Life is never easy in a refugee camp. I have heard so many stories of people losing hope, fear and even worse, their dreams. There is no such thing as Sinterklaas or Christmas here. All they do is wait, waiting for the war to end, waiting for a future in the area where they fled from. Three years of waiting… Just compare that to our frustration when a train is five minutes late.. luckily, those displaced people invented the concept of resilience. And so a sunset like this one is still noted. Thanks to the ones pointing beauty out to me today.
Tonight we will be reading books to the children in Moria, the camp that everyone knows from the horrible images on tv as ‘the prison’. I am with my colleague who stepped into glass while we were swimming with the woman’s group last week. She has not been able to walk nor work since then. She hobbles with her crutches and one arm in mine up the hill but she is happy anyway, she just really wants to do something for these people here and help out. Our stroll towards the family compound normally takes 5 minutes, but this time at least 15. Not only because she can’t walk fast, but mainly because we are held up by the refugees the whole time: What happened? You okay? Can we help? Shall I carry you?” Everyone is helpful and engaged. We look at each other and are surprised again over the amount of love thats hanging in this 38degrees air. The refugees spend their days in the heat, mostly staring purposeless across the barbed wire, waiting for news or a decision about their future. Most of them have been here for months without any news. The situation makes them desperate, those are stories that we hear everyday. But not today. Today everyone is doing whatever they can to help my colleague getting around. There is even a volleybal area, just created, and there are 21 guys playing, and one woman dressed in a hijab. Girl power. We smile towards each other. Small things, big effect. When we get up the hill at our destination, we hang our bags on the barbed wire. It is weird but it starts to become normal as if we have never done anything else before. During the reading session, which is led by Afghani mothers, we both really enjoy what’s happening. The mothers read in Farsi to all the children who are sitting on a blanket on the floor, listening silently. This is what we aim for: facilitate that the refugees run their own educational and social support projects. It works a thousand times better than anything else and is much more sustainable. The women feel empowered and useful and of course, they can do this way better than we can! My colleague looks at me and smiles a smile filled with gratefulness. Sometimes it’s possible to forget the bizarre situation we are in and for a few seconds it is just really really really nice to be here.
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.