In addition to serving as Anthrow Circus's assistant editor and proofreader, Heather Surls regularly contributes stories to the site, drawing inspiration from her relationships and experiences in Amman, Jordan. Her creative work has also appeared in places like Catamaran, Brevity, River Teeth, EthnoTraveler, and Nowhere. She is working on her first book, a collection of essays about Jordan and Israel/Palestine.
When I saw Mohammad pick sprigs of an herb from among the rocks, I knew we’d be stopping for tea soon. We had been climbing the mountain behind his flock of goats for an hour and a half, with just two brief stops so far. When we reached a bald outcrop of rock overlooking the canyons and mountains of Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve, I sank down cross-legged, tucking my skirt beneath me.
Setara, a 17-year-old from Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, remembers falling asleep at her grandmother’s house as a girl. Grandma Gul, or Grandma Flower, would sit beside her with a cup of chai and rock-sugar candies and tell her stories. One of these was the story of Yalda, a traditional Afghan tale about a village girl who meets a feared “witch” on the longest night of the year.
STORY BY HEATHER M. SURLS PHOTOS BY ISABELLE BERNARD & HEATHER M. SURLS
Outside the northern Jordanian city of Ajloun, I sat cross-legged in Wael Rabadi’s olive grove, stripping ripe olives from just-pruned branches. Looking up from the work in my hands, I could see olive trees and oaks, grapevines and stone walls blanketing the hills in all directions. Eighteen hundred years ago, Rabadi’s ancestors owned this whole area, including the prominent hilltop behind me crowned by the centuries-old Ajloun Castle.
PHOTOS BY HAWA IMAGES, USED BY PERMISSION OF WORLD RELIEF CHICAGOLAND
Years ago, a neighbor gave me a glossy 4×6-inch picture of Myanmar politician Aung San Suu Kyi backed by the red and yellow of the National League for Democracy’s flag. I no longer remember the giver’s identity—at that time my Burmese neighbors numbered in the hundreds—but since the country’s late-January military coup that imprisoned Suu Kyi and others, Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been on my mind.
When I reflect now, those three years among the Burmese were like bootcamp for me, a foundational, immersive course in relating to people different from me. At that time, I didn’t realize this would be a preparatory phase for longer-term work among refugees. I moved in with the idea that I would help them—I did not know how much my neighbors would shape me.
VIDEO PRODUCTION AND PHOTO BY ZAHER AL ZAHER POEM RECITED BY ZAHER AL ZAHER ARTICLE TEXT BY HEATHER M. SURLS
Today’s poem, recited by Syrian photojournalist Zaher Al Zaher, tells of a man’s love for a beautiful woman who is blind. After insisting that she cannot marry without her sight, the man says he will find someone to donate a pair of eyes for her. Then, when she wakes up able to see, the woman realizes her lover is himself blind and refuses to marry him. Saddened, he releases her with a parting request: that she promise to care for his eyes.
ARTICLE BY HEATHER M. SURLS
PHOTOS BY SARAH RACINE
Over the last decade Sarah Racine has worked internationally as a trauma-informed art-maker, helping a spectrum of individuals—from victims of human trafficking to refugees—find healing from trauma, abuse, and war. Though Racine calls Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “home” in the U.S., she recently relocated to Amman, Jordan, to study Arabic and explore options for working long-term in the region. Racine sat with Anthrow Circus’s Jordan correspondent, Heather Surls, to talk about her profession and how the arts can bring healing and hope to adults and children affected by trauma.
On Day 23 of quarantine I stood in front of a black iron gate, coaxing open its sliding lock. This gate was not mine, nor was the yard or the building inside. They didn’t belong to a friend either, or even to a neighbor. Essentially, I was attempting to trespass on a stranger’s property in broad daylight.
STORY BY HEATHER M. SURLS ILLUSTRATIONS BY RAHAF ADNAN OUDAH
From afar, the plight of refugees can be hard to understand. Why did they leave their homeland in the first place? What is daily life like in the place in which they’ve tried to find safety? Will they return home one day? Our correspondent in Jordan takes us deep into the lives of two Syrian families who fled to neighboring Jordan and now long to return home as most of Syria regains a level of calm. Learn why the question of whether to return to Syria has no straightforward answer.
STORY BY HEATHER M. SURLS, WITH TRANSLATION HELP BY MARADI AYED ALHAWARI PHOTOS BY HALA MAHMOUD
Our resident correspondent in Amman has been working on this story for ages. As she ran into road block after road block, we thought we might have a mysterious mini-series on our hands, complete with legends, cracked-open doorways, and classical Arabic to decipher. But our intrepid writer persisted and now brings you a delicious story of the power of a multi-generational love affair with books.