Ugh, don’t you just hate it when you’re on an airplane and you get seated next to the guy who sleeps with his mouth wide open and ends up leaning against your shoulder and drooling all over you? Or the obese individual who takes up half your seat, or the mom with her annoying child who seems to only cry when he’s next to you and once he gets off the plane he’s back in la la land again. I travel every vacation and I’m always wishing I get someone interesting and it just never seems to happen. All until my last trip back to Amman where I sat next to this guy who just looked interesting.
He had a large carcass, barely fitting into the seat that offers no leg space at all [damn Royal Jordanian economy class]. I walked in late, everyone was seated except me, and holding a cup of coffee from Costa, I struggled to fit my luggage into the overhead compartment. Yousef, as I later found out, gladly asked me if I needed help, and held my coffee himself. I thanked him and then sat down beside him. He had on a pair of headphones, scrolling through his iPhone looking at what appeared to be audio books [yes I peeked, I’m curious like that :P]. Out of nowhere, a conversation was born, if I remember correctly it was either over books or iPhones, maybe even both. One thing led to another and soon we were discussing what we did in life. Finding out I was a medical student already involved in volunteer work, he started telling me about Tzu Chi, a Taiwan-based global non-profit organization that has helped more people than you can count on two hands. Yousef told me about all the volunteer work he had done, since he was fresh back from a trip to Taiwan, and he encouraged me to participate in the weekly events held by Tzu Chi Jordan. I was super excited about it and made sure I got his number, promising to call him as soon as my schedule cleared up.
Tab3an, as usual, we all get this. The sudden surge of excitement to do good and help the needy and it soon blows over as the stress of work, school and exams bombards you from every direction. You start to forget what really matters in the world and we all turn selfish, a trait I have come to know exists intrauterine, always getting the better of us. The human want, an ever growing feeling as we grow older to shift from our wants to our desires, fed rapidly by our ever-growing media and “shiny objects”. That’s all they are, objects, but they make it seem vital to us. The “appeal” to modern day man, a nasty yet genius marketing trick.
To break the cycle, right after my pediatrics exam, I decided selfish I shall be no more, and went on my first Tzu-Chi charity event. I woke up at 8 am on a Friday morning, an act I was condemned insane for, and headed down with my friend and colleague Hisham to Mr.Cheng’s house, the usual meeting point of all Tzu-Chi events. We loaded some food in the back of the car, put on our Tzu-Chi volunteer vests and drove down to Wadi Abdoun. A 3 minute drive from your favorite cafes and pubs, namely Blue Fig and Avenue, but a totally different world. Known to most of you through pictures captioned off with “Old Amman”, not a single one of you has had the guts to drive down there and check the place out for yourselves. To summarize life down there, hygiene is reduced to a leaking tap in an empty room with a floor you can barely make out, soap being a luxury they rarely encounter, showers taken on religious holidays. Clothes mere rags on their bodies, never washed, hung or dried. Food consists of a meal per day, devoid of any nutritional value what-so-ever. The truth behind Wadi Abdoun, a tragedy better left captured by the lens of an amateur photographer with a Canon EOS SLR.
The family we helped consisted of a blind father who had just been released from prison, two mothers, an uncle (who also served time) and eleven kids. They all slept in the same room, conditions being beyond awful. The people over at Tzu-Chi Jordan built the family two extra rooms, also replacing their front door and the doors to the rooms. We pitched in by painting the doors and the rooms and it sent goodness right into my soul (as cheesy as that sounds). The massive difference between knowing about this and getting your hands dirty (and your only pair of jeans which later had to be rubbed in “kaz” to get the paint out, so I ended up going home smelling like a petrol station) is the significant change you make in a family’s life. The smiles on their faces, the happiness we brought to them, simply by painting their doors was unforgettable. We all sat together later and shared falafel sandwiches with the whole family. An experience I will not soon forget.
To be part of Tzu Chi Jordan, and contribute either by donations or by becoming a registered volunteer, please visit their facebook group here. You can also keep up to date with all our future events and charity runs. To know more about Tzu-Chi, please visit their official website here.