Boys will be boys

These tiny little fella’s look like boys anywhere else. They play, they joke, they laugh, they fight. The only difference is their stories. Stories of devastation, lost homes, lost lives, lost parents. Sometimes even losing them violently in front of their eyes. Eyes who are way too young to watch what they have watched. All growing up without a mother or a father. Here they are, on their knees, sharing their secrets and worries. And still, they play, they joke, they laugh, they fight. Like any other boy. If there is one thing I am learning from them, it is resilience. The courage to keep moving, to keep going forward. To not let anything make you give up. They are such clever, brilliant and wise human beings. I have faith that they will get wherever they want to go. Because they don’t give up. Giving up simply does not exist here. Let my little brothers inspire you on this Thursday night. To chase your dreams and go where you want to go. And don’t tell me something is stopping you. It’s only on your mind. Dream big and move forward. You simply owe it to them to do so.

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Two Iraqis in Amsterdam

It’s never easy to come ‘home’. I hate to admit it mostly because I wish it was different and I am embarrassed about it. Iraq is my home and it takes time when I return to the Netherlands to adjust, to settle in. I feel alone, lonely and lost. My heart is open and everything hits hard because I am tired. I feel guilty for not being able to see dear friends, I feel disappointment towards myself. I basically just don’t know what to do with myself. It’s part of transition and I know it will pass. But today I thought I would feel like this for the whole christmas holidays.
Until I met this guy, my Uber driver who was going to take me to the train station. We started to chat. After 30 seconds I said: “Sir, where are you from?”. He looked a bit surprised but answered: “I AM FROM BAGHDAD, Iraq”. My mouth fell open. “ME TOO, I live in Erbil”. His mouth fell open. “I just came from Baghdad last night”. His chin dropped further.
A wonderful conversation followed, about one thing that we have in common: a shared frustration with the injustice of life in Iraq. Talking about this made me feel acknowledged, so not alone anymore at all. He told me how his brother was murdered by the regime in 1981 and how he himself had to flee the country because he was also seen as ‘a state enemy’. And how he has been trying ever since to share the truth with everyone who could maybe make an end to the corruption and injustice that is still existing. It was so beautiful that we had this moment together, in a car towards the train station. So open, raw, honest and real.
At the end of the journey he said: “Anne, can I please give you my contacts and can you please promise me that you will call me when you need help, with ANYTHING, here in the Netherlands or in Iraq?”. Living in NL had definitely not washed away the typical Iraqi trait of generosity and hospitality…! I smiled. He smiled back, gave me his number and said: “Meeting you today has made my day Anne!”. I smiled back and said: “Meeting you today has saved my day Andilbast”. We said goodbye in Arabic. His smile was big. And I found my ground in the Netherlands again. Marhaba ❤️

HUMANS OF IRAQ

I have never told you about this guy before. Meet Sarmad. Doctor Sarmad. Three months ago he walked into my office, applying for the job of interpreter (translator). It was love at first sight – he flew right into my heart. My colleague whom I conducted the interview with agreed immediately with me. “I want him!”. In the past three months I got to see his amazing personality: devoted, honest, humble, ambitious and loyal (epic combination!!). And incredibly helpful to EVERYONE. Even when we are having lunch, he leaves the table to talk to a 14 year old waiter that looks ill to offer him help to get better – gives him his number to talk more later. When we discuss cases at the camps, he provides medical advice even though I forbid him, he just cannot not help.

Besides explaining me everything I need to understand about this context (culture, politics, language etc), he shows me what it’s like to grow up in a country at war that is full of corruption. It’s fucking fucked up. I can’t make it any nicer, really. Sarmad has studied hard for 6 years to become a doctor. He finished and started working in the hospitals here and earns 350 dollars a month for a full time job. I repeat, the guy is a DOCTOR. 350 dollars a month (€250). He did not receive any payments over the last 3 (!!) months because the Ministry of Health is out of money. How can you support your family if this is how things work? Build a future? This is why he applied to work with me as an interpreter besides his job at the hospital because he is saving up for a future in Europe. Exciting times are coming. He is making his way to Europe soon (inshallah) to do his specialism in medicine. I cannot even think about the day he will leave, I have gotten totally attached to his generosity and amazingness. So I just try not to think about it and absorb every hour we get to work together and learn from each other.

This picture was taken about a month ago after we spent 6 hours in a car and could not get out because it was a bit dangerous. I needed to pee for 3 hours but he kept on joking so I forgot about it. This photo is just after our ‘release’ (and after I went to the toilet☺️). Our bodies full of stress but wow we were so relieved. So he wanted to take a picture to celebrate, to remember this moment. And as he usually doesn’t smile at pictures (it’s a Middle Eastern habit) I forced him to produce one smile. And I got the ridiculous version!

Bless people like him, who struggle but never lose hope. These are the people we can learn from, the ones that keep us going. Thank you dear friend, شكرا Sarmad, you inspire me!

