We set out in the late afternoon today for the Palestinian refugee camp, Baqa’a.
Ezz Natour and his two journalist friends, Hussam and Jude, picked me up and we were soon on our way.
The camp sits about half an hour outside of the bustling capital, Amman, but today’s journey took a bit longer than expected.
The reason? The police were forced to close down the fourth circle in Amman, because it filled up with protestors, angry and frustrated about the assassination of Jordanian writer, Nahed Hattar, yesterday.
We took a longer detour and eventually approached the camp.
Having already been to Azraq, I was expecting the same kind of isolated scene.
To my surprise, as we rounded the corner, I saw hills upon hills of brown dirt and dry land, with concrete structures piled on top of one another, beside one another, and in every nook and cranny possible.
This wasn’t the same kind of place.
Baqa’a Refugee Camp has a unique story. It was built in 1967, as one of six “emergency camps” for displaced Palestinians.
These people fled their homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war broke out.
When things first started out at Baqa’a, it wasn’t supposed to be a long-term solution.
There were tents set up over a 1.4 square kilometer stretch of land, and eventually the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) stepped in to replace those tents to better protect the refugees from the harsh Jordanian winters.
Since then, the residents have built more durable concrete shelters, with little to no privacy.
As we navigated through the narrow streets, too cramped for cars to pass one another, it felt a lot like a poor city, instead of a refugee camp.
That’s really what Baqa’a has become.
Poverty and a high unemployment rate are two major issues that these residents continue to face.
Every other shop seemed to be either closed, run down, or entirely vacant.
When you drive or walk down the crowded dusty streets, the makeshift nature of this camp is quite apparent.
Windows boarded up with tin sheets to keep the dust out, concrete structures falling apart, and neighbours on top of one another – the impoverished life for this Palestinian community is evident.
But at the same time, I immediately noticed the sense of life in the camp.
From the young boy blowing up balloons, letting the air out and watching them fly away, to the bicycles with streamers on the handles being sold at a local shop, to the three year old boy devouring a watermelon popsicle – these refugees have made the best of their new home, temporary or not.
A mother and child walk the dusty streets photo to go here
Our first stop was a converted gym turned school.
Three young girls eagerly shook our hands as we entered through the front gate, giggling as we passed by.
We spoke with an organizer there, looking to give the kids in Baqa’a something productive to do to pass the time.
Their focus is on directing the kids’ energy to playing sports, like boxing or weightlifting.
They do their best to give the kids a place to play, but there are very few facilities for an ever-expanding population, and often fear it’s not enough.
There was a boxing club started in 1968, that produced many famous and talented boxers, but a lack of funding has forced it to close its doors.
Now, there’s a plan in the works for a new sports arena, but it’s only one small effort in a larger-scale issue.
Though we didn’t get the chance to speak about extremism today, or meet with a family, it’s clear there are efforts to curb it through sport – but admittedly, there’s a long way to go.
Ezz will continue with his story in the coming weeks, and I wish I was able to be here for the process, because I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of this fascinating story.
As we packed up in the car, ready to leave Baqa’a for the day, Ezz explained to me that many of the older members of families here, still to this day, believe they’ll go back to Palestine.
They carry their personal documents and safeguard the key to their old houses, a symbol of hope to returning to the land they used to call home.