I'm here today to tell you a story. A story about a human being who selflessly, profoundly changed my life in the middle of a Middle Eastern desert. I'm a strong believer in karma - I think that whatever energy, positive or negative, that you put out into the universe will eventually be returned back to you. And while that's a nice theory, it can be easy to forget sometimes that we are a constituent part of that very universe. As one of my great life teachers once put it: "You must participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings". So here I am, participating relentlessly in the manifestation of a blessing for a deserving family a world away. Whether in prayers, passing this story along, or through a modest donation, I hope you will join me.
All my love,
Many of you know that I recently returned from a trip to Jordan. With a few months to spare before I start grad school, I decided that a lovely way to spend my time would be to go work in a camp for Syrian refugees. While on my way to work one morning, I met a taxi driver named RJ.
RJ, like the vast majority of Jordanians, is actually Palestinian. His father fled their ancestral home in the 60s to carve out a more peaceful life for his children in Kuwait. After years of hard work as a hotel chef, RJ's father saved over $100,000 to move his family to Jordan - just across the river from Palestine where his aging mother still lived. Upon arriving in Jordan, RJ's father negotiated a land purchase from some unscrupulous men who stole every last cent of his money. This bankrupted the family and put his father into ailing health after successive stress-induced heart attacks.
In the meantime, RJ took a well-paying job with a telecommunications company doing quality assurance for cell phone towers. His father's health, however, eventually deteriorated to such a point that he suffered from a debilitating stroke. Ever the family man, RJ took a leave of absence to care for his father in the hospital for the last few months of his life. But when RJ went to return to work, he was laid off. With three young boys and a lovely wife, RJ decided to support his family by becoming a taxi driver in Amman.
RJ reminds me a lot of my own father - one of the hardest workers I have ever known. He works 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week in order to support his family and send his three sons to quality private schools with English instruction. In his words, "nothing is more important than a good education". He is a proud family man, a doting husband who brings his wife a single red rose every single Monday (!), and a devoted Muslim who wishes for nothing more than everyone in the world to be able to live in peace. In short, he's an incredible man.
On our long drives, we talked about everything from politics to religion, war to women's rights, and a general sense of hope for the future. I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that for someone whose family had suffered so much loss through war, theft, and illness, he could somehow have such a beautiful outlook on life.
About two weeks into my trip though, I came down with a pretty nasty parasite that I couldn't kick. I had to cut my trip short, but I still had two days before my plane left and hadn't yet been to the Dead Sea. RJ offered to take the drive and spend the day with me. While taking a private taxi was a little more expensive than some of the public buses, I felt safe and taken care of with RJ and quickly agreed. It ended up being a decision that may have saved my very life.
About an hour into our trip, we were pulled over for what appeared to be a regular traffic stop by two Jordanian policemen. RJ promptly provided his license and all of his Ministry-acquired permits that allowed him to take passengers outside of Amman. I sat patiently in the backseat as he seemed to argue a bit with the policemen anyway. After a few minutes, RJ told me he had to pull to the side of the road and get out of the car to go talk to the policemen. I sat naively in the back of the taxi, scrolling through my phone.
When he got back to the car, RJ was visibly shaken. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he had gotten a ticket. Confused, I asked him why - he had all of his paperwork, after all. But for the first time in all of our hours together, he clammed up and drove away as fast as he could. As we drove away, all I could get out of him was that he promised he would always protect me, no matter the cost.
Over the next 48 hours, I was able to slowly piece together a bit about what happened. While he refused to ever give me the full details, it essentially came out that the policemen wanted to hurt me and were pressuring RJ to hand me over. RJ refused, arguing that a true Muslim is obligated to protect strangers and respect women. He assured me that as long as I was in Jordan, I was his family.
I was shaken by what happened, but even more shocked at how adamantly RJ protected me - a complete stranger just two weeks ago. These policemen could have taken everything from him - his job, his ability to care for his family, his dignity - but he never hesitated to do the right thing. After the initial shock of the event wore off, I convinced RJ to tell me how much the ticket was so I could pay it off. It seemed like the absolute least I could do for a man who stuck his neck out for a complete stranger.
Despite the stress of the incident, we had a wonderful day at the Dead Sea that day and then at Petra the day after. On our drive home from Petra, I asked him a burning question - why had he never pursued becoming a tour guide? The policemen incident wasn't the only time I saw his ethics in action. He rustled off boisterous peddlers in Petra, returned money to me that corrupt shopkeepers gave him as a passback...I could go on and on. Surely, I thought, RJ could help thousands of solo female travelers like myself navigate this beautiful country and make a substantial living doing so.
He explained that it would be a dream come true to be a tour guide, but that entailed a costly process of certification by the Ministry of Tourism. His boys' education came first and foremost, and there just wasn't enough liquid cash to cover the fee. Expecting an exorbitant price, I asked him how much certification cost. He shared that it's roughly $1500. Right then and there, I knew I had to try to help my guardian angel in any way I could.
I know that $1500 is a lot of money for many of us and that there are many worthy people in the world who need help. But this type of money would be truly life changing for a man that I owe quite literally everything. Tim and I are moving soon, and people have already offered to hold farewell parties, housewarming parties, and god knows how many happy hours for us. And while all that is so sweet, we don't need any of it. I think a much lovelier way to celebrate the love and friendship in this world is to help a deserving family make life just a little bit easier.
If you can't donate for whatever reason, that's perfectly okay. Please just take a moment to think about RJ and the fact that despite our news cycles' headlines, there are some truly amazing people in the world. The vast majority of Jordanians I met were just like RJ - kind, helpful, and eager to show a different narrative of the Middle East to the world. Looking back on my trip, I will fondly remember all of these people and give no more thought to the cowardly men in the desert that day.
Wherever you are in the world, however long it has been since our paths have crossed, I truly hope you are doing well. I hope you find some everyday angels like mine, and that life brings you a little bit of light wherever you go. Sending all of my love.
*Nitty gritty financial info*
I am in contact with RJ through Facebook and Whatsapp, and will communicate with him about this campaign once the goal has been met. I have arranged to have the money withdrawn in my name, then will arrange a Western Union money transfer with RJ. I will be happy to provide documentation of these transactions to any donors upon request. Thank you!
- Jennifer Gaut
- Aimee Schattner
- Jennifer Howland
#1 fundraising platform
More people start fundraisers on GoFundMe than on any other platform. Learn more
In the rare case something isn’t right, we will work with you to determine if misuse occurred. Learn more
Expert advice, 24/7
Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more