

We were finally able to leave at 5:00 but not before having to drive through at least 100 policemen dressed in full riot gear. I still didn’t feel afraid and was actually thinking I wish I could get a photo of the police, but was more worried about that if they saw my camera they might take it off me.

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Once we had left the campus there were carloads of armed members from the two tribes along the road and when we got to the small village of Udhruh they had blocked the road and were protesting outside the police station as some people had been detained and taken to this police station. We had to do a little bit of off-roading and make our way through the back streets of the village before returning to the main road.

The man on the left hand side of the car is carrying a large knife.

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There is a man armed with a rifle in the back of the car.

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Driving towards Udhruh. Most of the cars are people from the University wanting to head home, but there are a couple of cars/utes of armed men at the top of the photo.

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The mob outside of the police station in Udhruh which is on the right hand side of the road.

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The violence has left 4 dead with 25 others hospitalised and many others injured.

The real reason that I didn’t ever want to have to write a post like this is I don’t want my family and friends to think that I’m not safe or for them to equate this violent clash between two opposing tribes to what is happening in other Arab countries as it’s certainly not. This was a clash between two Bedouin tribes, which is unfortunately a fairly frequent occurrence in the Ma’an district but not near where we live in Wadi Musa. It doesn’t involve anyone else who is not involved with these two tribes and is not against the government of Jordan.

I’m very safe, not once were I or Alia ever in any danger. I think that maybe my reaction (or lack of) to what happened was in part due to the reactions of the people around me. No one was overly worried or panicking or fearing for our situation. I was in a room with lots of children and there was no worrying from their parents about their safety. I’m not saying that people weren’t concerned as it was a terrible situation that has resulted in the senseless loss of life, but they weren’t worried about our safety. It was seen to be more of an inconvenience that we couldn’t go home and that the tribal clash had interfered with what had been a terrific open day for the university.

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5 responses to “The day of two halves

  1. I read about this in the Jordan Times. As you say, it’s a fairly common occurrence, but only ever involves the tribes who are fighting. I’ve been here four years now, and not once have I ever felt threatened or unsafe. It’s a beautiful place to live! By the way, your kids are lovely!

    • It was quite a surreal experience – it was happening all around us, but yet we were so removed from it. And you are right it is a beautiful place to live and very safe.
      I can’t claim all the kids – just little Alia is mine.

  2. I don’t know what to say…. What an amazing course of events that no one could have predicted. I did read recently about how different the way of thinking is between the the Middle East and western people’s mind and the way they settle disputes. Middle eastern people are apparently shame driven and there is always this underlying feeling that virtue must be preserved and shame must be relatilated. Western thought is driven by guilt versus non guilt. Not guilty until proven otherwise…. Etc.. I am not sure if I would cope with a group of people who are hell bent on seeking revenge because I am not driven this way. You should be commended for remembering the day in all it’s entirety, the good and bad and how you remained calm and level headed throughout the course of events as they unfolded. I truly admire you for remaining calm. I understand unnecessary violence can occur anywhere… It happens here in a regular basis. Hopefully, people will oneday live in peace and will see that harmony far outweighs retribution. Maybe this is why someone like you is living over there. You may just change one person’s mind about retaliation and this is all you need to do… Like planting a seed for the future. Little Alia will learn this through you. Please remain safe and thank you for your post.

    • Tam I have to thank you for giving me some insight into the the cultural thinking here that I hadn’t been directly aware of. It’s been a light bult moment since you pointed out the Shame vs Guilt way of thinking and responding to situations. I had never heard of it put this way before and it makes so much sense. I’ve been doing more reading and investigation into this way of thinking and it’s making me look at everything through fresh eyes. It’s also helping me to be proactive in all the relationships that I have as I’m better equipped with an understanding of what drives people and where they are coming from. So interesting and fascinating about what makes people tick!
      We can certainly hope and prayer that one day harmony rules over retribution. I find it rather old fashioned this eye for an eye approach – haven’t we evolved past that!

  3. Oh my gosh. I’m a little… shocked… after reading this post. It’s amazing how fast things can escalate from a beautiful family Open Day of fun and food to being surrounded by armed police, guns and armed tribal men. I’m glad that you and Alia are safe. It’s horrible to hear about the injured and the loss of life… that kind of conflict is hard to relate to, for someone who hasn’t witnessed it first-hand. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m glad that it hasn’t shaken your views of your current homeland (it’s amazing that you could still feel safe and secure in the midst of the situation – but I am so glad that you did!). Take care xx

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