Mazra’a and its village neighbours are home to some of the poorest people in Jordan, isolated until relatively recently and often subject to discrimination for their dark skin colour. In 2007, Amman entrepreneur Rabee Zureikat began working with the community to find ways to alleviate their poverty. Instead of the usual forms of charity and giving, flowing in one direction from city to countryside – and often demeaning both parties in the process – he hit upon the idea of exchange tourism. Both sides can give, and both receive: urbanites provide money and resources, while villagers show creative skills handling natural materials, cooking using traditional techniques and recounting life experiences. It’s a resourceful attempt to bridge a gap of memory, to show both parties that knowledge and outlooks carried from previous generations can still benefit “modern” life.
On that basis Zureikat founded the Zikra Initiative (zikra means “memory”), establishing active projects of exchange between Amman and Mazra’a: Ammanis (and tourists) pay a relatively modest sum (around JD30–35) for a day in Mazra’a being invited into people’s homes, learning how to weave, bake bread, cook local food – and listening to stories from this otherwise marginalised community (with everything translated for non-Arabic speakers). There may also be the chance to hike in the surrounding hills, or help out picking tomatoes on village farms. It’s a fabulous idea, executed with dignity and charm – and the project, as well as Zureikat himself, has won numerous global awards. Make contact well in advance to find out what’s possible and book a date.
As this book went to press, Zikra announced new programmes with the Bani Hamida community at Mukawir. Check w zikrainitiative.org or search on Facebook or Twitter for more info.