Part of the hubs job here is collecting stories about the refugees we work with from each of our departments for him to use in reports to donors so that, hopefully, they’ll continue funding our work.
One of the ladies in the office who does the initial interviews with refugees to see if they qualify to receive our services, came to the hubs with a story. She told us about an Ethiopian woman who came a couple of weeks ago and seriously needed food assistance. Things had become desperate for her in Ethiopia and she had to leave. So she took all the money she had and started to cross overland from Ethiopia to Cairo, a distance of something like 1,500 miles. Most of it on dangerous (read: not policed) desert roads. Along the way she ran out of money. She met a man who said he would take her the rest of the way for free. But, as it often and horribly goes, he told her she’d have to pay him with her body. So she was raped. Repeatedly. And eventually arrived in Cairo. She was able to find some other Ethiopians to stay with. But these were people really struggling too. A few weeks in she found out she was pregnant. With already not enough food in the house and no money, of course, for prenatal care or baby things, they bought some backstreet pills to cause her to abort. Which she did. But she kept bleeding and it wouldn’t stop.
It was at this point in the interview that the woman straight up fainted and passed out. The interview lady (a refugee herself) got some help and took the woman to our clinic. The doctor was able to revive her and gave her instructions and medicine to stop the bleeding. And told the woman that it was good she came when she did, had this happened at home she probably would have died.
Instead of going home, the woman requested to finish the interview because she was so desperate for food. The interview lady insisted they reschedule it, but she gave her the lunch she’d brought in and prayed with her.
Last week one of the ladies arrived early for the accessories course I’m helping teach. She’s from South Sudan and we chatted about Juba. Turns out she has family living in the same part of town where the hubs lived for about a year before the December 2013 conflict. I didn’t ask her a whole lot of questions. I just wanted to chat with her. So I don’t know a whole lot about her story. How she got here, why she’s here, what made her flee. But she did tell me that two of her children died in Juba. That they died because the hospitals aren’t good and that she didn’t have money for medicine. She has one child left.
There are two Arabic words for sorry. One is “malesh,” and is used if you bump into someone or drop something. The other, “aasif,” is used for when you’re really sorry. When you’ve hurt someone or someone has died or you really screw something up.
So I said, “Aasif.” And I repeated it a few times. And then said that I don’t know the words to say or have enough words to express my sadness for her. She nodded and looked down. A few minutes later the rest of the ladies came in and for the next hour and a half I taught them how to make a necklace and we sat around chatting about the differences between Egyptian and Sudanese Arabic, about marriage and husbands, laughing a lot, making things for them to recreate and sell.
These are two stories out of many. Our lives are intersecting everyday with people who have faced horrible things, have had to make impossible decisions, have lived through hell.
I don’t have much reflection on it other than things I’ve said before, and will keep repeating—I’m so grateful to be here, so thankful I get to learn from and be challenged by these broken and beautiful souls, so angry that these are things that are happening. Desperate to do some good and obsessed with trying to figure out the best ways to do that good.
Praying for wisdom. Praying for change. Praying that people in the world would increase the definition of who they define as their neighbor.
“Borders are meaningless…There’s one ocean, one land, one system, which we all depend upon.” Jean-Michael Cousteau