“Say not in grief that she is no more, but say in thankfulness that she was. A death is not the extinguishing of a light, but the putting out of the lamp because the dawn has come.” – Tagore
Today, I learned that both Soraya and her sister Jumana have left this world. I don’t know the details but the news has been tragic, shocking and confusing. Out of respect for the lives they led, I don’t want to talk about this sudden, and perplexing death. I’d much rather celebrate life by remembering it.
I first met Soraya Salti in 2006 at her office in Shmisani. The ball had just started rolling with her INJAZ programme going regional, and at a time when few seemed to be doing anything with education, what she was doing intrigued me. She was one of the first people I’d ever interviewed in Jordan, and at 24, I really didn’t know what I was doing. There I was, sitting in her office in a cheap brown suit, asking her questions I’d prepared on my notepad, and trying my best not to get overwhelmed by this astounding woman. She spoke with exuberance; a cheerfulness so overpowering, you couldn’t help but be pulled in by what she was saying. Passion has become a cliche word these days, but Soraya embodied it, and anyone who has ever met her knows this to be true. Abandoning my notepad around minute 20 of the interview, we spent two hours talking about education, about youth, about hope. I remember going home, eager to write the story – and that’s a rare feeling.
A few months later, we met again at the World Economic Forum. She strolled confidently into these WEF conference rooms and plenary sessions with a group of young Jordanians trailing behind her, while suited-up officials and businessmen looked curiously on. Few people in those rooms knew of INJAZ or her for that matter, but she made sure they’d remember. She’d sheppard these high schoolers from one session to another, and at every Q&A opportunity, there was Soraya – this beautiful, towering woman – raising her hand. And every time she was called on. And every time she would ask the same question, and it was something along the lines of: “why are we talking about these issues without the voice of the most important people in the room?”, after which she would signal one of those young Jordanians to stand up, and before anyone knew what was happening, she’d pass them the microphone and they’d ask a prepared, but critical question. She had them questioning policymakers and leaders from all across the region, and at a time when youth were neither invited to the WEF, nor seen as an essential topic to discuss beyond the conventional line of “we have a youth population problem.” While policymakers talked about jobs, her kids were grilling them about education. I followed them from one session to another – these young insurgents and their fearless leader; critical hecklers for a suit-and-tie event.
In the years that followed, whenever she had a question about digital media, I’d see her name pop up on my phone and I was always happy to take her call and answer her questions. Likewise, whenever I was researching the topic of education, she was my first call. In the years that followed, Soraya became one of the most influential women in the entire region. Even without landing on various magazine lists, her influence was undeniable, and her passion, infectious.
Jordan, and indeed the Arab world, has lost a leader – correction, two leaders. They will be sorely missed and eternally remembered. What a heavy loss.
Our prayers are with their family in this time of grief.