A young boy playing with toys at the White Hands School.

I walk away remembering the smiles. I remember the happiness and joy of our interviewees whenever they talked about family, hobbies, and their lives before the crisis. I remember seeing such incredible strength as these refugees opened their hearts, allowing themselves to be completely vulnerable with a stranger like me. I was dumbfounded by the many people who still had hope in God, that regardless of the outcome of the refugee crisis, their lives would be okay.  These interviews showed me that even when people are experiencing the worst hardships possible, joy is not unobtainable.

I think about the many times I walked in and out of homes wondering whether or not the pleasantry and optimism of these families was staged or real. Nevertheless, their images of contentment remain fixated in my memory. I am mesmerized by the prominence of hurt and hope that keep them going every day. It is terrible to think that refugees in Jordan will remain in a constant state of sadness, but for the ones that remain hopeful and optimistic even in the midst of today’s politics, I cannot help but wonder, why? Why do you have so much hope? Why did this have to happen to you? Why aren’t you as devastated about the current situation as I am? I think about their strength and wonder if I would have ever been able to accomplish half of what they have.

For the refugees we interviewed, I wonder about how displacement for weeks, months, or years affects their mental health; I wonder whether or not this burden of displacement lessens with the passage of time. I have only been able to rationalize their peace by imagining the extended time period as a method of healing for their hurt and pain. Both Syrian and Iraqi refugees know the dangers of returning to their country of origin, but many also show an unimaginable hope of returning to their former lives in the near future. Several of the refugees we interviewed were not sad about their current situation, but rather very accepting of their life’s trajectory, because they believe it to be God’s will. Through faith, many of them are able to find their peace. When I think about this inconceivable joy, and type of joy that completely contradicts their current way of living, I realized I have learned one important lesson in Jordan: that the dreams of refugees are just as real as mine.

The identity of a refugee is not rooted in this label. Their identity is rooted in who they were before the conflict—a person living through life’s journey just like the rest of us. Refugees experience emotions just as we do. They experience the highs, the lows, the beautiful moments, and the horrific ones. To me, the smiles of the refugees in Jordan represent people, able and strong, even when life takes a drastic turn for the worst. Universally, smiling does not have to mean pure joy; smiles represent emotion at a certain moment in time. Although I am left with many smiles of far-fetched hope, I have begun to see Iraqi and Syrian refugees as people with values, goals, and many similarities to American citizens. I am not able to connect with their experiences, but at least I can connect with their solace after listening to them talk about the things of the world that make them feel alive.

Idalis French is a T’19 Undergraduate who participated in 2017 Immerse Program, and is a current Kenan Student Research Assistant

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