Archive for January, 2014

Armaan Rowther, Fulbright, Jordan: My Father’s Name is…

“My father’s name is _____.”  As I noticed this single sentence hiding beneath a conspicuous strip of white paper loosely taped to the poster, I wondered why it had been so haphazardly effaced from the list of English sentences we were to teach the children that Saturday morning.  As I thoughtlessly began to peel away the tape, I suddenly remembered where I was.  I stopped.  Heavy-hearted, I slowly smoothed the strip of paper back over the sentence.

In Baqa’a, Jordan’s largest Palestinian refugee camp and home to more than 100,000 refugees, the Orphan Welfare Association (OWA) provides additional educational programs to children from the eight crowded United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools, which operate on a double-shift basis six days per week.  Most of the children supported by OWA—through financial assistance, medical treatment, and provision of clothing and other basic necessities—are between six and twelve years old, and all have lost either one or both parents.

Many of my students in the English program that morning hadn’t learned past tense yet; many wouldn’t have known how to say, “My father’s name was…”

Later that day, my wife and I shared a seat on the crowded bus back to Amman from Baqa’a, as we have done each weekend while living and studying Arabic in Jordan.  However, this time, as we squeezed through narrow roads between cramped markets and hastily constructed homes, my mind was not occupied with the view from our window as it usually is; all I could think about that afternoon was my father.  As I reflected, I realized that throughout my life, my father’s example had always been my inspiration, his loving encouragement my strength, and his advice my constant guide.  To this day, rooted in his unconditional affirmation and support is my very sense of identity and self-worth.

These were ideas I had previously neither expressed to my father nor even consciously thought to myself.  Yet, as I was reminded of the circumstances of my students at OWA, I found myself unable to fathom life without him.

When I left the United States over four months ago to begin my Fulbright fellowship year in Jordan, I expected to learn a lot about the world.  For this reason, I was not surprised when I encountered entirely unfamiliar realities living in the Third World, or when I was challenged daily to express my needs in faltering Arabic, or when I was confronted with the different cultural norms and expectations of the Middle East.

What I could not have expected when leaving home—the “transferrable skill” I could never have thought to seek—was how much I would learn about myself, about my blessings and privileges, in innumerable moments like that morning with my students in the Baqa’a refugee camp.  These moments have been the most important of my time in Jordan and are the reason I now feel compelled to seize this opportunity of writing, with humility and gratitude: My father’s name is Mohammed, I love him immensely, and I am who I am today because of him.

With my father, one month before departing the U.S.

With my father, one month before departing the U.S.