A bleak and brooding vibe filled my first rainy days in Amman. While shuffling quickly through flooding streets, my one pair of boots and socks soaked it all in, squishing water with each step. Stony buildings appeared dark and dusky across the horizon and for these first days, I couldn’t see beauty anywhere. Traipsing through downtown felt like more of a burden than an adventure – with little interest in peeking around nooks of the city. Turn after turn brought more of the same – until began my descent down the Alkalha Steps.
Entering the corridor at the top of the steps, you are first struck by bright street art that seemingly appears out of nowhere. A “Starry Night” inspired piece stares regally across the walkway at a whirling dervish surrounded by a circle of Arabic calligraphy.
As you begin the trip down, you notice stairwell is something special. Wall spaces are filled with artwork of many styles. I was drawn to a Zentangle-inspired mandala filled with intricate designs. In the hope of making a connection, I took a picture of the words “Abeero Art” as this was the artist’s Instagram profile name.
Zaizafoun Art Cafe stands proudly at the halfway point down the stairs heading toward the bustle of downtown Amman. The colorful artwork outside and welcoming decorations inside invited me in for my first of many hours spent enjoying tea, snacks, and time for writing.
Abeer was easy to find online – and to my delight, she quickly replied to my direct message with a willingness to meet and brainstorm ways she could support the Hope Travels mission of community connectedness.
We met at Zaizafoun where I learned that Abeer was a university student who found great pleasure in artwork, but I also heard what had become a common discussion by young artists in the Middle East. Many have said that art can be viewed as a distraction from studying even when they expressed great therapeutic benefits they found on a canvas. She has a great passion for art, but is also generally concerned with being a person whose life is purposeful for herself and others. Her kind nature and determination to create something special was evident from the first words of our conversation.
After sharing ideas, and making an initial plan, Abeer headed off for a day filled with studies, but soon returned with Telek. You see Telek is a volunteer on the corridor who wanted to join our planning team
He told me about the restaurant near the top of the stairs named Ezwitti where the owner and volunteers work tirelessly because they have a heart for feeding all who hunger. By that, I mean that they not only sell meals, but they also have a voucher system where customers can buy tickets for people in need to use while purchasing food. Along the wall in this tiny space, hangs a bulletin board covered with donations that can be modestly taken and used as cash for any meal.
Telek brimmed with excitement as he also told us about the Jadal Center for Culture and Knowledge where his friends volunteer each week to host a group of Syrian refugee youth. Every Friday morning, the young adults and teens meet for outreach sessions that include lesson on music, art, leadership, self defense and more. Children are brought to the center on a bus to enjoy the center and young adult mentors and friends who eagerly await their arrival.
We all agreed that our partnership plans should include adding a Hope Mural to our ongoing collection to the corridor that involved the kids in some way – so they could pass each week with a personal reminder of the importance of hope and the knowledge that they were sharing the message with others. As we brainstormed ideas, we decided that we would use art lessons as a foundation for mental health discussions during the two upcoming sessions.
Shopping for art supplies is always fun. Abeer would teach mandala art which brings therapeutic benefits of peace and focus. I talked about plans in motion at AlHadaf Training Center and we decided to also include a Kindness Rocks Project for the corridor. We determined that our messages would focus on the power of using self expression to decompress and the power of sharing and receiving acts of kindness.
Our first session on mandala art was a bit rushed when the bus was late, but I personally loved the way Abeer created a template that made mandala patterns so easy to create. She has a wonderful style – guiding each child to create their own masterpiece – being both an encourager and teacher. She has a wonderful style – guiding each child to create their own masterpiece – being an encourager and teacher. I loved how she naturally leaned into each young artist and offered kindness with her gentle and genuine nature. Personally, I enjoyed the time spent creating. I never jumped on the coloring page bandwagon, but there was definite power in the peaceful mood of the repetitive patterned mandala designs.
Our second session connected the power of self expression through art with the value of kindness. At first, there was a tad of disappointment when the wall Abeer wanted to paint was unavailable and we were given a long space above other completed murals. As our mural was intended to have interactive participation by the Jadal youth group, we had to quickly adjust our plans so they could have a step up while adding handprints to the mural space.
The mural design included three elements of community input blended together to show unity of purpose in hope. The center “Have Hope” message is surrounded by whimsical doodle creations by Abeer, Arabic calligraphy by Abd Alrahman, and children’s handprints decorated with positive messages. While each section is interesting by itself, the blend of styles is powerful when combined and stands out high above the Alkalha Steps.
Our time together created fun bonds between the children and adults. Painting rocks together blended support for creative expression with sharing uplifting messages. Some designed their words of wisdom in Arabic while others asked for English translations and learned to say their selected phrases.
One girl eagerly shared her heart with, “I have a choice. My choice is hope.” Each person took one rock to place in a location near home and found a special spot on the corridor to surprise passing visitors with the other rocks they designed.
Handprint painting was exactly like you would expect – fun and a bit messy. Giggles were everywhere as oozing paint squished between fingers and plopped onto waiting walls.
After a bit of cleanup, we wrapped up our time together with a short origami lesson and a lunchtime meal together. Children departed to their bus gleefully, as they shouted spirited farewells and returned home with pockets full of inspiration.
Abeer and Abd Alrhaman continued to work on the mural – with Abeer’s doodle portion lasting well into the evening. In spite of the dropping temps and strain of working on the high wall, Abeer maintained dedication to every detail – especially in her desire to leave handprint messages to surprise each child –
Working with this team continued the Hope Travels theme of finding mentors in people much younger than me. New friends like Abeer are leading a global generation that celebrate the act of caring for others through their dedicated spirts and selfless actions. Young people have much to learn from each other. For me, it was a pleasure to be a small part of their time together.