The inhumanity and imbalance in the world tugs at my soul, tugs so hard I can feel it in my chest. As I organize pictures and transfer names from my notebook to their iPhoto thumbnail, it spreads from my chest down into my stomach and then up through my throat and settles behind my eyes. I am waiting for it all to come forward, for the tears from my anger to flow down my cheeks and neck. But they don’t, they sit on the lining of my eyelids and dissolve, then gather and dissolve again. But the pain is still there.
When I walk the camps and sit with the people, the pain isn’t there. I am present with their words as they take me to the minute they fled their village, then through the night to the border town where they might stay for months before hopping a lorry to a camp.
Each one has their own story that shows in their eyes. The hardest ones to look at are the oldest women. They fix their headscarves, wrapping the excess around their neck to hold it in place. When we prepare for a picture, we almost always look up and smile. Not here. Only the kids smile for the camera here. The oldest women close their mouths and look down. They stare down at the sand, almost as if they are staring into a future that is only the sand that holds them up at that moment.
Even at the moment of feeling their despair the pain is absent from my chest. I show them the picture on the camera and they smile, and laugh, as the kids always do. I want their suffering to end. I don’t want them to look hopeless and depressed as so many do. I don’t want another women to tell me they do nothing in their day that brings them joy. I want to take everyone’s picture and give them a Polaroid to hold close to their heart as they patiently wait for help to rebuild their future.
I know I can’t reach everyone. But I so desperately want to try. Maybe the pain in my chest will go away if I at least try. So many women approach me. They show me their broken and twisted hands, their sores, their homes and the little food they have to eat. In the camps I sometimes feel overwhelmed. There isn’t even a moment to reflect at all. Kids are always holding your hands and following you from house to tent to tree to mountain. In the drive to our home, laughter fills the time as we retrace our days steps and sarcastic comments flow from our mouths.
Only when I retreat to my room in the guesthouse and begin to download photos and footage from the day, do my true emotions surface. Right now at this moment is when the anger and sadness creep into my chest and settle behind my eyes. I can think of a million ‘why’ questions that have no answers. I also think of a hundred promises that we as humanity have made.
I reread my journal entry.
How depressing… yet true.
I don’t want to leave you with this taste of the camps. Do I delete and start over? Instead I will leave you with a few glimpses of my day that bring me laughter and tears of joy even as I write this:
Guisma and Aljafis turn up everywhere. How do they find us so quickly?
Today, men of the village began to build Fatna a home. Jeremiah and Josh commissioned a group of them to work on it. The wind and rain will not leak through her new walls. When we saw her today, she only smiled, and smiled, and smiled.
I got to drive the car today! And I didn’t get us stuck in a wadi!
When the day was nearing an end, I left my bag, cameras and work intentions in the car and raced up the hill. I must have had 50 kids following me. Up the hill, down the hill. To the other side of Camp Farchana. Through the narrow winding paths. Women smiling, pointing, laughing. Break time. Then head, shoulders, knees and toes. Then I point and they copy, “This way? That way? That way? This way! Go!” We are off again through a new set of small alleys, a donkey, a dead end – ahh turn around. They dodge left, I fake left and turn right! Ahh! The main road! Up and down and back again. Each time we stop we throw our hands above our heads and jump up and down. AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!
Regardless of the pain that surfaces, the joy and laughter is ever present. Their resiliency is amazing and motivating. Their hopes are equally as important as mine and yours. And because you are reading this and watching their stories, they are not alone. They thank every single one of you for listening and taking action. I thank you.