WE have all heard the emigration stories of young people leaving their families for more affluent countries like Australia, Canada, and the UK in search of a better life. Rarely do you come across someone to up sticks, family in tow, for the Middle East but that is just what Scariff man, Nick Grisewood, did this time last year.
Accompanied by his wife, Christina, his youngest daughter, Emma (20) and her son, Jake, who is seven months old the Grisewoods now live in an area called Abdoun in West Amman, Jordan.
Although the Grisewoods have British roots, they never planted themselves firmly in the UK and having fallen in love with East Clare, they made Scariff their permanent home.
Christina’s parents are British and worked as Reuters correspondents in New Delhi, where Christina was born. She moved to Switzerland in her teens when her father took up a position there. Nick and Christina met and married there.
“I am also a Brit by birth – both my parents are from Liverpool – but my father was in the RAF and we moved around with his postings. I spent my early years in Singapore and some time in Belgium as well. It was when I did my business studies degree that I first spent time in the French-Swiss border area and I loved it so much that I moved there. I lived first in France and then in Switzerland. We decided in the late 1990s we wanted our children to benefit from an education in their mother tongue but not having lived in the UK for many years, we did not feel a desire to move there. For reasons we still do not understand, our paths led to Ireland, East Clare and Scariff. We fell in love with St Colman’s and we moved there in August 1998. We have since made our lives there and been very happy,” Nick outlined.
Nick was involved with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) since the 1980s and became involved in international labour standards and child labour in the mid-1990s and this became his area of professional expertise.
He was the director of the international NGO Global March Against Child Labour and although the secretariat of this organisation was based in New Delhi, Nick managed operations from Scariff.
He really enjoyed the work and challenges that came with the elimination of child labour but with the worsening financial crisis, the NGO lost a significant grant that should have seen them through to 2013 and Nick had to seek other opportunities.
“In early 2011, I applied for two positions with ILO-IPEC and was offered the position I now have in Jordan in August 2011. One area where I felt I had a gap in my experience was that of managing a child labour project in the field,” he said.
He is now involved in an upstream project in Jordan, which focuses almost exclusively on working with the government and various national entities to develop and implement policies relating to child protection and child labour elimination.
“This is the first time the ILO has launched a policy project and it is being closely observed. The government has child labour policy and structures in place but these are not functioning on the ground. Our main support area at the moment is to assist key ministries, as well as employers, trade unions and civil society organisations, in operating its new policy. This is a complex, and sometimes sensitive area of work – getting ministries to work effectively together – but the potential rewards are significant for the 35,000 plus child labourers in Jordan and in terms of ensuring sustainable activities to continue to address this problem,” Nick explained.
The organisation has also been assisting the government in developing a new child labour database, which will support national efforts to address and monitor this issue in future.
“The greatest challenge in any development project is to ensure that action is sustainable. I am a great believer in sustainable action and working at policy and legislative levels is critical to this endeavour. The project is a catalyst and building commitment among partners is critical. It is not an easy process – there are many national priorities and like other countries, Jordan has been hit by the global economic crisis. I enjoy the challenge of working at policy level and I particularly enjoy working with national partners. The contact, the negotiations and forging strong relations are all important and very stimulating. I am also a passionate trainer. What I enjoy more than anything is working on the ground and experiencing tangible results. This is about putting theory into practice and it can be highly rewarding – and sometimes hugely frustrating – but that in itself is stimulating and I am learning a great deal. If I can leave Jordan with an operational child labour policy, then I will be very happy,” Nick said.
It is the first time Nick had taken on a field posting in UN terms and it was the one key aspect of development work in the area of child labour that he hadn’t undertaken.
“It is one, which interested me a great deal as it provides greater practical experience and opportunities to see how development theories work (or not) in reality,” he said.
