A Shopping Trip

Hello from Amman, Jordan! First and most importantly, thank you again for all of your support and donations—we passed $9,000 in total donations yesterday!! Lexi and I landed Friday evening and went straight to the apartment we’ve rented for the week. The manager of the property, Sama’an, met us and took us out to eat hummus, falafel, and other Arabic food we’ve been missing. It feels great to be back in the Middle East and speaking Arabic.

Yesterday morning, we met up with a group of Mercy Corps volunteers to shop for second-hand clothing to bring to Mafraq tomorrow.  Our team was made up of two Jordanian-Palestinians, three refugees from Eastern Syrian near the ruins of Palmyra, a documentary filmmaker from France, and a Syrian-American from California. With our eclectic group assembled, we went from shop to shop, filling huge sacks with used clothing. Suha, the lead negotiator, would introduce herself and explain that we were buying supplies to bring to Syrian refugees. It seemed the bargaining tactic was to introduce the Syrians next. Abdul-Salaam did the talking: a mixture of joking, cajoling, and appealing to the owner’s generosity, religion, and hospitality. People here have mixed feelings about the refugees: they are undoubtedly a strain on the economy and bring security risks but almost half of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin and thus relate to the refugee experience. In the end, the shopkeepers always relented. We bought hundreds of pairs of shoes for less than $3/pair, at least a thousand sweaters and shirts at four for $1, about 350 pairs of jeans for under $1.50 a pair, and a few hundred pairs of socks and underwear (new).  Moved to generosity and impressed by the sheer amount that we purchased, each shop owner threw in an additional bag (at least) of merchandise free of charge.  By the end, we had about 25 large sacks full of clothing (see pictures below).
All of the Mercy Corps volunteers and the Syrians in particular were incredibly appreciative of the support of our donors. The group faces a number of obstacles: there is no official UN funding for refugees who are living outside the refugee camps (where conditions are very difficult), they can’t raise money directly due to Jordanian restrictions on NGOs, and any goods shipped in to the country are taxed heavily. With the two of us on the ground to withdraw the cash and purchase items directly, we’ve been able to ensure that every dollar you donated went to buy needed items. In fact, we signed and kept copies of every receipt.

The team goes shopping approximately every 10 days but it is entirely dependent on when they have donations to finance their purchases. The scope of the need is incredible: thousands of Syrians cross in to Jordan every day, most coming with only the clothes on their backs (there are now over 500,000 refugees here). In-kind donations are difficult because they are of mixed quality and sometimes of questionable appropriateness (Suha mentioned donated miniskirts, espresso machines, and even wetsuits). Furthermore, they must be sorted and washed—Suha told us her kids began wondering why half their apartment was buried in clothing for other people. The clothing we were able to buy has all been cleaned, folded and prepared for sale by the merchants.

Tomorrow, we will drive up to Mafraq with other Mercy Corps volunteers. While we are both excited to deliver the truckload of clothing and other items, we are preparing ourselves for stories of terrible suffering. One of the Syrian volunteers told us his brother has been missing since May after being arrested for helping wounded opponents of the regime. Another, a driver, told us that he was imprisoned and tortured for over a month and a half after being caught bringing Syrian refugees to Jordan. The Syrian soldiers holding him captive debated killing him before deciding to leave him for dead in the desert. Somehow he made it to Amman and is now doing what he can to help his people. Many more stories surely await us in Mafraq. But we’re glad to be able to bring meaningful assistance to Syrians because of YOUR donations. Thank you again for all of your love and support. We will send another update when we have been to Mafraq.