Day 6. A young man came to me yesterday needing clothes. He had fallen into the Aegean when his rubber boat sank, and lost everything. It was raining and cold, and all he had on was a thin t-shirt, pencil jeans and a thin jacket. Many of the shoes we’ve given out are new, and hence modern, but the clothing for the most part, is donated, and so tends to be older styles.
It is hard finding pants to give, as it seems most donations are shirts and sweaters and jackets. After routing around in a few storage containers, I brought out four jean options, hoping one would fit. It looked like one pair would, but the young man balked because they were very wide legged, and he wanted pencil jeans. A beautiful, kind woman from Syria was helping the young man, though she did not know him. She dragged him to me because she saw the state he was in, and I had helped her earlier. I looked at her hopelessly and shrugged, “It’s all we have,” I said. She told the man he had to take the pants and worry about fashion later. After hesitating a moment, he took the pants, because he understood he needed them.
This Syrian woman will stay in my mind forever. She had so much grace and her sense of pride (in the good sense of the word) will help carry her to safety, I believe. She is single, though not terribly young and traveling alone with her mother, who also gave off that aura of self contained pride. Perhaps it is only a deep wish inside me, but somehow when I looked into her beautiful face, I knew that she had a good future ahead of her. That she would be well received in Sweden, where they hope to go to join her brother. I mentioned to Sehr that i thought she would be well received and appreciated , and would have her pick of husbands in Sweden. Sehr, who is also Muslim, looked skeptical
and said, she wears a Hijab, that will set her apart. Again, perhaps it is me dreaming of a better world, but I think not. Somehow, this woman will stand out, be loved and honored, and will make it thru this tragedy with her pride and sense of self intact. Inshallah.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pride since I’ve been here. There is pride which = arrogance, and pride that = a strong sense of self. We in the west who are helping, tend to be prideful in the arrogant way. When someone doesn’t want a pair of shoes because they are ugly, or a pair of pants because they have wide legs, we say to ourselves, then you don’t really need help. When in reality, our arrogance is simply knocking against the one thing many refugees still have intact, which is a sense of who they are, or a sense of self. I haven’t wanted to say because I know my friends at home will worry, but I haven’t been able to eat hardly anything on this trip. I live daily with a growling stomach. There is nothing in the camp I can eat, no matter how hungry I am, because I am autoimmune to so many foods. (gluten,i.e. bread, dairy, eggs, meat, beans, some fruits, and sadly chocolate.) Eating the food here would make me sicker than eating nothing. So I’ve eaten nuts, mandarins, cabbage, lettuce and Ivar (a tomato/pepper tapanade.) None of which has stopped my hunger. If I was a refugee would it be true that I didn’t “need” the food offered? The best hope we have for this tragedy, is that people survive with their sense of who they are, and what they need, intact. Clothes can be replaced, new homes can be found, but a person who loses their identity, their internal sense of who they are–call it their soul–can never be found.
Luck is such a random thing of birth. Rich, poor, American, Syrian. Last night I met a lovely Syrian man, who until 2+ years ago, had been like me, a lawyer. We spoke about his practice (he was a litigator) and his dreams for the future. He hopes to go to Vienna with his wife and two young daughters. His traveling companions all tell him, no Germany is better, but something inside of him says. Vienna. And I think he will follow that instinct. Before becoming a lawyer, he was an artist, and says he doesn’t mind if they are resettled out of the city in a small rural village. He’d prefer that. He loves the countryside, to paint in nature, and prefers his daughters to grow up in a place that is healthy and clean. He says he’s been disturbed about the amount of pollution being generated all along the refugee route. How his fellow travelers simply drop and leave behind the things they no longer want or need. He loves music and his hopes for the future are, I think, realistic.
I hope he will be another survivor who thrives in his new home. I told him to practice his English and whatever other foreign languages he knows while on his journey. A young man he didn’t know, but who speaks perfect English, was with him and i said practice English with him. “I try,” he said. “My English was much better, but traveling, and I’ve lost much weight and we rarely get to sleep well, and. . .” I know I said to him. It is difficult for the brain to function in these circumstances. I hope his skills with Syrians will help him find a good job, if he can also learn the local language. If nothing else, perhaps a large organization will hire this lovely man. We exchanged contact details and i intend to follow up and help him all I can.