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Documentary ‘Salam Neighbor’ shows Daily Life of Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Temple wanted to make his documentary to try to dispel negative stereotypes and confront Western prejudice against refugees

Documentary 'Salam Neighbor'. VOA

October 16, 2016: About 80,000 people live in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. For one month, that number included documentary filmmaker Chris Temple and fellow producer Zach Ingrasci.

Setting up tent in the middle of the camp, the Americans meant to experience, along with the Syrian refugees there, how it feels to live in the diaspora. Their goal was to communicate their day-to-day interactions with the rest of the world. The result is a documentary called “Salam Neighbor.”

This was the first time the two men had visited the Middle East. “When we arrived in that camp, we were really nervous until we were setting up our tent and refugee families started pouring out of their tents next to us,” Temple said.

Battling stereotypes

It was not long before filmmakers were dining with their neighbours. During one of the meals, a refugee opens up on camera, complaining, “There is a perception around the world that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists.” Temple told VOA that one reason he wanted to make his documentary was to try to dispel negative stereotypes and confront Western prejudice against refugees.

The "Salam Neighbor" filmmakers meet with refugees in Jordan's Za'atari camp. (Credit: Living on One/1001 Media). VOA
The “Salam Neighbor” filmmakers meet with refugees in Jordan’s Za’atari camp. (Credit: Living on One/1001 Media). VOA

“The population that’s bearing the biggest burden and fear around terrorist attacks are refugee populations, are Arab populations and Moslem populations in the region,” he said. “This isn’t a Muslims vs. Christians attack. Imagine being a family inside of Syria right now. You are stuck between [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad and a group like ISIS,” an acronym for the Islamic State group.


His film, whose title translates as “Hello, Neighbor,” reveals that the Za’atari refugees are mostly of middle-class background. One of them is 11-year-old Rauf, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from bombings near his house. Rauf refuses to leave his family’s tent and does not want to attend the camp’s school because — although Za’atari is considered a safety zone, 11 kilometers from the war — bombings still rock the camp.

“What did Rauf do wrong?” Temple asked, noting that 75 percent of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees are women and children.

In one scene, Temple asks Ghassem, a camp resident, “As an Arab, what does the world refugee mean to you?” Ghassem replies, “Someone who is forced to leave his country and his home. He has no money. All he has are the clothes on his back and his family.”

Seen as ‘burdens’

Temple said he hoped his documentary would open hearts and minds about the millions of Syrian refugees stranded in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

“I think one of the biggest myths about refugees is that they are assumed to be burdens. … You have doctors. You have lawyers. Ghoussoon, a mother of three and one of the people in our film, was a nurse back in Syria. So, they have so much, they can productively contribute to whatever new country they are going to.”

Filmmakers Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci at Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan. (Credit: Living on One/1001 Media). VOA
Filmmakers Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci at Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. (Credit: Living on One/1001 Media). VOA

Temple said there are more Syrian refugees in Istanbul than there are in all of the rest of Europe. Turkey has more than 2 million refugees. Jordan, a country of 6 million people, hosts 1.4 million refugees. He added, “Lebanon has a smaller population and the same number of refugees.”

Based on interviews he did for his documentary, he said, most refugees “do not want permanent resettlement in other countries. They want to return home as soon as the war is over.” But until then, he said, powerful Western countries like the United States should step up and help out more.

A new normal

In the dusty encampment, children play soccer, others line up for food rations, and mothers have resumed a semblance of their old routines of cooking and cleaning. They are all getting used to the new normal, but not quite.

Out of this humanitarian crisis, Temple saw new opportunities. Some women were becoming entrepreneurs. Ghoussoon started her own hair clip business. Umali, a middle-aged woman who lost family in Syria, found an emotional and creative outlet by making art out of plastic trash bags she collects around the camp and weaves into flowers and other decorative items. The U.N. refugee agency has hired her to teach other young women this craft.

“For her, it was the first time she ever worked,” Temple said. “It was really a big change where her husband wasn’t working but now she was the breadwinner. Even her husband started accepting her new role in the family.”

Temple said these were just a few of the countless human stories in a refugee camp worth sharing. The filmmaker said that during his stay in the camp, he felt grateful to get to know these people, but he also felt angry and frustrated about their condition.

“We’ve been so lucky in many ways to have the film, because I think the best cure for that guilt and for that frustration has been action,” he said, “to do something to help our friends in this camp in sharing their message with the world.

“We are all connected. We are not that different.” (VOA)

Next Story

NRIs Cheered for PM Modi

He profusely praised Prime Minister Modi for his all-round developmental plans and policies

Indian, Diaspora, PM
The US President Donald Trump himself flew in to jazz up the occasion.


Americans’ love for the Indians and Indians’ love for America was fully on display at Howdy Modi’s event in Houston last Sunday. The US President Donald Trump himself flew in to jazz up the occasion. He profusely praised Prime Minister Modi for his all-round developmental plans and policies. He further widened PM Modi’s chest by calling him a fatherly figure of India, and also a crowd puller like Elvis Presley. President Trump very well knows how to talk shop. However, Trump sincerely hopes that the event will help strengthen the relation of the two nations, and much more than ever before. PM.

A huge crowd of 50 thousand roaring and cheering for Modi is something which President Trump thought his “presence” would top up the Howdy Modi’s cake which will equally nourish both. Not surprisingly, Modi began his speech by saying — “I have the honour to introduce you to my family”, pointedly aiming at the entire leaders and influential capitalists in the USA who employ the “cream” of the entire Indian population. On the other hand, President Trump clearly expressed his “pride” having the core “strength of Indian” in America. PM Modi is seemingly looking to exploit India’s strength in America and build new India in every possible way. This is probably his new dream. The passion of event pitched up so high that euphoric Modi impulsively yelled – “Abki Baar Trump Sarkar”. This must have caused heartburn to many people, and more to those running for the 2020 Presidential election.

Indian, Diaspora, PM
Americans’ love for the Indians and Indians’ love for America was fully on display at Howdy Modi’s event in Houston last Sunday.

To organize an event of this magnitude involves a lot of managerial skills and concerted efforts. Everything came off perfectly well in Houston — undoubtedly, due to the synergies of the efforts of dedicated NRIs and a huge amount of monetary contributions that generous diaspora had pitched in. What is very obvious is the people were emotionally involved to make the event grand, some were tied down for the past three months. Here why people love PM Modi so much is, in fact, no small thing though we just pass off – no matter which political party he belongs to. One believes he is the only leader who receives such kind of welcome and hospitality wherever he visits. This in fact should make other world leaders think seriously why Modi is so much idolized by the masses. Whether it has logical basis or not. No exaggeration, what it all that attracts people to him is something to be made a case study. If nothing, Modi’s simplicity, his inborn humility, uprightness, and incorruptible aptitudes must be the prime reasons that fascinate the right-thinking people.

Also Read- Chinese Satellite Searches for Invisible Dark Matter but also Explores Origin of Cosmic Rays

Here what really surprises us is that the man with righteous principle and integrity also has a huge number of sworn enemies. Those enemies are totally blind and deaf to Modi’s virtues. No amount of Modi’s sacrifices for the country make them happy and appreciative. They hold forth thousands of faults in Modi while never hesitating to appreciate and stand for the corruptible oddballs as their leaders. They also tend to look upon those unscrupulous persons for their inspiration — maybe for knowledge and moral too, lol! This is nothing but the sickness of this civilization. One sees this as one of the worst maladies of modern times.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali