Purpose: do you judge?
There are people among us that are not so permissive in welcoming new inhabitants on their homeland, that maybe judge the people before trying to understand them. At some point, maybe I was one of them; at some point, maybe you were one of them. It is inevitable to not judge at all, but the purpose of this leaflet is to present the picture that I have seen about these people blown up from their homes due to the war.
The words are mine, the facts are pieces of other’s reality and I hope that this cruel reality will become friendlier from now on for the main characters of the stories. I hope also that when you will see again a person on the street to be more tolerant to her/him even if is someone similar of different for you.
For the first story, I will present a broader picture to have a clear image about the socio-political context of the situation. The refugees are coming from different parts of the world and are caring their own details about the wars from their countries, but in general, all of them are affected by this terrible fact: THE WAR.
The story of a mother
I met this person in the first days of my new role as an English teacher. I was together with my colleague and I had just to observe and learn how she was conducting the class. We were to the advanced course and there was only one student. A beautiful woman as I would not expect to see, she was not wearing hijab, but she was Arab, she was not wearing traditional cloths, but she was behaving with modesty. This is the best way to destroy stereotypes, isn’t it? I had different images created about the backgrounds of the refugees, but most of them have been shattered by the wonderful souls met. Well, the woman was extremely beautiful; I would never say she had been passing through so many difficulties. She had curly, dark black hair; big, black eyes, always highlighted by black eyeliner, a detail that was making them even more sparkling. Her complexion was brown and equally proportioned; she was not tall, nor short and in that moment I would not estimate her age being over 30. I found out later that she was 40 and even so, the number of her years was not relevant for the plenty of her life events.
For us, the fortunate ones, was not even necessary to imagine how the war looks like. We were readying in some history books about it, the same as we read about the lack of freedom or the atrocities happened during a war. Maybe she did not imagined either the war until it plucked her family out from the mother country. This lady was coming four days per week for the English classes, it was like an escaping way from her routine, form her duties and worries. What a wonderful way of escaping, embracing the education! How many of us, the fortunate ones, value these days the opportunity of having access to education or how many of us are considering the importance of the society evolution in having the access to an equalitarian and free education? The moment when I saw her putting so much effort in speaking English and being so happy for every new pieces of knowledge was the point when I understood that what for us became a normality, for others would still be a privilege.
Syria was the country that she left behind hoping for better. Syria is one of the countries involved in a long conflict. It seems that this country have not found for a long time its equilibrium, the one evoked in the history, when it is said that during the Ottoman Empire when the country was a ”millet”, there could coexist in a relative peace Christians, Jewish people and Muslims. From then the time have passed and the country suffered many internal and external conflicts, coups d’etat and territorial disputes. From then the religion and the idea of democracy are reasons for provoking repression over the minorities and fighting for freedom. However, whose freedom would they gain if 5.6 millions of people have already left from the territory and are seeking for peace in other corners of the world? Does not is absurd to fight just for land and to lose the people?
One of the people was the woman with wonderful black eyes. She left her siblings in the shadow of the old and once prosperous Damascus and went for searching a peaceful place for her children. In Syria, she had had a normal life, being mother for five children and seeing them growing up until the bombs destroyed both homes that they had. Her way to a better life was not easy because the way of a refugee does not mean to take a bus, train or plane and to have all the comfort you imagine. Most of the times they have to pass illegally the borders, to walk days in a raw, to swim in dangerous waters and all the time they are risking their lives. Her five children, the husband and she arrived in the end safely in Turkey, where she found a work place. It was not easy to work 10 hours per day, almost every day, but she really wanted to have a normal way of living and she felt meaningful working. She leant the language and was quite satisfied living there until another kind of conflict was about to make her family taking the decision to leave that country too.
