On my last day, I went around telling everyone that I will see them soon. We suggested women have tea together in one of the rooms, and so we started gathering one another. Sett-Awneya was at the shop (where residents can shop from donated clothes using points that every resident gets monthly). I told her: “I’m leaving today, come up. We will have tea with the women.” She looked at me and said: “Do you really have to leave today?”, I smiled. She looked around in the shop and asked: “What are you missing? What do you need?” I smiled again.
She held my hand and said: “We are at the beginning of the month, I have all my points, what are you missing? Pick anything.” I smiled and said I’m all set and only would like to have tea with her. She looked at my feet, investigated my worn-out sneakers and said:
“You can’t leave with this bad pair of shoes. Shame! I’m gonna get you new ones. They have a good collection here, pick one.”
It took few minutes of reassurance and swearing “wallah… wallah” to convince her that I truly have another good pair at home and that I’m flying with a completely stuffed backpack. Few minutes passed until she gave up and came upstairs with me.
Setting on the ground in a circle, we laughed and cried. It started with loose talks, but later got intense. They do realize that the label ‘refugee’, which they recently gained, is loaded with all the negative assumptions, all of a sudden.
All of a sudden people assume they’re ignorant, knowledge-less, as if they never had a life before. It assumes they’re desperate, and so they should accept anything that’s been given to them . It assumes they’re a load, no one wants them, the world is too tight to accommodate them. They do realize they’ve transformed all of a sudden from humans with full agency in their home countries to a collective ‘thing’- a burden that people and countries avoid.
Some of them have just got the news that Germany (the top receiving country for the population of our camp) has just reduced its quota from 500 entrants per month to only 70. It means more time for them staying here and waiting in uncertainty hoping to get admitted. Waiting is a lot of hardship when you’ve nothing else to do but wait. The piece of news made them very tense. Some of them haven’t seen their husbands or children for 3 years. Their children have significantly grown away from their fathers. As the conversation got heated everyone spit a bit of their frustration.
Alaa said: “They think they’re doing us a favor because they are considering admitting us to their countries!!!? Syria has been very welcoming and our homes have been open to all the neighboring countries whenever there was a disaster. And now we’re too much for everyone?”
Sett-Hannan added: “And now they think we are refugees, we should be grateful they picked us up out of the war!!? They didn’t. No one did. We did it all by ourselves. We took the risk of crossing borders and seas on our own. We risked our children being drown in the sea in front of our eyes like we saw other people drowning. We are here because we only had ourselves and no one else behind us. Now each of those strong women was in tears.”
It was a moment of silence. But hell no. That’s the toughest of silence! That isn’t silence. That was crying, loud crying that I was hearing from everyone around me… I couldn’t think of a way to break this unkind (so-called) silence. Anything I utter would be too little for the tragedy.
But so soon, Hanan resumed again: “My children often wake up in the middle of the night to me screaming in nightmares. They wake me up, horrified and crying themselves for seeing me screaming. We all end up too scared and you know then that night would be sleepless.
Fatima interrupted: “And then someone comes and says we should be grateful!!? And that we should be proactive and take part in the activities that are organized at the camp!!!? Set in English or German classes given by volunteers, or clean up outside our rooms and go about our lives just normally!. We’re horrified. And often days we wake up to horrific news about the mass immolation and destruction in our towns and we wonder if our families and loved ones there are among the dead, yet. We wake up to news about children being massacred in large numbers in our hometowns. We have people there. It’s heart-breaking and mind-blowing. We have left our towns, but the biggest part of us is there. Our past lives are left there. Our past and history are there. Our extended families, neighbors and friends are there. We can’t just forget that, pretend nothing is happening, because we chose to leave, and go about in our daily life.”
In my mind, I heard the completion of her sentence. “…just like the world does to us!” It hit me. I realized what conflict she, and probably everyone else in her shoes, is going through. She sees how the world pretends her tragedy is not happening, in an absolutely cold-blooded way, and go about to resume their lives just normally. It’s demeaning and frustrating. Fatima is carrying a lot herself, a huge lot. But she can’t come to make herself forget. She doesn’t want to. After all she doesn’t have the luxury to forget if she wanted to. She’s trapped there.