Alum partners with NGO in Jordan: ‘inshallah,’ displacement and the unknown
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When does a conflict end? Is it embodied in the achievement of reduced militarism? Declining hatred? Or is a conflict’s “resolution” reflective of a more comprehensive state of affairs? Alumnus Jay Visbal’s work with Iraqi refugees has led him to recognize that conflict resolution involves elimination of the systems of injustice that created the conflict.
Visbal, who graduated in 2010 with a degree in economics and business, partners with Islah Reparations and The Collateral Repair Project, a small NGO in Amman, Jordan, to provide for the educational, material and socio-emotional needs of Iraqi refugees in Amman. “Islah works to provide reparations by providing medical equipment to severely under-equipped hospitals in Iraq,” Visbal explained.
“Although the United States has officially withdrawn from Iraq, the ramifications of U.S. actions are ongoing,” said Visbal.“By working to meet the needs of the refugees, individuals who feel complicit in war, occupation or displacement can begin to directly rebuild relationships with victimized peoples and help to undermine the systems that precipitated the conflict.” Visbal is involved in teaching English, training other teachers and assisting the organizations’ internet marketing.
For nearly a year, Visbal has been living in the Middle East; he has spent time in Cairo and Jerusalem, but now resides in Amman. Visbal has been continuously amazed at how the victims of such intense destruction and suffering maintain their dignity and decency. As he pursues questions of peace and reconciliation in the cultural context of the Middle East, Visbal has recognized that “the only real consistency in travel is inconsistency itself.”
Visbal explained, “In Arabic, there’s a term related to this unknowing: ‘Inshallah.’ It means ‘God willing.’ But in the Middle East, it is not just a parting phrase, it is a lifestyle, it is a culture.” For Visbal, ‘inshallah’ encapsulates an attitude of “humility towards the future,” an acknowledgement that nothing beyond an immediate moment or circumstance is guaranteed. In a culture where both individuals and families regularly experience displacement, this is a more deeply ingrained reality than most Western perspectives can fathom.
Visbal is considering pursuing a graduate degree in history. “I’d like to study how occupied peoples resist their displacement, or look at the militaristic tendencies of historical superpowers,” said Visbal. “But who knows, maybe I’ll open a small business in the Middle East and see where that leads.”
For the time being, Visbal will continue studying Arabic and thinking through the “complicated web of relationships” that is the current state of interactions between the Middle East and the United States. Teaching English in Jerusalem, or working in the realm of ethical development within Palestine, could also be in his near future.
“I would never have guessed I would be living abroad post-graduation,” said Visbal. But over the course of his undergraduate education, Visbal experienced a gradual “dawning of awareness” in terms of his interest in the Middle East. He sought a greater understanding of the region and of his connections to it as an American. “Now that I have been living here, I have found an appreciation for the beauty of a people who embody a unique perception of time, who practice the poetics of working with their hands, and who value working and living with a rigorous commitment to human decency despite the indignities they have suffered.”
For more information about the organizations with which Visbal is involved, please visit www.collateralrepairproject.org (The Collateral Repair Project) or www.reparations.org (Islah).