Today’s major mission was to find my lost journal. “What?” I hear you cry, “you write even more that we don’t get to see?” Yes, dear readers, I do. It’s like a compulsion, I just can’t stop. My paper journal is not particularly private though, so if you ever want to see it you can just ask. I glue things in, press flowers between the pages, and record more of my personal feelings, along with lists of things to pack, addresses to send letters to, email addresses, flight information, and other minutia that I’m liable to forget if I don’t write it down. I post the more interesting stuff here.
I noticed yesterday that it wasn’t in my little day pack, and figured I must have left it at Pikpa. I took it out to record the a series of labels I needed to print out and laminate to tape onto a bunch of plastic boxes for the night shift, and I accidentally left it next to the computer at Pikpa reception. Oops! I went in first thing today and there it was, in the exact same place. My pen was still inside it! Sweet relief.
Mission accomplished, I wandered out into the main camp in search of something to do. It was another clear, cold day, perfect for working outdoors, and I eventually found myself shoveling damp road salt into a circle to mark the location of a new tent. We’ve put up a few new tents lately so that we can accommodate more people, and this particular tent site needed some work before the ground was level enough to set it up. By the end it looked like some sort of arcane summoning circle; stakes protruded from the ground at even intervals around a central stake, all enclosed in an unbroken salt circle that not even the most powerful demon would try to cross.
After helping Kevin from France and Janani from London create and hang a new basketball hoop for the kids, I helped pack almost nine hundred meals for Moria and also washed a lot of dishes in blessedly warm water. Since we normally wash our dishes outside in freezing cold water this felt like a luxury.
“There’s a discussion for that documentary happening down in the communal kitchen,” said Yasmine, a volunteer from Singapore and Australia. A documentary? I hadn’t heard anything about that, but decided to go check it out. It turned out to be a discussion between refugees and volunteers, translated by members of Humanity Crew, and was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had so far.
Twenty or thirty people sat in a tightly packed circle, talking about the plight of the refugees. Interspersed were three Arabic to English translators. No one moderated, it was a completely free and open exchange of questions, answers, opinions, and ideas, and everyone listened with their whole bodies. I saw people leaning in, listening intently to languages they did not know, trying to glean meaning from body language or eye contact. The urge to understand, to connect, to see from a different point of view was palpable in the room. Some of the questions that came up seemed unanswerable: “What is integration?” “How much are the refugees willing to sacrifice for a better life?” “How can European cultures best welcome the new, different culture of the refugees?”
One young man shared a poignant story of escaping what he described as “waiting for death” in Syria only to reach the apparent safety of a refugee camp in Turkey and discover that it was only a “slower death” there. An older woman expressed that whatever country she settled in would be her country, and she would be proud of that and try to embrace the new culture with an open heart. General consensus was that the onus should not be on the refugees to assimilate, but on the host countries and the refugees jointly to find a new way of being together, integrating fully with compromise on both sides in terms of culture and customs. It’s a beautiful and idealistic dream, and as Dan said, “This room proves that it can happen!”
It’s important to note also that Syria has historically been one of the most accepting, wealthy, and educated countries in the Middle East. Refugees have said to me several times that they lived peacefully alongside people of all religions. “I feel free to pray in my own home, however I want,” said one man at the discussion. Everyone stressed the importance of love and acceptance for new people and cultures. In only nine days here I’ve met everyone from religious Muslims to vehement atheists to people who, when I asked about religion just shrugged. A common concern among refugees is that their children could not get an education during the chaos of war, and the even when they flee to Turkey to work the pay is so low that they must take children out of school in order to make enough for the whole family to eat.
It’s an impossible situation, and yet we must find ways to make it viable. It has never been more clear to me that we are one global people, one global family, with humanity that transcends borders and artificial divisions. If in that room at Pikpa we can lean together to listen with our whole hearts then we can spread that urge to understand to our friends and family, and eventually it will spread to cover the whole world. It’s idealistic, but I think it is possible. It’s hard to fear or hate someone who speaks about love, acceptance, and peace when they speak about their future. I hope the world learns to listen.
[Edited 23Jan2016: I originally stated that translation was provided by Team Humanity, which is incorrect. The actual translators were members of Humanity Crew.]