She was part of Alawi religion, a branch of Muslim, which is combining the Islamic believes with the Christian, Gnostic and neo-Platonic ones and which is not well seen in Syria; also, her nationality was Kurdish. Even if she was speaking Arabic and she was coming from a country with strong roots in Islamism, her religion allowed her to have the hair uncover and to dress similar to the European style. However, not this was the reason for which she had to leave from the second country where she arrived. The reason was linked to her nationality and the war caused between the Turkish authorities and the Kurds. Since 1987, the Turkish authorities and the Kurds are on the edge regarding the good coexistence. In 1987, a group of Turkish and Kurds students decided to form a party for making their voce heard and for stopping the terrors towards the Kurdish people within the Turkish territory. The greatest fear of those who once formed an enormous empire was exactly the division of the actual shape of the territory through proclaiming some parts as being Kurdish territory and forming the “Kurdistan”. During the years, it have fallowed a series of painful measures towards the Kurds, such as the interdiction of their language and culture, which results in long fights. The bloodshed seemed to stop in 2013, but this state did not last more than two years, more exactly until 2015, unfortunately for all the innocent people that were dying due to the fight.
The woman with black eyes did not want that her family to be even more dissolved and she wished a safe future for her children, so they decided to start a new journey to a better life. When I met her, she had lived in Greece for one year already and her life was not easy. She was mother for five children and a grandson who came in this world in tough conditions. In the beginning, they lived in a tent being scared of the rain that could damage their things. Later on with the help of the organizations that are working for helping the refugees, they received the status of refugees and a home for their family formed from ten souls. She was cooking, cleaning and taking care of ten people: her five children, the daughter in law, her husband, one cousin and barely after could have time for herself. The house was a temporary help for them, being supposed to leave it after they get ID cards. She was always worried about her family that she could not sleep at all. Even if she was very thankful to the country that received her, she was considering leaving it too since she could not find a work place and was very worried about the financial situation of her family in the near future. I remember clearly that even if she was speaking four foreign languages: Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish and English, she said she was willing to accept any kind of job, just to work and be able to help her family.
Last time when I saw her, she obtained an extension for the time that her family and she could stay in the house provided to them. She was also waiting for the papers to be able to leave the country. The documents were supposed to be ready unfortunately after the deadline for her home, but all these worries did not stopped her to come to the English classes and wish for a better life in the future.
Let’s talk about dignity
Even if you are a temporary citizen of Thessaloniki or just a tourist, one of the first things that will impact you is the number of homeless people. According to a survey realized in 2018, 380 people are homeless in Thessaloniki. Of course, that many other cities all around the world have this problem, but lately in Greece, the number of these people increased due to the economical and refugees crisis. I am not going to give you in this short writing any more statistics and numbers or to present you the situation in a very rigid or formal way. No, I am going to tell you a story that affected me a lot. Thessaloniki, Greece, the first Sunday of the month of February, after enjoying a long time in the sunshine, I was going back home disappointed of my state of mind and worried about the future of a relationship, especially about a particular attachment. With many thoughts and lack of motivation for something concrete, I was walking alone distract from the surroundings, when a beggar was caching my attention. Yes, a beggar. But he was not caching my attention because I felt an enormous pity, no. I was amazed to see that being on the street, with his blanket put on a small part of the pavement, under a window of a shop and with some toys around, maybe keeping them as a memory, in that evening he was cleaning the space which for him had the meaning of a home. He was brushing the dust set around his blanket exactly as a housekeep would do inside of a house.
How beautiful, human and organized! It was something that changed my perspective in that moment. I realized that even if the life was cruel with him, it did not meant that it had stolen his dignity, his willing for living in a clean place, of behaving close to normal. In that moment, I was also comparing his situation with some of the people that I met and I knew that even if they had all the necessary means were for sure less dignified and did not put price on living their lives in a beautiful way.
For me this image was a vivid proof that the worries that we create are most of the time unfounded and that we can be financially poor, but we can still have dignity and be spiritually very rich wherever and whenever.
