Artmongering with Refugees II

To be honest, I never really thought that I’d ever go back to the Azraq camp in Jordan. On a personal level, it’d been such an internal journey for me to be there in 2017, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel, and my professional life had taken me literally half a world away from where I was back then.

But there I was, on the phone to Patricio, stood outside my favourite place on my favourite night of the week in Melbourne.

“Matt, we want you to come back to Jordan with us,”

Figuring out the logistics was pretty straightforward, I’d be coming back home to the UK early April, they were flying out the week after. Life is full of beautiful coincidences and chances.

I’d not seen Patricio for six months at that point, and we’d not really kept in touch other than the odd message or in-joke reference to our last adventure together. But it felt like we’d only been apart for a few days when I stayed at his the night before, catching up and talking about life between the moments.

I wasn’t expecting a fanfare when we arrived, I wasn’t really expecting much of anything, but a lot of faces lit up when they saw us. The numbers of people that pass through the Care camp on a daily basis is staggering, so how so many people still knew my name more than a year on is credit to the care - no pun intended - and passion of those that work in the camp. And I was also swarmed by the boys I’d become friends with, and a lot of hands were shaken with the men that we’d worked with before. A lot of hands were shaken every day as the warmth of the Syrian people came flooding back to me. All three phrases of Arabic that I knew came back to me too.

Things in the camp were a lot more restricted this time around - for example, I ended up being dragged into the camp’s school last year by one of the kids I’d befriended, and I was given a thorough tour and explanation of how the education system worked. This time, I wasn’t even allowed to walk to the car to grab a spare battery without being chaperoned. There wasn’t a scary explanation as to why this was happening, it was just camp police being more cautious to accommodate the growth of the camp as well as the influx of staff and visitors with each day.

Life seemed pretty much the same in Azraq.

We had the same production system in place as last time; I’d cover Catherine and Patricio’s work during the day, then edit and produce a daily summary video in the evenings along with the photos I’d taken. It was like clockwork. What wasn’t like clockwork were the plans of Care.

In amongst our visit, they had huge plans to celebrate their 70th anniversary as a global charity, back in Amman. Then a huge sandstorm arrived. This is was just the first week.

The second week had a national holiday and our car breaking down in the desert.

I’d also come down with some illness the weekend in between weeks, which meant I was bed-bound working through the video of Catherine’s last day, but I also managed to binge American Boyband for some motivation and inspiration when I wasn’t slipping in and out of sleep.

Time became our biggest problem as the second week rolled around. In amongst losing half a day to the car issue, and another to the national holiday, Patricio had just three and a half days to lead his team of merry men into designing and painting a mosaic pattern into the void-like space between the campsites.

The goal was to accomplish as much of this as possible, and leave the men with the task of completing it in the weeks after we left. The major issue that Patricio faced was keeping momentum when they’d started each day. Which meant he had to be a constant source of entertainment for the team under the Middle-Eastern sun. All day.

One moment that really sticks with me was a quiet moment out in the void, I was filming one of the men painting. Everything was peaceful other than for the patter of jokes being thrown about by the team, when a thunderous boom filled the sky. It was something that took the air out of my lungs. I looked around for a source, I saw a few of the others do the same. There was no source for it. It didn’t seem to bother anyone else, they got on with whatever they were doing. Same for those that were passing us on their daily routine. It sounded like a hole had just been punched in the sky.

What stuck with me about it though, was that no-one reacted. It brought me to two thoughts; were they that used to the sound of war that it didn’t affect them, or were they that settled in the security of the camp that they needn’t worry?

I found out later that day that it was a test by a base further down the road. It was a hard feeling to shake. I’d physically felt shook by it, but these people were unaffected by it. It says a lot about the difference in our lives.

At least to me anyway.

Being in Azraq camp is an experience I’ll always cherish and I’ll forever appreciate the opportunity to have witnessed the lives of those in the camp and the eternal workload that Care Jordan is handling. I’ve spoken a lot about how eye-opening an experience it is to be there before. It’s also led to other opportunities to work with other incredible organisations.

It was a more gruelling experience this time, watching Artmongers weave and deal with ever-changing rules and guidelines instated by Care and the camp police. But one that had a huge, cathartic payoff at the end. Whether I’ll return again is something that I’m unsure of, my life is heading in a direction that seems to be taking me away from that being possible. I’m not bitter about it, life is a constantly changing and growing entity. Something that I hope leads to a positive outcome for those in the camp.

There’s a lot of dreams and aspirations to be talked about in Azraq; mothers and fathers talk about finding a place to have a stable and safe life for them and their families. The kids all have huge aspirations to become successes themselves and study in universities before starting careers in their respective careers.

I’m not going to make this blog have a political tinge to it, but it’s hard to disagree with the fact that innocent families shouldn’t be caught in the horrors of war. Too many lives have been lost to fights they have nothing to do with.

I want to thank Patricio and Catherine again for the chance to experience their work in the Middle East again, it’s always something I put a lot of personal stock in, and it always teaches me things about myself and the worlds I move through that nothing else in life could.

I feel like the below video really encapsulates my second visit, I took a different approach to it this time. Yes, that is my voice in it, no, I genuinely sound like that.

Shoutout to my brother Chris Peet for coming through at short notice to help with the recording, mixing, and mastering of the voiceover.

If you like the video, let me know, if you’d like to talk about anything or ask any questions, just let me know. I’m no authority on anything other than my own experiences and feelings.