Many argue that today, Jordan’s middle class is much larger than it was a few year back. However, since I came back to the country I feel the opposite has been true. This is in line with many economists who observe the growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Swallowed in the gulf is the middle class, leaving only polar opposites of the socioeconomic spectrum. But this is not a post about economic theory or economic analysis. It’s about storytelling.
My own socioeconomic status, as well as that of my family, allows me absorb stories of polarities on a daily basis. I hear stories about the poorest people you can ever imagine. And then I hear stories about the uber-wealthy personalities and their flamboyant lifestyles. Every so often, you get to hear both stories in the same conversation. A young man, with a dead father and a blind mother, and 8 siblings to support; no education, no opportunities, selling something that no one will buy, just to get those 60 or 80JDs a month. Meanwhile, another young man is about to get married and the wedding is at the Four Seasons, with 400 guests, including a famous Arab singer, and both the bride and groom landing in a helicopter amidst a sea of fireworks. The young man and his new wife will live in the 300 square meter high-end apartment, and works for his father’s company which he’ll probably inherit in a few years.
There are tons of stories. Every one more outrageous than the other. The ones I just stated are not the worst of their kind.
And its strange for me. The wealthy tend to stay strictly in their circles as do the poor, and rarely do they ever interact, so rarely are these stories every shared. But for me, personally speaking, I often interact with both segments of society so I feel like a middle man, or a carrier of odd and contrasting news.
The wealthy stories are always interesting but forgettable, like a mild joke someone tells you and you laugh because you simply never heard it before. It’s the ones that reek of poverty that have a tendency to settle on one’s brain for a long time.
When I went to the Bag3a refugee camp during Ramadan, we were literally bombarded by people wanting something from us; anything. We took down people’s names just to get them to step back. What was interesting were the stories that people would just scream out at us. Everyone was in the same boat so there was no shame factor to consider; the idea that screaming my poverty would make me look less-than was non-existent. And they would tell us the strangest stories about blind fathers, and deaf mothers, and amputee brothers and
retarded mentally and/or physically challenged sisters, sometimes all in the same family. The women would tell these stories with such convictions while the kids, already catching on from probably years of experience, would make up similar stories to garner our sympathy, all the while giggling together when our backs were turned at the absurdities of things you could tell they were inventing. But like I said back then, you really don’t know. However absurd these stories may sound when told in a moment of invention and desperation, the potential for them being real, and factual, is so high. You might actually grab a random kid and tell him to lead you to their home just to prove him wrong only to be proven wrong yourself. So you just don’t know.
These stories are constant reminders for me about that huge gap between rich and poor. In a country as small as Jordan and in a city as small as Amman, you get to see that without having to travel far. This is a country where there are people who have lived here their entire lives, have been to Milan and Rome but have never ventured past the borders of West Amman. A population that has literally never even gone downtown and think poor people live close to the airport. This is also a country with a large population that has rarely ever a 50JD bill. Most in fact will deal with a 20JD bill as the highest currency.
I remember reading a story in the newspaper once where the King visited this group of people who were living somewhere near Aqaba (I can’t remember the salient details), but this elderly women had never seen, and I mean literally, had never seen any paper currency over a 5JD bill in her entire life. I was surprised at the time that they even knew who the King was, or that Jordan is a monarchy for that matter.
This post was inspired by an email I received recently from a reader who didn’t quite enjoy the posts I wrote about the refugee camp, specifically the pictures of families which he felt might have been in bad taste, in the humiliation sense of the word.
Obviously there is a context to consider, and this is to say nothing of the fact that I do request permission of people before taking their photos. The pictures are part of the storytelling. It is part of documenting a segment of society that is dominant in size yet had absolutely no voice. Not anymore, anyways. The middle class used to be the middle man for all these stories, carrying them from one class to another. Yet as those people disappear so do the stories.
And someone needs to hear them.