“The most significant impact is that ordinary people felt they have a voice”
"Voices of Jordan", an EED-supported book by Rana F. Sweis, will be the first non-fiction work on modern Jordan in English. Through extensive research, visits and interviews, Sweis recounts the story of a nation through the eyes and lives of its people.
Ordinary citizens are largely absent from the debate in shaping the current and future of the Middle East. By entering the minds, lives and living rooms of ten ordinary people living in Jordan, including a Bedouin, a female parliamentarian, a cartoonist, a Jihadi, and a Syrian refugee, the book gives an insight into everyday lives of these people – their struggles, their dreams and their perspectives on the deeper problems of the region.
“Voices of Jordan” will be published later in 2018, illustrated with photos by renowned photographer Salah Malkawi. Ahead of the launch, we spoke to author Rana F. Sweis about the impact of EED support, and more broadly, the change she hopes the book may bring about in the longer term.
“The most significant impact from the activities supported by the EED including research, interviews and visits to the people featured the upcoming book, Voices of Jordan, is that ordinary people felt they had a voice.
Some of these Jordanians and others were sharing their stories for the first time in their lives. This has given them a sense of empowerment and reflection about the important role they play in society.
They are looking forward to attending and being a big part of the book launch and photo exhibition as well. The book, which stems very much from this field work and activities, will be the first non-fiction on modern Jordan in English that is aimed at the western and non-western average reader (non-academic) that depicts the life of ordinary people. At the same it touches on the larger themes and challenges faced by people in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. All the protagonists have been impacted either directly or indirectly by the Arab Spring.
I was fortunate enough to be able to enter each home and to question and to observe. In every story the characters are having conversations in the street, at home or at work. The book reveals everyday life, struggles and aspirations of these people. Although my main aim was to write for readers who live outside the region, the truth is Jordanian lives do not overlap. We are left in the dark about each other. So, this book, which in the future I hope will be translated into Arabic is for Jordanians to learn more about each other as well. Despite the differences in the people featured in the book, they are all striving to understand how they fit in a rapidly changing region and into a modern state, with aspirations for self and family.
As a woman, I felt I often had access to the whole family, whereas if I was a man, this would not have been possible. Interviews were usually conducted over several months, sometimes years. Both the Bedouin and the Jihadi characters refused for the women in their families to be photographed. For some of the women featured in the book, this is the first time their voices are being heard.
In the past few decades, regional conflicts and technology have altered Jordan, in terms of infrastructure, but also in a deeper and more personal sense for the people living there. I believe that due to the field work for this book, which EED has supported, there will be more conversations and discussions that will take place in Jordan, in Europe and the in the US about the impact of the Arab Spring on the lives of ordinary people in the Middle East.”