Paprika

A visit to Amman and Za’atari – Syrian refugees camp in Jordan

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Two nights ago I came back from Jordan. I was there with part of my band – Paprika to perform a couple of concerts in celebration of Europe Day on 9th of May, 2015. The reason there was only half the band in Amman is because the Home Office in UK is holding the passports of 2 of our band members. One of them has been waiting for his visa for well over 2 years. The irony is that whilst criminals need to be cleaned up off UK’s streets, the Home Office is wasting public money on courts and lawyers preventing us from doing our job as cultural ambassadors of Europe and representing UK as well as our countries. But enough of the negative sides now. I just had to get it off my chest as it IS ridiculous and absurd. So I made this small tour with Rastko Rasic on drums, Vlad Strkalj on guitar and Peter Bakaja on bass.

The first concert was in Amman. I must say that all involved in organizing this mini tour were amazing. Our Jordanian friends were more than welcoming and accommodating all of our needs. Plus in general, Jordanians were smiling at us as we walked down their streets saying “welcome to Jordan”. OrangeRed and the British Council in Jordan were absolutely amazing. The Jordan Times was one of the papers that covered the event. The Hashemite Plaza, which is where the concert took place,  is a very large square built at the bottom of a Roman Amphitheater.

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Our collaboration with the local musicians was a lot of fun and all in all we had a great time on stage. It was great to see there lots of Embassies amongst which there was the Romanian Embassy in Jordan, The Jordanian Romanian Forum for Culture (JRFC) and the British Embassy. Here is a little snippet of the concert taken by an audience member.

Bogdan Vacarescu #Ziua_europei_2015

Posted by The Jordanian Romanian Forum for Culture JRFC on Monday, 11 May 2015

More pictures of this event can be found here:

Europe Day Celebrations (8-9 th May 2015)احتفل الاتحاد الأوروبي في الأردن خلال عطلة نهاية الأسبوع به بسلسلة من الأنشطة…

Posted by European Union in Jordan on Monday, 11 May 2015

And here.

Now the exceptional part of this trip was going to happen the next day, 10th of May 2015, when we headed out to camp Za’atari. We were told that the camp was built in 9 days in 2012. Now, officially the population inside the camp is around 84.000 people but in reality is closer to 100.000 which makes this camp the 4th largest “city” in Jordan. There are a few main things that I would like to share whilst they are still fresh in my mind:

First of all, the Jordanian officials they were so apologetic about what they could offer to the Syrians refugees as we were there in some sort of an inspection rather than perform a concert for them. They were saying how desert is all they have and that this is this is the best they could do for the refugees, and from what I saw in the few days of driving up and down, it is true – all we could see was desert and rocky mountains with patches of brown grass. Also we were already told in Amman that the natural reserves of water are extremely low and they import most of the water as well as their electricity. Hence, Za’atari did not have electricity for some time and even after they did manage to get it they kept on having electricity cuts. Now, they were showing us their latest solution –  newly acquired small diesel electricity generators that could supply power to a few trailers. In fact, after our little performance there, we took a walk in the camp and saw 3 kids aged perhaps between 9 and 12 years old taking apart one of these generators and trying to fix it.

In that same trip around the camp we arrived at this trailer in which lived one of the Syrians that was in charge of the neighborhood. Yes, the camp is organized into neighborhoods and it actually works like a small city. People get some per diems and they have  a small infra structure. But I’ll get back to that, now about this man and his trailer.  At the time we got there, he had a guest in his “house” an older man who once was a judge back in Syria, now sitting on something improvised to make it look like a divan. And he still was the judge in the camp – at least that’s what the camp’s official showing us around said. Now here comes another interesting part. As we were in this man’s doorway (about 12 of us  – some of the Paprika and officials from different Embassies that came to see the concert) we were guests, therefore we had to have coffee! Now remember, water is a luxury in a camp like that, especially when the camp is in the middle of the desert! So we refused but no matter that he was in that situation, he had to go by his people’s hospitality rules and we were told that he would take offense if we refused him. He only had one cup. And he poured in it enough coffee for a couple of sips so everyone could get some of that Turkish style coffee. I was thinking that probably between 12 of us we drank his ration of 2 days worth of water. And I really wished I had a bottle of water on me to give to him in return.. We were not aloud to take pictures whilst walking around but I did take some whilst driving in and driving away from the camp and you can watch it below.

Another thing I noticed was that as we walked along the camp, the refugees had a smile (sad smile but still a smile) when they looked at us and were saying “welcome”, “salam” or just waving at us. And so we headed to the main street of the camp – the commercial street which they call ChampsÉlysées – loved to see how irony and humor are used in the camp to overcome the hardships. Over there they have their own tailors, bakers, carpenters, barbers etc. Of course all these take place in the same sort of trailers as seen in the above video. Everything is so basic and simple and yet they really try to keep calm. We were told that sometimes the refugees can snap over the smallest thing as a result of it being the last straw. Which was understandable since they lost houses, families, jobs pretty much everything except for their lives.

Oh yeah, another thing: the Syrian refugees were actually really looking after their trailers. We had a peek inside the trailers and they somehow made them look really cozy: a rug here, a cushion there and all very clean! I don’t know how they did it! They were actually sweeping their places inside and in front. But the dust kept on coming back. As a matter of fact we spotted 2 sand twisters as we were leaving the camp!

Here you can see a little safe place for the kids to play:

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Going back to where the concert took place, another camp official was showing me 3 different trailers that he was so proud and happy about: the first one had 14 new laptops sent by Switzerland for kids to learn computers and whatever they wanted to learn. Another trailer with books and another one dedicated to fine arts. Here, they had an arts teacher that was showing them how to build models of real places, paint and other handy crafts. Here are a few pictures of what they were working on:

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The concert itself was yet another collaboration between members of Paprika and Syrians players and in the end, Jordanians joined as well when we tried to play something together with the Syrian band in the end of the concert. It was actually rather funny that in this trip we discovered that this tune (Aj Ruse Kose – which is already claimed by most Balkan countries) is known and claimed by some Arab countries too! So luckily they knew our song and slowly they started jamming one by one. This concert was organized again by the British Council, IRD and UNHCR who were all present as well as other officials from other Embassies including the Romanian Embassy which kindly uploaded this clip on their Facebook:

#Ziua_Europei_2015Scenă din concertul susținut, la tabăra de refugiați Zaatari, de Bogdan Văcărescu și formația…

Posted by Ambasada României în Regatul Hașemit al Iordaniei on Monday, 11 May 2015

I’ll have to come back and correct some of the English in this post as well as add stuff as I remember it. This thing was written in a hurry after a long rehearsal and still, it took me a little over 3 hours. I have quite a few more pictures to upload from the trip but I will do it in PART TWO of the post which may come in the near distant future. But I will end with this observation: all my life I was watching how people always share when they have next to nothing and when they have plenty… they say it’s not enough to go by. I remember as I grew up under Ceausescu how people always traded or just gave if they had that extra few eggs because they knew that one day they may be the ones needing that little extra bit. Same thing here: Jordanians sharing their desert with Syrians. Syrians sharing their water with us. And us… coming from a places that have plenty of water and grass and food and yet they say it’s not enough for immigrants. Getting a sick feeling anyone?

Anyway here’s me and the British Ambassador in Amman sorting out the world! 🙂

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And a nice pic from the end of the concert in Amman.

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Here are the members of Paprika together with the Syrian and Jordanian musicians after the concert at Za’atari.

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