By Ella Turney
I arrived in Amman, Jordan, back in January, full of curiosity, excitement and anticipation. My degree allowed me to live for six months in the Middle East, and this was something I had been dreaming of ever since I confirmed my offer to study Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures at Durham back in 2017.
[blockquote author=”” ]Jordan is a safe haven[/blockquote]
The Middle East is often an unknown yet mesmerising place from the perspective of the West. Through media outlets, we consume ideas of war, destruction, plights of refugees and religious debates, yet the reality of this is far from that. Jordan is a safe haven, bordering Syria and Iraq, you feel no such repercussions living here. The capital, Amman, home to around 4 million people, is full of beautiful street art, delicious smells of falafel and rich Arabic coffee on street corners and downtown markets which are bustling with fruit, vegetables and kanafa. Jordan is home to world heritage sites such as the historically fascinating Petra, the deep orange wonder that is Wadi Rum, the dead sea on the West and Aqaba in the South. Jordanians are proud, welcoming and beautiful people, and I had fallen in love with the country and the people. Jordan is one of the most welcoming, open and kindest countries I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. Jordanians will great you with ‘Welcome to Jordan!’ everywhere you go (even if you’ve been living here for almost 5 months). When coronavirus became more and more prevalent, I was torn on whether to return home to my family and leave this wonderful country, or remain in Amman, unbeknown to what would happen in the future.
The Jordanian government took an extremely strong stance against the outbreak. They announced on Friday the 19th of March that they were closing the border the following Monday. On the following Tuesday, King Abdullah issued a state of emergency and signed a royal decree which allowed the Prime Minister, Omar Razzaz, powers under a defence law that have only been enacted in times of disaster and war. All schools, mosques and churches were closed. A curfew was announced for a few days in which we were forbidden from leaving our houses, risking arrest and imprisonment for a year if we disobeyed. All shops, restaurants, clothing outlets and markets were shut down and a ban against driving cars was brought in. A few days later, some restrictions were lifted. Small supermarkets were allowed to open, people were able to leave their houses from 10am- 6pm, but driving and travelling between the governances remained prohibited.
[blockquote author=”” ]Strict measures were needed in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis[/blockquote]
If Jordan had become an epicentre, in the same way the UK and other countries sadly have, the Jordanian health system simply would not have coped, with the World Health Organisation ranking Jordan as one of the least prepared in the region to fight the pandemic. Additionally, Jordan is the second largest refugee host country globally and therefore these strict measures were needed in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis. And these strict measures, so far, have worked. Jordan has recorded officially 9 deaths, but the current official number of active cases according to RoyaNews is 62. Compared to other Middle Eastern countries, Jordan has been very successful in crushing this virus.
[blockquote author=”” ]The siren at 6pm every night announces curfew[/blockquote]
When I told my friends and family that I intended to remain in Amman during the corona virus pandemic, most responses were of disbelief and confusion. Why would I want to be staying in country that was a 5-hour flight from home? Didn’t I want to be in safety with my family in the UK? All valid responses, and I will admit that it wasn’t the easiest decision given that out of the 15 Durham students in Amman, only 3 including myself decided to stay. However, Jordan went into severe lockdown very early on, before any cases had been announced. Additionally, I was in Jordan to improve my Arabic. If I had made the decision to leave, my Arabic level next year would not be thanking me. I felt completely safe in Amman. I had lots of Jordanian friends who were all supportive, I had my own apartment which I share with another Durham student, and my parents supported my decision, knowing that if worse came to the worse, the embassy organise repartition flights every month or so (even though they cost around £2,000, so the feasibility is questionable).
Today, the border is still closed and the siren at 6pm every night announces curfew, but slowly life is getting back to normal. On Wednesday 29th April, cars were allowed back onto the streets, but only within each governate. Markets in downtown have reopened, people are sitting in public squares and larger supermarkets have reopened. We are currently in the middle of Ramadan, which sees Muslims here (who make up 90% of the population) observe fasting from sunrise to sunset. My friends who are observing Ramadan express sorrow at the inability to break their fast with friends and family and to go to the mosque, key traditions at this time of the year. However, there is hope that by the end of Ramadan (25th of May) that life will be back to normal. Most likely the border will still be shut, but given the very small number of cases, Jordan may have survived this pandemic and given hope to other nations.
Photograph: Premasagar via Flickr