It feels impossible for me to summarize, conclude or wrap up my last two months, because I feel as though my journey was still only beginning. I came to Jordan with an open heart and mind, and full of questions, but instead of finding answers, I am only finding more questions. I have mentioned in my previous reflections how complex Amman is, and how I am only scratching the surface. That feeling has not changed. So rather than attempting to summarize what cannot be summarized, I thought I would share the very mixed emotions I am feeling as I depart Amman.
I feel grateful and elated after an incredible experience – I did not get bored for a single minute since I stepped foot in Amman. I learned so much, and I truly feel that I grew both on a personal and professional level. I feel sad for all the goodbyes – I made some beautiful friendships and connected with family during my time here, and I wish I didn’t have to leave them behind. I also found a home here – saying goodbye to the city itself feels difficult and premature.
I also feel excited – my time here has opened many doors for my masters and beyond. Rayah and I have found fantastic potential capstone clients and are engaged in very exciting conversations with them. I have also connected with numerous organizations who look forward to reconnecting with me post graduation for potential job opportunities. My time in Jordan served an important purpose of reaffirming that I feel most alive, challenged, and happy when I am working in the region, and preferably in the field. It doesn’t mean I have to rush back post graduation. I know there are plenty of opportunities in North America and Europe that can take me toward this same goal– but it does help me as I think about where I see myself and what I see myself doing after GHD.
I cannot hide that beneath all of these feelings lies a deep sense of worry and concern for Jordan and the region, as well. Anyone who comes to Jordan is amazed at how it is keeping things together despite all the internal and external pressures. And rightfully so! I feel very safe here, and am very impressed by the peace and stability Jordan is able to maintain. But being here two months has offered a much deeper and wider view that exposes serious, underlying issues which make Jordan’s current situation unsustainable. For one, the main source of Jordan’s stability is foreign aid – massive amounts of it. You can say that this is not going to end any time soon, particularly since a stable Jordan remains in Israel’s interest. But it is dangerous to assume that this is sufficient to ensure continued peace and stability here.
The problem lies not solely on the funding, but on how this funding is spent. At a Freidrich Eibert Stiftung foundation panel I attended on Economic Policies and Social Justice, panelists agreed that the same pressing issues that were discussed 25 years ago are being discussed today. Put simply, these large sums of money targeting some of Jordan’s most chronic issues are simply not being spent effectively. Infrastructure and human capital are weak, and although the numbers below the poverty level are not drastic, the percentage of those feeling and experiencing poverty is widespread. Salaries are very low (and that is if there is a salary since unemployment is so severe), and living costs are very high. And to add to this, Jordanians feel neglected, sensing that more aid is going to the Syrians than to their own people. Most worrisome is to realize that although many of the same problems from 25 years ago still exist today, the situation is not the same – it is far worse. The youth unemployment is higher than ever, and the mismatch between educational opportunities and the needs of the labor market are larger than ever. The lack of opportunities youth are facing today will transform into far more serious problems in the future – namely radicalism a whole new level of political instability. To be perfectly honest, no level of foreign aid or government propaganda that we see today could combat these very real and disconcerting forces.
I certainly don’t want to end this reflection with such a negative and depressing picture. None of this is inevitable. It can still be prevented. And what inspires hope is to see that there are players on the ground doing what they can to really address these issues and change the way things have been done traditionally in development over the past 25 years. Additionally, one cannot deny that the Jordanian government is incredibly receptive to and aware of the reforms it must undertake – some of which are bound to shake the already fragile social contract it has with its people. This willingness can go very far, and allows for the relatively enabling environment we see today for humanitarian and development activities.
The bottom line as I pack my bags and head for the airport is that this is not good bye, but a see you later. For all the reasons listed above and so many more, I certainly see myself being back here at some point in the future. It is a place I know I can constantly learn and grow, while adding value to very meaningful work with my range of skills and my familiarity with the region. Leaving with this feeling alone made the entire experience so worth it. A big thank you to GHD, who made this all possible for me!