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On Location: a series on Motherhood in the Middle East



It was uncomfortably hot, like the desert sun was searing my pale white skin through the glass of the car windows. I wasn't alone, my colleague with a similar skin tone in the car was equally uncomfortable and we were on minute 5 of what was over an hour trip through the desert. Images of ants under magnifying glasses clouded my mind until almost instinctively I took off my field vest, rolled down the window a little, wedged the top in the closed window to provide just enough shade and relief to send those ant images marching. It was something that came with filming in familiar territory.


A couple weeks ago I was contracted by International Medical Corps on behalf of ECHO to create a film series on three women at Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. It was only a year since I had been in Jordan on my own crowd funded project Six Year Old Fears in Zaatari Refugee Camp. This series focused on the maternal health services being provided at the hospital in Azraq. The similarities between the two projects are pronounced, but was the challenge in making these pieces different in the place where it all began for me that I really enjoyed.


Glittering stars and moons dangled from the ceiling as I pushed open doors adorned with the footprints of all the babies that had been born there- no production design was needed here, the International Medical Corps hospital at Azraq was picture ready. Having filmed in dozens of medical settings, I usually struggle with making a white wall not look 'clinical' with overhead lighting and always encourage interviews and filming to be outside or with available light. But in this instance, all I wanted to do was to stay inside the maternity ward and keep my cameras rolling on the colors.


Unlike Six Year Old Fears that focused on just one family, to make this series different I focused on three women of three different families- one was a Syrian mother again who gave birth at the hospital, a Jordanian midwife who served her country and is now serving refugees, and a Syrian midwife who now volunteers to continue serving her country in Azraq.


Whether its one family or three, in a suburb of Amman or in a shelter at a refugee camp, the welcoming warmth and love I receive when I'm invited to film and interview with them is something unique. Every family greets you with open arms, offers coffee, juice, cookies, or even a full cooked meal-whatever they can. They expect nothing, your presence is enough.


Meeting Rasha, the mother-again and her family in their home gave me an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Her husband ran out to a nearby stall to grab cookies and juice for us on top of the coffee and pistachio treat they had welcomed us with. He was a bit winded when he came in, wanting to be quick with his trip you'd never guess he had bullets and shrapnel removed from his leg in the past.


I could have listened to Rasha talk all day, and the interaction between her and her family was the sweetness I remember of Sara and her family. There were many lessons learned from filming in Zaatari that proved true again, like making sure kids aren't opening their sweets or cookies (as most are individually wrapped) as an adult is talking to camera-that is a sound that is impossible to get out in post. I could have spent all day listening to her sons play the keyboard they made air pressurized with a shisha pipe. When we went to leave, I had left the cookies and juice intentionally in the hopes that Rasha's sons would be able to enjoy them later but Rasha's husband wouldn't let me leave them behind-after all he had run to get them. It is a generosity that goes beyond what anyone would expect.


I'm currently in post-production now on these three pieces and unlike Six Year Old Fears where I was the only deciding voice in the final cut, I look forward to seeing how editing alongside a new client will shape and mould these pieces into the films they will become. Ultimately though, I hope people can feel the warmth that was captured in these films of the families and strong females who lead them.


Lauren Anders Brown directed and produced Six Year Old Fears, a 15 minute documentary focusing on the maternal health clinic in Zaatari Refugee Camp that has never lost a mother or child. It has been received in 5 film festivals internationally and has aired on BBC Arabic and is open to further distribution. She's a self-shooting documentary filmmaker who recently has been focusing on maternal health issues. In her work she's filmed over a dozen cesarean sections and 6 normal deliveries. To learn more about this new series with International Medical Corps, follow her work on:

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