Bed·ou·in (noun or adj.) ˈbe-də-wən, ˈbed-wən 1. Desert dweller, nomadic Arab of the desert. 2. A wanderer or rover.

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We arrive at the Domiz cultural center in the early morning to set up for the event: an art festival showcasing children and adult refugees’ paintings and drawings. I shuffle my feet along the greyish floor, noting that the hallways and walls are completely barren. Fadi explains to me what is going to happen: we will adorn the walls with kids’ paintings, and set up the adults’ work on easels all along the halls.

“The adults are all professional artists who live in the camp,” Fadi tells me, taping a colorful drawing to the wall. I blink. I never considered that there would be professional painters living in Domiz. The idea seems, embarrassingly, incongruous to me. I see the camp as a place where people go just to survive. Maybe they sew to make a living, set up a small construction shop, give people haircuts—they don’t make beautiful art. But as the paintings go up one by one, it is so clear that these artists are trained, I mean trained. I notice that every piece is exquisitely, and mournfully, informed by their experiences as refugees.

The afternoon passes by swiftly; it feels like magic and also like heartache. I stop by a painting of large purple fish, swirling and transcendent. Fensa, the artist, explains, “They represent children, taken away from their home. They are like fish out of water, it’s almost impossible to survive.” I ask her why she paints. She says, “to escape from the camp.” It is difficult to be an artist in a refugee camp. Just consider. Materials are hard to come by, as are places to show and sell your work. Samir studied art in university in Syria—in a stylish beret and suspenders, he pouts appropriately for the camera. “I usually like more abstract art,” he says. “But I drew this piece so that the message was really clear,” he gestures towards his colossal painting: a woman wearing a hijab, a child slung on her back, one hand covering most of her face.

Residents peruse the hallways and stop at each painting, while kids run around everywhere, pointing excitedly at their drawings on the walls. Each artist stands next to their easel, explaining the meaning of their paintings to onlookers. I suddenly feel a pressing tug on my chest; how can I capture the loveliness of this event when every inch begs to be photographed, when I have just two hours, when I am just one person? I’m scribbling down statements from people that speak to today’s healing power:

“I drew people afraid when they came from Syria, but then they are happy because they’re safe here.”  Rojla, 12. “Painting, for me, helps me run away from the tents. To run away from my situation.” Sipa, 29. “Today, I don’t feel like a refugee.” Fensa, 27.

I kneel down to say hello to a little girl with bouncy bangs and a bowl cut—she gives me a huge smile showing small, chipped teeth, grabs my face in her hands and kisses my cheek. It’s like magic and like heartache.

children 3

Sorry for using this blog as a photo dump and putting zero of my thoughts on here. Literally zero. I’ve been feeling unmotivated to write, mostly because I’ve passed the one-year mark in Amman, and this stopped feeling like a new and different experience a while ago. It seemed self-indulgent to blog. Would I publicly muse about my daily life if I were in a U.S. city? Probably not. I have a full time job, now, and things remain in their normal state of semi-normalcy. Nevertheless, I will mark this milestone with the proper amount of reflection.

Last week, I turned 23. That makes two birthdays spent in the country of Jordan. I think people must be wondering what I’m still doing here (this crosses my mind sometimes, too). I was supposed to be gone for a year, to have this ten-month stint and then return to the United States. Instead, I found myself searching for excuses to prolong my stay—first for the summer, then for the fall, and now probably until next summer. There are many reasons for this, of varying lengths and complexities, but I guess the short answer is that I love being in the Middle East. I like Amman, how tame it is but also how things are happening underneath the surface and how easy it is to find those things out. I like how full of foreigners it is, Arab and non-Arab and everything in between. I like my job and hearing people’s stories. I like being in the middle of things, feeling connected to the disquiet, disruption and dreaming that are happening in the region around me. So, now I’m 23, but I don’t feel uncertain or insecure about my choices—for the most part.

Recently, though, I’ve picked up a series of weird motivational habits. Sometimes I sit in the café with sound-cancelling headphones and the volume turned up, listening to crooked smile and pretending that J. Cole is singing to me. In the morning, I drink my coffee sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor because it makes me feel serene or at the very least earthy and unconventional. I often look at my reflection and say evenhanded things like you are capable or you can do it or please don’t unravel today. I wear mascara a lot more often. I’m not entirely unfazed by being young but also having responsibility for my actions and being largely untethered to anything or anyone. It requires a particular type of emotional self-care, which I have embraced maybe a little too fervently.

In summary: 23 feels great, better than 22, and I like where I am and where I’m headed. Aaaanyways. Later, my friends. I’ll write again soon about something else of minimal importance. Salaam.