Lines of laundry

I have had a fascination for lines of laundry since I started traveling. Not sure whether I am just a bit obsessed or crazy but it just always shows where in the world I am and what life is like. Here the children only have 1 or (if they are lucky) 2 sets of clothing and as it’s really cold these days in the desert, it takes more than a day to dry 1 set (on a barbed wired fence). Most of them only wear pajamas because those were distributed when they arrived here. They did not have time to pack their wardrobes because they had to flee quickly. The kids told me yesterday how they don’t want to go to school because they are too embarrassed to go in their dirty clothes. Plus, they are cold so they are hesitant to leave their tents. Can you imagine? I never had to worry about these things. I was only reluctant to get out of the hot shower into a cold bathroom. I actually still do, here…Crazy differences.

Opgesloten in vrijheid

Soms interesseert het me echt geen reet dat ik opgesloten zit en het land niet meer uit kan. Zoals vandaag. Ik stel je graag voor aan Beri, Mardeen, Fawaz, Nasr, Hani, Sara, Mousa en Thanaa. 8 psychologen uit Syrië, Irak en Koerdistan. Werkend met onze kinderen en families op 14 verschillende kampen voor meer dan 10.000 vluchtelingen. Omstandigheden: ruk. Verhalen: verschrikkelijk. Situatie: schrijnend. Energie: onbeperkt. Je moet het maar doen hoor, week in week uit. Ik was al een miljard keer naar Europa gevlucht, klaar met de shit, maar godzijdank zijn zij als doorzetters hier. Voor die duizenden kinderen die de aandacht en het luisterend oor zooooo hard nodig hebben. En dus zoomden we vandaag in op NEEDS. Want die worden hier nauwelijks vervuld. En daar maken deze 8 A REAL CHANGE. “Het Masterplan”, noemden ze het zelf. Dat valt alleen maar uit te voeren met echt masters and that’s what they are.

Humans of Moria

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.

Humans of Afghanistan

“We want to talk about colors!”, says one of the Afghan beauties. The whole group agrees. Well, let’s do that! The Afghan ‘woman’s group’ is a support group for young woman who join twice weekly and want to find support and relaxation. The goal is that they run the group themselves as much as possible. We are only there to facilitate. But tonight they have asked me to give some input. I give them a little class on ‘color psychology’ and ask them for the meaning of colors in their opinion. Our answers are quite similar. After I have explained the meaning of a few colors as simple as possible and we have written it down in both English and Farsi, I ask them which color has been most represented in their lives up until now. The answer “black” (the unknown, secrets”) is mentioned way too often in my opinion. Luckily a few of them answer “pink” (love, girly-ness) as well and explain that they feel loved by their families. So nice to hear. The next question is of which color they would to like to have more of in their lives. The answer is almost unanimous “blue” (peace and trust!) and “pink”. All of a sudden I feel really connected to them. I guess that’s why I came here in the first place – to give them a little of this because I feel like we should, can and need to do this together. I hand out a feather to each one of them in the color they wish for and ask them to hold it with both hands and close their eyes. We do a little wish-exercise in which they focus on the quality of the color and how to receive more of this in their lives. While they have closed their eyes, I look around the circle. There they are, the women full of talents and positivity, who came here with a longing for a safer life in freedom, but got stuck here at a camp where they should not have stayed for longer than 3 days in the first place.. They all are so special. I feel the tears burning behind my eyes. How much I wish I could take all of them with me back to Holland. All of a sudden my wish is more blue than ever. There is only one way to finish this exercise. Turn on the music, take off the hijabs and dance. Cause if there is one thing than unifies and relaxes, it’s music and dance. With a huge smile I say goodbye to these brave women. If they don’t get there and make it, I don’t know who will.

Humans of Iraq

A 20-year old boy walks up to our medical cabin. We have not seen his face before. He is here for a friend, who needs to see the doctor but doesn’t speak any English. He does speak English and wants to translate. He introduces himself as Fridoon and after the visit to the doctor he asks us if there is any psychological help available. As much as I as a psychologist wish to say yes to his request, we can’t since we are not allowed to provide any psychological care at this camp site. When I ask him if he is interested in translating for us for Afghani patients who only speak Farsi, he responds with enthusiasm. The next day he shows up right away. He appears to be an excellent help for us and all Farsi speakers that visit our doctors. We get to know him better and better over the week. He tells us about his trip to Europe that has taken him 6 months time. About the jobs he has done during his trip so he could stay alive but where he never got paid for. About the money he has lost on smugglers that made false promises about a crossing. About the severe physical torturing by smugglers as soon as he and others would speak their own language. And about the nerve-wrecking crossing two weeks ago and about the 4 people who fell overboard and drowned. These are all stories we hear more often here. But Fridoon also tells me something that I haven’t heard before. “My journey was horrible, so much inequality, discrimination, conflicts. But at that moment that we stepped on board of that boat with 40 people, we were one, despite our different nationalities, cultures and religion. We all had the same goal, getting to the other side alive. I felt warm, warmer than I had felt at any time during my journey before. We did it together, as one big family. It gave me hope for the future of this world.” And this is how the horrible stories can teach us something and give us hope too. There are so many refugees like Fridoon. Their stories are worse than we can actually take in from our safe harbors in the west. Let’s try to solve this together too. We ARE one.

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…