Refugee, Jordanian, and Other Migrant
experiences with integration
Urbanization and the loss of community: observations from eating falafel
The best falafel I’ve [Charles] ever eaten came from Osama, a simple Jordanian man from a small village outside Irbid city. He has made falafel his entire life, selling to the same dozen families in his village day after day. He knows everyone’s name in the village, their tribe, their histories, everything.
By comparison, falafel in Irbid city is disappointing. Like many urbanized products it is simplified and commodified into a compressed version of the original. It is adequate, but not great. The falafel sellers in Irbid city are friendly, but they don’t know your name, your tribe, or your history like Osama does.
There is not “community” in Irbid city like there is in the surrounding small towns. Both refugees and Jordanians describe feeling more welcome and comfortable in small villages like Jerash, compared to urban hubs like Irbid or Amman. Urbanizing Jordanians and Syrians are experiencing what Americans went through decades ago, the erosion of community, being increasingly socially isolated with the exception of religious institutions (Putnam, 2001). The humanitarian goals of “social cohesion” and “community building” between refugees and the host population in urban centers seem to have limited viability, not because of antagonisms between these groups, but because of a lack of community endemic in modern cities.