Jordan: a country of contrasts

This week we’ve been running through Jordan and it has been… epic. A dry desert country with surprising fruit groves, a combination of heartbreaking and inspiring stories all intertwined. I am still so deeply and profoundly exhausted, but this week has reminded me why I’m doing this.

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

I think if I was running 100 marathons as an endurance test, it would be impossible. I honestly don’t know if it’s humanly possible to run more than 40 marathons, because I haven’t done it before (except that I’m now on… marathon 48?) But because I’m doing it for something bigger than me - bigger than all of us - I can keep going.

Jordan has one of the lowest levels of water resource availability, per capita, in the world. But since the Syrian Civil War in 2011, this already water scarce desert kingdom has absorbed more than a million Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Because of my flight cancellation last week, I didn't get to join Jared and Kelvin (our videographer and photographer) at Zaatari Refugee Camp. It's the world's largest refugee camp for Syrian refugees - it was supposed to be temporary but has gradually evolved into a permanent settlement. At its peak Zaatari housed more than 150,000 Syrian refugees - which made it the fourth largest city in Jordan. Now it is home to around 79,000 Syrians. Even so: water for 79,000 extra people in a desert kingdom? Not easy to find.

It's heartbreaking to think that most of the kids here were born in the camp and don’t know life any other way.

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

This is Abu Wasim. He's 51 years old and he's been at Zaatari since 2013 (think about that for a minute: 5 years in what was supposed to be a temporary solution). He worked as a plumber in Syria, then worked with Oxfam as a plumber in the camp and he's now working privately in the camp - refugees pay him to do routine plumbing in their households.

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Then on into the desert… This is just to give you an idea of how dry the desert really is. We saw a lot of these small earthen dug dams dotted around Jordan. They're specifically for collecting water that is pumped from private and government built wells. Some were full, most were empty.

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

And yet: in the midst of this parched land there’s agriculture at scale. From the Wadi Araba Desert into a tomato farm in Quraiqara village... Who knew tomatoes could grow in the desert? Water truly is miraculous.

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Here’s another example of how water can transform sand into fruit…

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

This man's name is Sulliman Aawailem Asse’idein. He’s a 71 yr old farmer and father of 24 children. His family has been on the farm for 9 generations. Sulliman switched from farming livestock to agriculture 5 years ago and now has 700 trees: he grows lemons, guavas, grapes, oranges and olives, all fed by rudimentary drip irrigation.

The switch from livestock was made viable by tapping a spring 2 and half kilometres away. He installed all his own piping and built a service road to the spring (halfway up the mountains, so not very accessible). The spring is not very reliable, though, and he needs to replace large sections of the piping every year due to sun damage. He would like to expand his farming operation but like most subsistence farmers in this region and around the world, he is constrained by water supply.

Orchard farmer in Jordan

As I said: a week of contrasts: highs and lows, sand and fruit, heartbreak and inspiration. Follow the rest of my journey through Jordan and then on to Israel and Palestine on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I feel as if my capacity for wonder is being expanded each day.