Monday, February 4, 2008

Finally, Movement!

After 3 days trapped in the Fabulous Four Seasons (which gets less fabulous as the trapped days go on…), I escaped on Saturday and managed to have a nice long afternoon and evening with one of my colleagues here in Amman. Muna Hamzeh is one of the Program Managers of the SHS Program. She is a lovely, highly experienced, Jordanian medical doctor, who had worked with the Jordanian Ministry of Health for over 20 years before coming to IRD. She took me to a Persian restaurant for lunch with her husband and two sons, Said and Faris (sp?). It was a great lunch with a lot of really good food and conversation.

After lunch they were kind enough to take me to their home for some Turkish coffee, which is quite strong! At the house I was surprised to meet Blitz, their very well fed, Dalmatian/pointer mix. She was a really cute and friendly dog. Muna and I spent the next few hours talking about the current situation with the Iraqi refugees, her past experiences with the Ministry, and I felt comfortable enough to ask about some of their lifestyles (having a dog, not wearing a hijab/veil) that don’t necessarily match up with the standard Islamic lifestyle that is expressed to us at home via the media. Muna explained that in the way her family reads and interprets the Koran it never dictates that Muslim women should wear a hijab, but that they may wear it if they wish to cover themselves from men. Same as for dogs, as Muna’s family interprets the Koran, it never states that dogs are dirty or bad for men. It was very interesting to speak to her about her beliefs and the different interpretations of the Koran.

Yesterday was my first working day in the office (my whole first week was disrupted by the snow storm!). The office is an interesting place to say the least…It’s a little bit of a disaster, the Amman office acts as the storage area and pass through office for the staff in Iraq so there are files, files, and boxes of files stacked everywhere. There is an IRD finance team in Amman right now as well for an internal audit so they are all spread out with the millions of files taking up even more space. Luckily, the staff will be moving to a new office within the next month with more space and hopefully more order!

We are currently in negotiations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to start an additional program providing increased health services to Iraqi Refugees, and advanced psychosocial services for children, with a particular focus on disabled children. We (Nick, the Country Director, Nedjma, our consultant, Hadeel, our finance officer, and myself) visited with UNHCR yesterday to discuss the programmatic activities and budget. It was an interesting meeting with lots of debate, resulting in more cutbacks for our budget and the necessity for us to all sit and think of innovative and cheaper ways to get our activities done. Which is what we have done today!

So we have a budget, with complementary activities, that over the past month has been cut from $4 million to $1.7 million. With these budgetary cuts we have had to cut programmatic activities such as Women and Youth Livelihood Building and Community Driven Day Care. As the year goes on, and UNHCR receives more funding from its donors, they will be able to reevaluate our activities and hopefully fund more of the needed interventions. So now we are waiting for HQ approval of the new revised budget, and then we go back to UNHCR and hope they don’t make more cuts!

New update: I just got off the phone with my Director at HQ and I may have a change of travel plans. It sounds like I might stay in Jordan for an extra week (during which I hope to get to Palestine to meet with donors), and then instead of traveling to Afghanistan, I may go to Pakistan…Mom, don’t have a heart attack! I’ll keep you updated!

Here are some pictures from driving through Amman:

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