As I sit outside on the rooftop terrace restaurant of my hotel, I’m in awe of my surroundings.
The sun is just setting over hilly Amman, the lights are dim, and there’s something paradoxically peaceful about sitting in a place, unfamiliar in its entirety, with a language echoing in the background that I don’t understand, yet somehow feeling at ease.
That’s Jordan in a nutshell.
The people, the food, the culture, and the beauty – it’s all so inspiring.
As is the work I get to partake in here.
Earlier in the day, I met with Nadine Nimri, a well-respected and award-winning journalist that I’ll be training and working on a project with. Nadine is a reporter for Al-Ghad Newspaper, a well-read paper with fifty thousand subscribers.
We sat down at her desk to discuss an idea for an upcoming story. We were quickly interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone from Angelina Jolie’s people.
Yes, that Angelina Jolie.
She’s in Jordan, and toured Azraq Refugee Camp yesterday afternoon – the same camp I’ll be visiting in about a week.
Nadine told us about the press conference she attended at Azraq and how you would never be able to tell Angelina Jolie is a Hollywood star. It was clear that she was there for the kids, and the cause.
There was a table for those attending the press conference with water, juice, coffee, and biscuits. When the journalists were finished with them, the biscuits and plastic bottles were left, and the kids were ecstatic.
Not about the potential treat, but for the bottles – Nadine explained how they use them to make a variety of things, including toys.
It reminded me a lot of my time in Kledzo, Ghana, where I volunteered in my last year of university. In our tiny and remote village, the kids would collect the garbage from our hut, and turn our seemingly useless trash into something they could use. That empty tub of face wipes? It became a dustbin. It was the same scenario here, at Azraq.
After the slight distraction from the Hollywood glitz and glam, Nadine, Mohammed and I discussed potential story ideas.
Nadine was fresh with a few pitches. One of them was about a woman from Bulgaria, who got in contact with Nadine out of the blue, with an important story to tell.
This woman married a Jordanian man in a civil marriage, and the two decided to move to Switzerland. Her husband then took their three-year-old child on a supposed vacation back to Jordan, but never returned.
So this woman, a foreign mother, desperately tried to get her child back through any outlet possible, including the Jordanian courts, but to no avail.
So how does this happen?
In Jordan, foreign mothers aren’t exactly treated equally. If a woman from, say, an Eastern European country marries a Jordanian man, and they divorce, where do the rights lie when it comes to custody? It’s not usually in the mother’s favour.
But the story goes both ways. Some mothers remove their children from their Jordanian fathers, never to be seen again.
So what about the child’s rights to know both of their parents?
It’s a story people don’t discuss – it’s almost taboo. But it’s important, and that’s where Nadine and I come in.
We barely scratched the surface of this all-too-frequent tale, but it will be an interesting subject to cover, and a scenario that is drastically different than the norm back home.
Next up was a tour of the Al-Ghad facilities. The building is very modern, and looks much like the newspaper buildings back home.
It houses about 350 employees – with everyone from journalists to the human relations department, to the printing press – right in the same building.
We met with one of the video journalists, who, along with another colleague, recently started the video component of Al-Ghad online.
They’re able to put together one or two full reports on the website per month. It seems like a small start, but they’ve had to teach themselves entirely from scratch.
He showed us examples of interviews – one about synthetic marijuana on the streets of Jordan called joker that is wreaking havoc – as it’s made almost entirely from chemicals. It reminded me a lot of the recent Fentanyl crisis in Canada.
I was asked what I thought about the stories and immediately wanted to share a few tips from my television background.
Through the interpretation of Mohammed and Nadine, I explained the importance of pacing of shots, keeping clips to a maximum 15 seconds (at least we try to), and how to keep the audience engaged.
There is an obvious divide between departments at Al-Ghad and not a lot of multimedia going up on the web. I suggested a way to incorporate a variety of platforms for one single story.
Nadine and her colleague looked at me with eyes wide open as I explained putting a short story to grab a viewer’s attention above a longer, written feature up on the website. Based on my CTV experience, it’s also effective to embed or link to a longer version of the interview within the article itself.
At least back home, it’s hard for people to stay engaged and pay attention for longer than a few minutes – and even then, that can be a stretch.
I was always apprehensive and even a little bit worried about making a difference while I’m here. Anyone would be, it’s an incredible opportunity and I want to do well.
Luckily, with these visits and exchanges of information, knowledge, and expertise, I do feel like I’m making a difference, however small, in my short time here so far.
The seeds have been planted, and that’s all I can ask for.
I can’t wait to see where it all leads.