Jordanian souk embraces Syrian refugee talent
Amman - A new addition came to Souk Jara, a popular summer flea market in Amman: Syrian refugees set up shops to sell goods, including handmade leather products and accessories.
Souk Jara started in 2004 as a tempting mix of a small market in a pedestrian corner with street art and colourful handicraft kiosks, away from crowded shopping malls.
“We had a good business in Damascus, manufacturing leather bags and accessories with more than 30 employees,” said Syrian refugee Nancy Jamoukha. “Now, we’re producing these handmade products in Jordan, importing the leather and other raw material from Syria.”
She spoke of hurdles, mainly delays in getting supplies overland since Jordan shut its side of the border in April in the face of advancing militants affiliated with al- Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
Jamoukha, 28, who lives in Amman with her family, explained that her business in Jordan replaced one in Syria, which she closed because of the civil war.
Her optimism was felt in several other kiosks in the souk run by Syrian refugees, some from the Zaatari refugee camp. The desert encampment in northern Jordan is home to more than 80,000 Syrians who fled their country’s war, now in its fifth year.
“We are really excited to be here because this souk allows us to display our talent and products,” said another Syrian refugee, Enaam Suleiman, 38.
“There are many talents in the Zaatari camp, which we managed to identify and work with,” Suleiman maintained, adding that money raised from selling products, such as bracelets and earrings, goes to helping needy families in the camp.
Nestled in the old part of the capital city, Souk Jara is the brainchild of the Jabal Amman Residents Association (JARA), an organisation established in 2004 to preserve the area’s history and promote cultural events.
Early in the 20th century, Jabal Amman was the capital’s most affluent district and home to the foreign elite, housing the British community, including its military commanders serving in the Jordanian Army before independence from Britain in 1946.
Subsequently, the area stretched out over several kilometres and cut across the heart of Amman from north to south to become a commercial district. Now, it is home to private and public offices, banks, diplomatic missions, shops, nightclubs, bars, restaurants and cafes, with residential neighbourhoods burgeoning along the way.
Souk Jara is open every year from May until October. More than 10,000 people visit the souk each month, with the crowds bigger in the summer when many European and American sightseers are on a summer break.
Participants pay $200 a month to display their products one day a week — Friday, the main weekend day in Jordan and much of the Arab world.
Jordanians in the souk said the presence of Syrian refugees enriched diversity.
“Souk Jara is about talent and variety and we are happy that this year we have a couple of displayers from Syria,” said Marlin Makdah, 30, who is in the handmade soap business.
“I have been participating in the souk for five years, but every year, I discover more colourful things from new faces.”
Jordanian Khaled Nawasrah, 19, is a Jara success story.
“I started working with wires, like linen hangers since I was 15 using only my creativity and a set of pliers,” Nawasrah said. “Day after day, I started making models of cars, motorcycles, planes and rockets just by bending wires,” he said. “Now, people are buying them for as much as $50.”