28 Days

Wild poppy, Umm Qais, Jordan

Twenty-eight days. Twenty-eight days was the total amount of time that I, a Duke undergraduate participating in the Duke Immerse: Deconstructing/Reconstructing the Refugee Experience, was in Jordan, interviewing refugees from Iraq and Syria, and meeting with NGO’s and governmental organizations who have direct involvement with refugees on the ground to hear about what they are doing to help refugees. Does twenty-eight days abroad make me now some sort of expert on the refugee crisis and displacement of refugees in Jordan? Not in the slightest. Does my time in the city of Amman, and my experiences listening to families and people talk about their lives before and after their displacement make me responsible for sharing the information I learned to my communities back here in the States? I’m not sure.

Responsibility, at its most minimal state is being, “liable to be called on to answer” according to Merriam Webster dictionary. My experiences this past month has opened my eyes to the complexity of a refugees’ life in migration. I have seen families who came from great wealth and prosperity from big cities like Baghdad and Damascus, to people who worked on farms in rural areas of the same country, all there, in Amman, Jordan. Living their lives in the “in-between” not yet resettled, not in their country of origin, and not allowed to become citizens of Jordan. All the stories I heard and the people I met gave me a deeper understanding of the refugee experience, yet it is not a complete one. As I sit on Duke’s campus now and reflect back on my positionality as a student researcher, temporarily coming into the spaces of refugees, and then twenty-eight days later being able to leave and come back home is full of privileges that the families I talked with do not currently possess, the privilege of home, the privilege to travel, and the privilege to be born in a country that I do not have to flee from persecution from.

With these privileges that I possess, what am I to do with them? I don’t have the capacity to help every family I met with personally, or go back to Jordan and bring supplies and resources. But the stories I heard, the memories I have of my interactions with these people put me in a position to do something, to be “responsible”.  To do nothing with the information I gained and the stories I heard would be the greatest misuse of twenty-eight days of experiences that I could ever do. The question this then poses, is what would this responsibility be? Being back in the States for just two days, already friends, family, and peers have asked me about my time in Jordan, what I heard, and saw, and what my opinions are now of the refugee crisis as a whole. By talking and responding to a few of them, mentioning what I saw, and how it has impacted my views on displacement and the resettlement process, sharing tidbits of the stories I heard, I think now that, my “responsibility” is to share my experiences.

With this Immerse, our post-trip agenda is to prepare two monologues from the interviews we had, narrating the stories we heard in a public performance, and to curate a magazine that has our photos, and small features of topics that each of us individually focused on during our time in Jordan. With these two projects, the goal is to share with our communities and the greater public what we heard, and to dispel assumptions and stereotypes of refugees. These assumptions of refugees as one-dimensional, potential terrorist threats, stereotypes of the resettlement process as “easy” and a “flood gate waiting to open” when in fact it is one of the hardest processes to go through. With my and the groups’ positionality, Duke students with the ability to travel in and out of our country, US citizens, I do think we are responsible for sharing the stories we heard to the very best we can do, to be as authentic to the people’s lives as possible, showcasing them in a way that humanizes refugees, as individual people with complex stories and lives. I am held accountable to do my part, to be held responsible to these people, I am now in a position where others are asking me about my experiences, what I saw, my opinions on the crisis, and if I don’t share, or if I don’t accurately tell about my time in Jordan, I am allowing the stereotypes and negative images and unknown assumptions of refugees to prevail, a dangerous thing to do in our current political state. Twenty-eight days makes me no expert or authority figure on displacement and refugees, but it does put me in a position to try and change the perception of refugees in my social circles and communities, and for that, I am responsible.

Sloan Talbot is an undergraduate student researcher, a participant of Kenan’s Summer Purpose Program, Freshman Focus, Duke Immerse, SuWA, and Citizenship Lab.

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