Last weekend was our first anniversary and we went away to the coast. We hadn’t planned on doing any work of course, but our organization runs a pregnancy and a baby and child clinic there for Syrians and we have a report due to the donor this week. So we extended our trip a day longer than we’d planned originally and spent a morning at the clinic there.
Technically it’s the hubs job to compile information for the donor reports, so I wasn’t sure if it should actually count as a work day for me because I figured I’d just be a tagalong. But my two years studying Arabic were not in vain and the Arabic dialect I studied turns out to be closer to Syrians than Egyptians so I was pretty well understood by them. It was encouraging.
The clinic is in a few rooms in a hospital that we rent out. When we arrived and went to the front to ask which room to go, we asked for the refugee service. The man at the window said, “Are you refugees?!” and laughed at his good joke–the thought of us seeking asylum here.
We met the doctors and chatted with them a bit. We were waiting for another doctor to arrive who would set us up to conduct interviews. As we waited we sat out with the Syrian patients who were waiting to be seen. A few ladies on their own or with kids, but mostly couples together and some with little ones. I can’t imagine the things they’ve seen or been through, but it’s nice to see at least these little families together.
Someone brought us coffee. And the family we sat next to made their 2-3 year old son share his bag of chips with us. He wasn’t thrilled about it at first, but soon every minute or two he would hold the bag out to us again. It was watching hospitality at work that’s been ingrained in a society for generations. Though not in his best interests, he was soon convinced that feeding other people is just as important as his little self.
Eventually we settled into one of the rooms with one of the doctors doing check-ups with the pregnant ladies. The doctor would introduce us, explaining that we were from the main office and were putting together a report for the donors for the project. Then the hubs would start asking questions and I would translate them to Arabic. It was a pretty good system for both of us. Because asking personal questions to people who have been through a lot–especially coming as incredibly conspicuous white people–is awkward. But doing it together and going through another person made it easier. Especially as the doctor would join in and chat with us too.
The people we interviewed were sweet and gracious. Many have been here for a few years now, stuck in limbo. One couple said the rest of their family is stuck in a border camp and doesn’t have enough to eat and doesn’t have enough money to go anywhere else–they’re stuck in Syria. Everyone spoke of high rent, difficulty finding work or having enough food. One woman said that her husband wants to go to Libya to find work, but that she’s 7 months pregnant and it’s their first child and she has no other family here and she’s too scared to let him go. One woman shared how difficult it is to watch your children suffer when there is not enough to eat.
When we asked people what they hope for the future they said they want rent to be cheaper, enough food, work, school for their kids. They want peace in their country so they can go back. They don’t want to be here. They don’t really want to be elsewhere. They want to be in their homeland. But mostly they want to stop struggling.
They all spoke highly of the doctors and the clinic. Enabling women to have prenatal care, and then access to doctors who can check for early signs of malnutrition or other issues. Of all the things they have lost and have to worry about, at least there are people making sure their little ones are healthy.
It was a good and difficult morning.
As we were leaving, the father of the little boy who shared his chips with us pulled us to the side. He asked us in a hushed voice about travelling to Europe–if things would be better for them there. I briefly said no, that man people are travelling there and the countries in Europe are making it difficult for people and that it is very difficult and not good to travel. I wanted to explain more but another person stopped to listen to our conversation and the guy looked down and nodded and walked off.
And I’ve been picturing that tiny Syrian boy who died and washed up on the shore in Turkey and I picture this mans little boy and have been pleading to God that he doesn’t try to cross the sea and into Europe. People are desperate and feel stuck and my heart hurts and I worry that words that I said were not enough. If their son at two can be convinced that sharing his chips is a good thing to do, certainly level-headed adults in wealthy nations can be convinced that sharing what we have is a good thing to do…right?
“It is useful to recognize, in our own context, that when faith is contained within modern rationality, there is a rejection of the God who can ‘do the impossible.'” Walter Brueggemann