The following is another of the stories I collected while working in refugee camps in Greece. These are true stories of real people, people who are now my friends. I share their stories in an effort to shed light on the situation...
I notice that with each day, Tiago* is looking more and more down-trodden. Each day I give him a hug and try to have cheery conversation during his infrequent breaks from the work. But each day it is more and more difficult to see happiness in him.
“How are you today, Friend?”, I ask.
“Fine. Well, actually not. Do you really want to know?”, he says, looking at me with eyes that are about to burst with sadness today.
“Yes, really. I really want to know. Tell me. How are you?”
“I am bad. Very bad. My health is not good. This work is very hard. Psychologically, I’m a mess.” He takes a couple of deep breaths to try to keep himself composed.
“I’ve been here for 3 months. It’s too long. Too much. Everything I see and hear and know – it’s all too much.” He can no longer look at me to speak. To look at me would surely start his tears, so he looks away, he looks down, he looks past me. But he can’t look into my eyes.
When he finally regains his breathing and his voice, he says, “But I can’t stop. I can’t stop as long as they are here (gesturing to the refugees behind me). Someone has to care for them. Someone has to cook.”
And with that, he stands up and goes back to the kitchen. Back to prepare another 1000 meals for the next round of feeding.
(*Tiago's name has been changed for security reasons)
The following is one of the many stories of my refugee friends that I listened to and recorded while working in refugee camps in Greece.
This is the story of Ammar* (name changed for Ammar's security).
“What do you miss the most about home?”, I ask.
“Lots of things”, he says, looking down at his feet and thinking, remembering. Then a smile starts to break across his face. “I miss my mother’s sweet cakes. There is nothing that tastes like that!” The smile shows a love that radiates from his face, a smile almost too big to contain.
“When I was young, before university, I didn’t like my mother’s cooking. I complained about her food a lot. Every day I complained.
“But when I got to university, I only knew how to cook rice and pasta. McDonalds became my favorite meals, because it was fast and I didn’t know how to cook anything. McDonalds all the time.
“When I went home from university for a visit, I LOVED my mother’s cooking!”, he laughs and shifts his weight back and forth and looks down. I’m struck at how much he looks like a little boy right now, embarrassed and shy in this moment of transparency.
“What are your favorite foods from Syria?”, I divert the question a little bit to give him some space, to allow him to pull out of the memory of his mom, if it’s too tough, but he dives right back in and stays with her memory.
“I miss everything! Too many things. No one in the world cooks like your mom!”
He stops what he is doing and quickly turns to my 13-year old daughter, Sarah, and puts on his best big brother face. “Sarah, one day, you too, will go away to university. And you will miss your mom. And you will miss your mom’s food! You must always respect your mom and all that she does for you. You will miss her. You will dream of her cooking and of everything about her.”
He continues to talk of his mother.
“My mom, she was a teacher in Syria. I used to go in to her classroom to help her students. She would ask me to come and teach about computers. Oh my! It was so frustrating!” He gets very animated. “I have no patience. None! I don’t know how she does that every day! I cannot teach. I don’t understand why it is so hard for them to understand! And I don’t understand why it is so hard to teach them. No. I have no patience with that.”
All of this makes me laugh, because all I have seen from Ammar * is extreme patience and an uncanny ability to remain calm and help others to understand.
In his animated state, he is physically acting out his frustration with teaching young children, but also laughing hysterically. I point out that he is saying one thing with his words and body language, but he is laughing. It seems incongruent.
“Ah. That’s because I am imagining my mother and remembering. She has zero ability to use technology. My father is a computer expert. That was his job. My brother was in technology. I was studying IT in university before I had to escape. But my mom? She cannot even use her smart phone! She stabs at it – the touch pad on the phone. She stabs at it so hard,” he says, laughing and acting out his mother’s finger stabbing in to his palm. “I tell her that she is trying to kill it. ‘Stop stabbing it! Stop killing the phone!’ But she just can’t understand.”
By now, he is belly laughing and tears are rolling down his face. “My mom says that she sometimes wishes she was a computer so that all of her boys would pay attention to her like they do their technology.”
And just like that, he is brought back to reality. The idea of his mother wishing that her boys would pay attention to her. A switch is flipped in his head, and in his heart, and he is back. Back to his current situation. He is a refugee, living in a refugee camp, far from home. Far from his world of university studies. Far from his girlfriend that he would like to marry. Far from his mom, and her cooking. Far from the sweet cakes that he loves.
And I am haunted by his words earlier, “I miss everything! Too many things. No one in the world cooks like your mom! …one day, you too, will go away. And you will miss your mom. And you will miss your mom’s food! You must always respect your mom and all that she does for you. You will miss her. You will dream of her cooking and of everything about her.”
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!