First Impressions: Visiting Holy Land Designs
I wasn’t sure what time it was. I arrived in Amman at 1 in the morning and after meeting Lynn and being driven to her home, had collapsed in my bed. Waking up the room was still dark, thanks to the Abu-Jour, a shutter which completely blocked out the glittering street outside. In the haze of that morning, I looked for what to wear that day. “Dress modestly.” I had been informed. “My camera!” I thought. It had little charge and the SD card was full of images I had taken while staying with my family in Scotland. As I threw the various things I might need for the day in my backpack, I imagined what the coming day would look like, (my first day ever in the Middle East); going to the workshop and meeting the women, trying my very limited Arabic out on them, wondering if they would be patient enough. Would they laugh with embarrassment at my attempts? With butterflies in my stomach I left my dark room. It was eleven in the morning and the sun was high in the sky.
As we drove to the workshop I looked out of the car window, soaking up the differences I saw. I had arrived at night so the vibrant flowers which draped effortlessly on the sandy bright buildings, the romantic lines and swirls of the written Arabic language on the various store fronts we passed, the dust in the air that made everything just a little blurred was impossible to fully comprehend in the early wee hours. Now, I was seeing it all. We drove into the industrial area of Amman where the workshop is located. If I hadn’t been with the founder of Holy Land Designs, I probably would have missed it entirely as it is situated behind other shops on a smaller road.
This was it. I was finally here and about to meet the women I had heard so much about. I could only imagine what the day would hold.
“MerHaba!”. Faces lit up as they saw Lynn walk in, putting down their work and rising up to greet me as I was introduced to them as a photographer. They ushered us to the table in the centre of the room where they had a meal prepared for us. They had been anticipating my arrival. Balloons lined the ceiling with “It’s a boy” and “It’s a girl” written on them. Obviously something had been lost in translation! They encouraged me to take pictures of the balloons and lights they had erected in my honour.
At first, the conversation was overwhelming. Sounds and words seemingly bouncing off the walls. They all had lots to share and the words rushed off their tongues. “Are you getting this?” Lynn quickly asked me, “It’s quite impossible for me to translate all of this. Lots has been happening!”. I tried my best to keep up with the conversation, hearing the odd word that I understood. “Mabrook!” meaning congratulations- one of the lady’s sisters was getting married, another had just had a nephew. But mostly, I was lost. I must have looked lost as Rihab, one of the workshop community who is deaf, tapped me on the shoulder and began to introduce herself in sign language, giving me a comforting pat on the shoulder and a smile as if to say, “Don’t worry”.
Suddenly the conversation was changing from joyful exuberance to a deeper silence. As they talked about the various covid vaccines they had received, tears appeared and the sound of comforting tuts that begged one another not to get upset. “She lost her father to covid” they told me as they wept together.
After our lunch I sat down at the desk that would be mine for the next few weeks. I began to hear even more about the women and their stories. Rihab, the lady who sensed my confusion, is someone who has gone through hardship. Born deaf, she had little way of communicating herself until she started working at Holy Land Designs where learned how to write and sign. This meant she was now able to communicate more deeply with her son.
Having returned to the workshop almost four more times I have enjoyed continued lessons with Rehab and she has slowly and patiently brought me out of my timidity to be able to feel I can, in some way, communicate with her and the other women here. It has only been five days and I’ve already seen how strong and empowering these women are. I never could have imagined this.