Puzzled

Today I am making puzzles with a few teenage boys. De puzzles are meant for 4-year-olds but it doesn’t seem to matter for these boys, not even for the teenagers. They really enjoy creating this Lion King puzzle, whether they are trying to be cool or not. My new friend William comes and sits next to me. He is from Cameroon, speaks a few words French and is a beautiful sweet little child. We guess he is about 8 years old and wants to make the puzzle too. I give him the pieces. He picks up a few pieces, stares at them for a while and then decides to shove them to the side. All he does is gaze at the picture at the front of the puzzle box. I realize he doesn’t understand what to do with the pieces and maybe he even has never made a puzzle in his life before. I wonder what his life has been like before arriving here by boat in the middle of the night. Has he been to school at all? He points at the animals on the picture and his face lights up when I start roaring like Simba does. His little sister Bena is 2 years old. She is the cutest toddler I have ever seen, but we can all see she is struggling a lot. She can’t interact with others normally and keeps on hitting the other children and taking away their toys. And of course, therefore others don’t want to play with her. With us she is very clingy and she starts crying as soon as we focus our attention on another kid. She just wants to be held all day long and stay with us. When her mum comes in to pick her up, she jumps excited into her mothers’ arms. But her mother does not respond, nor hold her. My heart breaks when I realize that this mother can’t give her baby what she needs. She is probable exhausted and jaded from everything she had to go through to get here with her children. And still she has no idea how life will unfold for her and her two children in the next couple of years. Everything is unclear when you are stuck in Lesbos and your life has been put ‘on hold’. I am more then sure she too wishes it all would have worked out differently…

Deep dark brown

Her eyes catch mine. Deep dark brown. In this moment it seems like I can see everything that her beautiful eyes have witnessed. Not beautiful. Probably horrible devastating frightful. Human beings at it’s most inhuman. Not to speak of the sounds. Or the feelings that came with it. Her eyes keep tracking mine. This little warrior seems to be looking for a yes. I wake up from the moment and hurry up with my nod, with a smile. She immediately crawls over the table on top of my lap and makes herself at home. Cuddling, joking, laughing, reading and speaking a few words of her newly acquired language. She sits here for over an hour and doesn’t leave until I really have to leave. Why does this hurt a little?

Next week. All children seem to have gone on a day-trip. I notice my own disappointment when I make my way out of the shelter. “This is selfish Anne”, I tell myself. “They are on a day trip, good for them”. My thoughts are not so kind today, at least not towards myself. I walk outside, feel the Dutch wind stroking the pores on my arm while I make my way back to my bike. Suddenly, the sound of footsteps and cackling coming from the soccer court. I turn my head and see two hands waving at me. Deep dark brown eyes. Two pairs this time. It’s her again, with her older sister.

“Book! You! Me!”. I nod happily and my whole being radiates my smile. Without any hesitation I drop my stuff on the courtyard and start playing. We run, laugh, giggle, score and let go of the ball. And I let get of my schedule. She points at her coat-less body and tells me to take of mine. I guess I am staying. Her fingers point at my bag full of books. We sit down on the courtyard, all three of us. She immediately crawls on my lap again and we go over the books together. I take out her favorite book from last week and she looks at me with joy. We try to read words and I give them search-assignments. Her older sister takes care of her the whole time – she definitely is the most supportive big sister a little sister could ever imagine. I observe how I am moved by the love they seem to share. Have they always been this kind towards each other? What were they like before they got on that boat?

We are the only ones outside today. The sun is on our face and it warms my whole being. Or is it them? I can’t stop staring at these two beautiful little beings. Little? No. They are so big in their kindness and compassion. In their resilience. In their love. In their curiosity and openness. They represent everything that we still need to learn.

My little warrior turns around as if she feels I am watching her with a smile full of admiration and delight. She smiles back and puts her little arms around my neck and pulls me towards her. Safe and sound. Finally. The world breaks open. Filled with hope for a better future for all of us.

HUMANS OF BELIZE

Meet my new inspirators: Kevin (middle) and Stephen (right). World-improvers pur sang. We met on Kevin’s 25th birthday over a week ago. I fell right with my nose in the butter, as we would say in Dutch (; In the middle of the Belizean jungle I met my kind of people: conscious people with the wish, need and determination to make the world a better place. Kevin works as a counsellor with HIV-patients for the National HIV Programme, Ministry of Health, Belize. He works in a clinic in Belize City and goes out into the rural areas to do HIV outreach work: giving information, free HIV-testing and helping patients to cope with their life-long-struggle of HIV or AIDS. His friend Stephen should have ‘NGO’ as his middle name. He has worked for several in the past and is a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights as we speak, but together with Kevin also just founded the Belize Youth Empowerment for Change. With this organisation they are improving the chances and opportunities for the youngsters in Belize. Everyone knows Belize has amazing beaches and reefs, but on the other side of the beauty, there’s loads of challenges here: discrimination based on gender or sexual identity, crime-related-pressure, early sexual advancement, physical and emotional abuse and racism. Stephen and Keving help out wherever possible and give the young Belizeans a voice. I am telling you, these guys are making the world a better place and I wish you could all meet them in person. And guys, just so you know, the world already ís a better place with you in it. Mesi & Damou!

HUMANS OF MEXICO

“My name is Juan Carlos, I am 12 years old. I go to school from 8AM till 2PM and then start working as a shoe polisher. I want to become an artist and need money to be able to go to college when I am older. It is my dream to become a painter. I don’t want to be in the picture alone, but you can take one together with my friend.I just polished his shoes. He is an amazing guitar-player and dreams of traveling to Europe to play in the Concert Halls there.”

HUMANS OF HONDURAS

“We are on our way to Houston, Texas. We will have to spend 16 days on busses to get there, but that’s fine because we have a lot of fun together, especially if we talk about or with la chica’s on the bus! Do you have a boyfriend? You are too tall for us! We will try to get jobs in the United States to have a better future. It’s our first time so we are really excited!”

HUMANS OF GUATEMALA

“My name is Mariano. I am 60 years old and from San Pedro, Lago del Atitlan. I have 9 brothers and sisters, all between the age of 54 and 65. I am a fisherman and work with a small boat and only a net. On good days in the dry season I catch 20 kilos of fish, but from May on its only about 1 or 1,5 kilo a day. On good days I sell it, because I don’t have a wife and kids and can’t eat it all. But that’s okay. It was nice to teach you Spanish. But now you have to go, I have to take a bath here in the lake. Adios!”

HUMANS OF INDIA

“My name is Ashwani. I am disabled: only physically. I am spastic which makes it hard to talk and people think I am stupid. I am not. I sell apples on the street, everyday, and with that money I can take care of myself and my family. My parents are too old to work. I want to make them happy. My brother is also abnormal, but way worse than I am. It’s in his brain too and he always feels sick. So I am taking care of them all. I’d be pleased if you could buy my apples. And even if you don’t, I will greet you happily every time you pass me by.”

HUMANS OF INDIA

“The only difference between your Catholic and our Muslim belief is that Allah is our messenger instead of a God. We are teachers too, in English and Computer Science. We have an arranged marriage like almost everyone else in India. It is often very difficult, but we think love marriages and love relationships are difficult too, right? Can we take a selfie? We can not post pictures of ourselves on Facebook because we are not allowed to expose ourselves. You can post it but please don’t tag us. We will keep our picture as a sweet memory of our talk.”