Connecting with Tradition to Create Opportunities for all Communities

We recently published Tandem 360° participant Corinne Grassi's story of visiting her Tandem partner Maya Gadir in Sudan. Within their Tandem collaboration, Maya and Corinne focused on communities who are neglected and marginalised, raising awareness of their challenges and developing activities to provide applicable solutions. In this story, Maya tells about Corinne and her visit to Amman in October 2021.

Tandem 360° is one of the first programmes I participated in with the intention of meeting cultural project managers from different parts of the Arab World. It was one of the most significant opportunities that helped me gain a wider perspective and a broader understanding of the importance of cultural projects and the role of creatives in building their own countries’ narratives and managing projects to develop local communities.

During Corinne’s visit to Sudan, I had the chance to introduce her to the creative scene in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan as well as some of the active creatives in Darfur region who are making a change in various cities and towns in the region to empower women and youth and develop the local communities which have faced years of war, tribal conflict and displacement.

Just before Corinne left, we agreed to visit Amman, Jordan as part of my placement to learn about creative solutions implementation. I was anxious and full of questions about the country, the creative scene, and the cultural projects taking place there.

I travelled to Amman, Jordan on 23 October 2021. I was overwhelmed as soon as I arrived at the airport. The country was very organised and the overall image of Amman reminded me of Abu Dhabi, UAE where I grew up. On my first day, Corinne took me to the old part of Amman city where the market is located and some interesting ancient sites are found. The Roman Theatre was our first stop before heading towards the open market. After that, we walked around the market to explore the different shops and find more historic sites. After our visit, Corinne arranged a gathering for us with some of her colleagues from her Jordanian network to tell me more about the projects which they implement around the rural areas and marginalised communities in Jordan to empower the youth and women through education.

Unfortunately, the following day a military coup took place in Khartoum, Sudan, which affected my placement and completely lowered my morals towards exploring the city and learning from its creatives. Although I lacked motivation and I was concerned about the situation in Sudan, Corinne was able to convince me to continue exploring the city and took me to visit the Amman Citadel which was another historic site in the Capital. Visiting so many historic sites and locations reflected the importance of maintaining and restoring the history of a city not only for visitors but for the locals as well.

After the visit, Corinne arranged a get-together with Shalabieh Al Hakawatieh, who is a young storyteller. It was important to meet a storyteller, understand its importance and learn more about how creatives can sustain the culture and traditions through storytelling. I was impressed by her role and her passion to reach out to the communities all around the country to revive the forgotten tradition of storytelling. Coming from Sudan which is a country with a rich oral history, it was important to meet Sally Shalabi, the young, modern storyteller.

After meeting with Sally, we had the chance to walk around the modern side of Amman which was filled with Graffiti and massive Art pieces spread on various streets. Graffiti is another familiar art used widely among the Sudanese youth, however, Amman street art was far more organised and the artists’ techniques were quite advanced in comparison to their Sudanese counterparts. While enjoying our walk, we visited a unique site which was an ordinary house with artwork covering its wall fence and garage wall. The artwork was created by a young 13 or 14-year-old woman during the lockdown. Supported by her family, the young artist was able to display her artwork around the house and on Social Media platforms to spread positivity and hope to uplift the people in those challenging days.

I was extremely overwhelmed by the amount of art found around the city which creates a unique identity for the city. Finally, we visited a sound exhibition called ‘Mirath’ which was taking place at the Jordanian National Gallery Park. The presentation was innovative and quite an experience to explore. It was a simple journey created by the setting, location, informative posters, and music played by various artists from around the Arab region including Sudan.

After seeing the important parts and sites in Amman, Corinne suggested spending a couple of days in Petra. The journey to Petra wasn’t as long as I expected and it was extremely comfortable. Petra was bigger and more developed than what I had imagined, it was a city! (with all its facilities from restaurants, hotels, houses, schools, shops and everything). On the day of our arrival, I was impressed by the calmness of the city. When we went to visit Petra Historic Site, I loved the organisation, architectural creativity, and technologies used to aid visitors and help them find their way around the site. Visiting Petra Site was a challenge due to the amount of walking needed to get to the main ruin and to climb up the many peaks scattered around to enjoy tea with the Bedouin men camping on top.

The Petra Historic site was such a unique journey and an unforgettable experience. I spoke to the Bedouin community who run bazaar-like shops scattered around the site as well as the young Bedouin boys and girls who walk around selling jewelry to visitors, ınteracting with the local community and learning about the important role of organisations in promoting local handcrafts and empowering women and youth to become financially independent. The ecosystem in Petra was a great example of an inclusive community development idea that offers growth opportunities to locals and foreigners alike. I have gained great insight into how the local communities in Petra city interact with each other while maintaining respect at all times, and how officials from police and governmental officers resolve conflict by resorting to the tribe elders. While the city is progressing and developing fast, traditions are still respected and highly regarded by locals and visitors.


My next visit was to Feynan Ecolodge which is a hotel located in the middle of nature and run by the local community. When we were heading to the Ecolodge, I was surprised to know that the area where Feynan ecolodge located was owned by Al Rashaida Tribe which is a tribe found in the East of Sudan. Experiencing the warm welcome and hospitality of such a tribe was mesmerising.

One of the drivers who took us to the lodge asked me about my nationality and once he found out that I am from Sudan, he immediately explained how Al Rashaida Tribe extends all the way to the East of Sudan. The driver also mentioned that Al Rashida Tribe which are found in Egypt, Saudi, Libya, and Sudan are all one and they are still connected to this day with each other regardless of the borders.

Feynan Ecolodge provided another innovative solution to offer community development while preserving the traditions and culture of the local communities. Exploring the Ecolodge was fascinating as it widened my understanding of tourism while sustaining nature, local communities, and traditions. From the building itself and lighting to equipment used and products sold are all locally made by all-local-staff team members. Feynan Ecolodge provided an innovative solution to unemployment and local communities’ inclusion in tourism. This idea can be easily implemented in Sudan to promote travelling and tourism while developing local communities.

Finally, on the way back to Amman to return to Khartoum, I had the privilege to visit and take photos of the Dead Sea which I heard about countless times during my childhood but never had the chance to visit before.

Overall, I was very happy with my visit to Jordan although I was demotivated at times due to the 25 October military coup in Sudan which left me stressed out after the entire disconnection of the internet services around the country.

I believe that Jordan offered a variety of creative and innovative programmes, projects, and facilities that focus on community development, using the latest technologies and up-to-date techniques while maintaining the oral and tangible history, local culture, and visible traditions. The balance between past, present, and future I experienced when visiting Jordan was extraordinary and has impacted my perspective as a cultural project manager and curator. It has also shifted my focus to explore and implement innovative solutions and creative ideas that should be inspired by local communities and adapted to the local environment and its changes to celebrate local cultures and promote traditions, respect, inclusion, and unity.