Happy March! The weather’s getting nice here… today it was in the high sixties Fahrenheit. I’ve been doing lots of slow night shifts recently, so I thought I would compile a few striking moments that I’ve noted in the past few days, for various reasons.
I stood in the door of the distribution tent an hour after dawn. A Syrian family walked slowly down from the inner compound to ask for a quick medical checkup and some diapers for the little baby. They were dry, smiling, and clearly not in distress, so I stayed in the doorway and watched, idly, as one of the mothers bent over her small son. She looked up and caught my eyes for a split second and my jaw dropped. I have never seen such eyes. Piercing blue, so bright they looked like sunlight through thick ice, a flash and then she was just another refugee mother dealing with a rambunctious kid. Later I walked by her, intent on seeing her eyes again. She looked up and smiled at me with perfectly ordinary, green-brown eyes in a pleasant round face, with laugh lines etched deep around her mouth and temples.
Sometime around four in the morning, with nothing to do and too many volunteers, we huddled around one of the trash can fires. One political refugee from Iran, two Americans, one Greek woman, a couple of Londoners, and an Australian. We started reading poetry to each other, ranging from contemporary slam poets, to friends, to Edna St. Vincent Millay and Pablo Neruda. There was no boundary between us as we spoke of love in others’ words.
Later another young man, also from Iran and speaking through a translator told me, “This is Paradise, because you come to volunteer.” I didn’t know how to respond. If Moria is Paradise – a place where residents sleep in tents, poop in port-o-potties, and get only the most basic food – then what must you be coming from? When basic human rights and a few people to smile at and sit around a fire with, people you cannot even talk to directly, counts as Paradise… I held back tears, and thanked him.
A timid little girl, clearly cold, arrived with her two younger brothers. She made sure they had coats and hats, and only when her mother arrived did she point shyly at herself and mime a jacket. I found her the warmest, cutest, pinkest jacket I could, with a fur-lined hood and a matching purple hat and scarf. She put them all on and her face transformed into the biggest grin I’ve ever seen. She breathed out a soft, “Thank you!” and then hid her face behind her beaming mother’s skirts and skipped off back to her tent.
We got a shipment of Axe body spray for men (gag) in little travel sized bottles, and had no idea what to do with them. If you’ve never smelled Axe, it smells like a teenage boy’s locker room. I was at a loss as to how to dispose of them, sure not a single refugee would ask. Then our daily shoppers arrived that morning. There’s a group from Pakistan that comes every day and tries to con us out of new clothes, even though they’ve probably each got more clothes than I own by now. We know them, so for the most part we just laugh and flirt and tell them to go away, but that day I brought out an armful of Axe and all of a sudden I was the most popular girl in school. Twenty minutes later we had gotten rid of all the horrible body spray, and there was a group of Pakistani guys happier than I’ve ever seen them, contemplating the joys of cologne.
A group of kind young men arrived one night and asked for jeans. They were all tall and skinny, and we had nothing at all to fit them. I told them to come back the next day, and one young man looked like he was about to cry, but they all thanked us politely and left. They came back the next day and I found every single one of them pants that fit. I gave them the nicest brands I could find. As they left, this time all smiles, one pressed something into my hand. “A gift for you,” he said. It was a little souvenir refrigerator magnet from Turkey, painted in gold and bright colors, showing a mosque. I can’t imagine why he had it or why he decided to give it to me – maybe he wanted to forget Turkey. Maybe he wanted to thank me. Maybe he thought I was pretty. Maybe he wanted to pay, somehow, for the help we gave him. It was so sweet, I carried the moment with me for the rest of the day.
A man quickly and skillfully shortened a belt, using nothing but a kitchen knife.
Two women with six kids between them came to the changing tent on a very busy night. The kids were damp but not wet, but they all needed a change of clothes. One of the women, who couldn’t have been more than thirty, spoke some English, so we got on quite well. Soon the kids were dry, had new shoes, and were beginning to run around the tent. “Okay, tammam?” I asked, smiling at the women. Tammam means ‘good’ in Arabic, and usually it gets a smile (probably my pronunciation, or maybe it’s a specific kind of ‘good’ and I’m using it wrong…) but this time both women shook their heads. The English speaker said, “No, no, me!” and then words left her in her distress, and she took my hand and pressed it against her side, right under her arm. She was soaking wet from the shoulders down. She hadn’t even mentioned it until then, making sure her kids were dry and warm first. She must have been freezing the whole time, but she never said a word. Needless to say, I was horrified, and ran to get them both the nicest dry clothes I could find. They left smiling.