The move to the Middle East was not an easy decision for the Grisewoods as it meant being away from their children and grandchildren and leaving their home in Scariff. They were unsure about taking on “such an adventure” at this stage in their lives – both are in their early 50s. However, after much deliberation and discussion with family and friends, they decided to throw caution to the wind.
Nick moved to Amman first in October 2011 and Christina and Emma followed in January 2012. Christina is an English language editor and French to English translator and has been able to continue her consultant work from Amman.
They are all adjusting well to life in Jordan one year on.
Christina studied Arabic at university and has enjoyed getting back to the language, while their daughter, Emma, has started a beginner’s course. Nick admits he is still “an utter novice” in the language.
“Obviously, the climate is a major factor here. Jordan has an interesting climate for the Middle East and one which makes it very popular with people from the Gulf States, where it can be incredibly hot in the summer. Amman is quite high and so the temperatures are never unbearable and the winters can be wet, cold and this year quite white. We had the worst storms to hit this region for many years and had 6cm of snow on a couple of days. It does not last long but the Jordanians welcome the wet – this is the fourth water-poor country in the world – they need their rain. What is quite striking when you arrive in Amman is the lack of green. Everywhere looks pretty much the same colour, sandy, beige and white. Dust is something you also have to get used to. Jordan is a mix of desert with some mountainous areas in between so the dust is phenomenal.
“Interestingly, there are very few dogs in Jordan, which is a religious phenomenon. There are loads of cats around the place though, that spend most of their day around the public bins,” Nick said.
While Jordan is defined as a middle-income country, there is some incredible wealth there and Nick describes it as “more developed than some developing countries”.
“There is a strong public sector and a very well-organised and structured security apparatus. This is not surprising given the violence and conflict around Jordan. The authorities keep a close eye on what happens internally and recently monitored and arrested a terrorist group that was planning a series of attacks on areas, which were frequented by foreigners. It was a startling reminder of the potential dangers in the region. Having said that, I feel safer in Amman than I do in parts of Europe. There is not much petty crime when compared to Europe and any violence that occurs tends to be tribally focused,” Nick said.
Although it is a predominantly Muslim country, Nick said there is significant tolerance in Jordan, unlike other countries in the region.
“There is a Christian community and one does not feel overpowered by Islam at all. Muslims take their religion seriously and this is a striking factor when you first arrive – but one soon gets used to the call to prayer. There are nevertheless certain issues where one has to be a little bit careful in terms of dress, for example. And the period of Ramadan – the Muslim period of fasting and prayer– can be a bit awkward. While we do not observe the same fasting limitations, we do nonetheless avoid eating and drinking in public during the day. But none of the religious issues are invasive and it is a simply a question of respecting the culture, religion and traditions of the country in which we live and the host population who welcome others so willingly and openly,” Nick added.
There is plenty of life in Jordan with loads to see and do, according to Nick.
“One can get almost anything that the average expatriate would wish for, down to Kilkenny beer. There are the usual arrays of Irish pubs – alcohol is tolerated and sold relatively openly in Jordan. The people are very nice and there is no sense of threat or danger in spite of being in the middle of one of the world’s hot spots. Obviously, as guests in this country, we do our best to respect cultural sensitivities,” Nick continued.
While there are areas of great wealth, the social divides are very evident, as Nick points out.
“Even driving from the more affluent West Amman to the Eastern part of the city, the difference between the standard of houses, apartment blocks, roads and even the environment generally is striking,” he said.
A tough austerity budget for 2013 promises a more difficult economic climate in Jordan this year and Nick expects social divisions will inevitably widen, leading to increased numbers of child labourers – something that concerns his organisation considerably.
“We do miss Scariff, our beautiful house and friends there. However, one never really knows what comes up in the course of this sort of work and there might be other opportunities that we may consider. It has been a fascinating experience and we do not regret our decision to move at all. In today’s uncertain climate, we do not know what the future holds but we feel sure that St Colman’s and Scariff will continue to be our home,” Nick concluded.