June 3rd, 2007Rawa is Um Rami’s oldest daughter. Her older brother is 19, she is 16 and her other brothers and sisters are eight and eleven. I met her while at Zahra’s house one day when she and her mother dropped by. While Um Rami and Zahra were working out some plans, Rawa began plying me with questions about English. Her English and my Arabic were at about the same level, so we had a great time trying to understand each other and exchanging vocabulary. I saw her again a few weeks later when I interviewed her. In Baghdad, where she lived up to the age of 13, she had a relatively carefree life until the war began. Her family lived in a nice house, she was doing well in school and she had girlfriends to hang out with in her free time. With the war came the bombing which was very frightening for her. Lying in bed at night listening to explosions and wondering if she knew anyone who was being hit wracked her nerves. She and her family moved around to different areas of Baghdad when her father’s store got blown up and he started getting death threats. That’s when she lost contact with most of her girlfriends. Her family finally came to Jordan in 2005, via a scary ride in a taxi to the Jordanian border. They saw some people being pulled over ahead of them so they took off across the desert and circumvented the danger. Being Sabean, a religion that predates Judaism, they likely might only have been robbed…. Rawa’s biggest concern right now is for the well being of her father. He had gotten a phone call about 3 weeks before informing him that his cousin had been killed. He flew into a rage and stormed about for several days before one day taking his passport and leaving. The family hadn’t heard from him since. Rami misses him a lot. She also misses school. Besides her father’s safe return, she wants to go to school more than anything. Her mother had wanted to be a teacher but her father wouldn’t allow it since it would involve working with men. She has her chance now and is one of the few women I met who makes a special effort to teach her children academic subjects. Rawa has a special drive to learn English, perhaps from seeing Zahra and her work with foreigners. One of the sad things about Iraqis having the status of “guest” in Jordan rather than refugee status is that the children aren’t allowed to go to school. Jordanian schools are mostly already full, but even schools created by Iraqis for Iraqi children, are not allowed. This doesn’t make sense when you look down the road and realize that these Iraqi kids will likely be in Jordan for a long time and will grow into uneducated adults which will create another kind of social problem. The fear on the part of the Jordanian government is, however, that Iraqi-only schools may become like some of the madrassas in Pakistan, that is, become schools of terrorism or at least sectarian propaganda. Nevertheless, some Iraqi children are able to attend Jordanian schools. From what I could gather, it depends mostly on the headmaster of the school and whether there is any space. There are also efforts to start some “informal” schools. These would exist under the radar of the Jordanian government and wouldn’t award grades or diplomas, but would give the kids a chance to socialize, have some regularity in their lives and keep their minds active until they can attend a regular school. A priest at one of the Catholic churches has started an art-based school that meets several afternoons a week. It’s open to any children and encourages their parents to participate as well. One of the best things about this school is that by being open to everyone, the Iraqi kids have the opportunity to mix with Jordanians and Palestinians in a supportive, fun atmosphere. Before I left, I found out that Rawa’s father is alive and well and living with relatives in Southern Iraq. He won't be allowed to return to Jordan and rejoin his family there, however.