Informed Opinions and Alternate Facts

“Standing right now. You guys don’t know the situation. We are just actors here. There is a big, big people playing with all of us. Even you.”

Muhammad’s voice rises as he talks, and his thick, wrinkled olive hands tense up. He is an older man with thick black-rimmed glasses that frame his large brown eyes. Wrinkles have formed across his forehead and bags beneath his eyelids; they deepen as he talks. His age is evident in his droopy eyes, and when he speaks, a long history of smoking can be heard in his deep, raspy voice.  He pulls out a laminated, green Syrian ID card from the coat pocket of his thick charcoal robe, and explains, “I spent four years here, it looks like fifteen years.”

Muhammad and the other refugees we interview in Amman, their lives will continue after the Immerse team leaves Jordan and so will ours back at Duke. But for one brief moment, our erratically different paths intersect here in Amman. Despite the very different positions that we occupy in this world, as “university students” and “refugees,” we are able to truly encounter each other in this moment. In this moment, we see the humanity in each other.

Muhammad turns towards the Duke Immerse team and adds, “I dare you. If they can do anything. Because if they want to try to win the media, telling the people the truth, they are not going to allow them.”

The truth is that these refugees and their families do not feel at home in Jordan. They are no different than you and me, but because of where they were born, their lives have been forever transformed. The big players that Muhammad speaks of are in control of his safety, not him, and the only thing he desires, it a new life. For some refugees, like Muhammad, a new beginning will come when they can return to their home countries. For others, they are seeking a new beginning through resettlement.

Muhammad’s dare forced me to confront the purpose of my experience here in Amman. I recognize that as Duke University students we have been given this opportunity to understand the refugee situation in Amman; those words have been programmed into our interview protocol. But why do we continue our work? In the global refugee crisis, we play a very small role. But can even the small players make a big difference? Our Immerse team is consuming these refugees’ stories in order to share them with another audience halfway across the world. But why?

As this question continuously probed me, I started to realize that my purpose here is not as big as changing the media’s mind, but rather recognizing where are the smaller battles of ignorance and prejudice. As the Immerse team, we are the microphone for a voice that is currently lost in the conversations around the Oval Office. Progress has to be made in steps, and the first steps happen in our innermost circles at Duke and with the families we meet through Mastery.  Change will begin to happen as soon we step off our plane in Durham, North Carolina. With our monologue show in April and Immerse magazine, we will continue to fight on behalf of these unseen populations and hope that these stories can make their way from their home in Amman to Durham and beyond.

As Muhammad closed his interview, he shared, “I respect you, all of you, as Americans. Not America, but as Americans because… You are very kind and you guys trying to search for the truth. But sorry because most of the people, they couldn’t reach it. The truth.” As members of the Immerse team, we are responsible for telling the truth. We will not be able to change the national narrative alone, but informed opinions are better than “alternative facts.”

Isabella Arbalaez is a T’19 Undergraduate and a 2017 Immerse Participant.

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