A teacher’s mistake, a lesson about reality
What I really appreciate to the people that I met during this experience was mainly the fact that they have the power to smile, they manage to overcome the hard conditions they are passing through and to have relatively normal lives. You can see them behaving so normal that sometimes you cannot imagine all the pain that stays behind a smile. I always try to behave normal and to treat them normal for not making them feeling inferior or ashamed by their status. However, sometimes it is better to keep in mind their situation for not making mistakes like the one I did.
I was taking an English class for the beginner’s group and I was teaching them some basic words about the names of the house’s rooms and objects. Throughout the learning process, I considered that practice was very important, so I thought that maybe a small homework or exercise for practicing the words would help them memorizing the information. I asked them to name usual objects that a room of the house might have and I suggested them to take for example their homes without considering in that moment that many of them did not have homes. One of the students with a large, but bitter smile said that he was not living in a house; he was living in a tent. In that moment, I rapidly told him to take as example the rooms from that educational center and to describe them, naming the objects.
In that moment and long after the class finished I felt guilty. I felt guilty firstly because I felt that I made that student to think once again to the fact that they did not live as the other people. Secondly, I felt guilty because I realized that we take everything we have for granted. We should think more often to the fact that we enjoy some things and situations, which for many people are luxury. We should reflect to this aspect more often and we should try to be more solidary. The hope for a better life and a better world will always be alive as long as we still feel empathy and we love our peers.
Happiness is in your mindset
I want thank you because you reached this page and to share with you several lines more about the one touching experience. It is a mix of feelings and for sure, a good lesson for future. It is about origins, love, compassion, courage and the power of your mind.
Most of my stories encountered here are about hope and I had the chance to discover them in my role as a teacher for which I have been very happy and grateful. So, as it is expected, this story is also from the brunch of the teacher life. I was taking a class with the advanced students and we started to talk about traditions or habits. We talked about different traditions from different countries and about our families’ traditions, when the members gather together for dinner or for chatting. At some point, a young girl told us about her family tradition since they arrived in Greece. She told us that almost every evening her parents, her uncle, her aunt, her two sisters and she were dancing traditional dances from her country of origin. In that moment, we became curious and asked her more details about this tradition. Her answers were short and spoken with a sad voice. She told us that her father was sick and very worried because they were living in a foreign country, in a tent, without having a certain future. They were facing many difficulties in getting medical assistance and the entire situation within the family was quite unstable. They were dancing for putting a smile on her father face, for forgetting some minutes all the stress and worries, for remembering about the nice dances and beautiful country that they left behind.
It is impressive; it is amazing how people find means to make their lives better, to leave for a while all the worries and to enjoy a particular moment. Maybe this is a good solution to distract your mind from the thoughts, to create a safe space and to escape from your reality. In the end, the happiness stays in our mind and we are responsible for cultivating it in order to make our lives better.
Result: so do you still judge?
In the end, I want just to point out that the people that you might meet on the street or the people that you hear about on television can be people like these presented. Of course, not all of them are the same. I cannot deny that there are people that are doing terrible crimes and have a bad behavior, but we should not categorize an entire group due to one individual.
There are people that have the sense of dignity, that love their peers, that share, that have the desire of evolution even if they live in precarious conditions. I hope you will not judge all of them before knowing their stories, I hope that the empathy will be more often encounter nearby and that we will try to perpetuate the kindness and the love instead of fear and hate. Love is the answer.
Author: Corina CHIRCEA
Material realized with the stories collected during the volunteering experience within the frame of European Solidarity Corps, October 2019 – June 2020, hosting organization ARSIS
(Association for Social Support of Youth), Thessaloniki, Greece
- UN Refugee Agency UNHCR: https://www.unhcr.org/syria-emergency.html
- The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/14/kurds-endlesswar-turkey-erdogan
- European Court of Human Rights:
- Keep Talking Greece
- Life of Pix Gallery: https://www.lifeofpix.com/gallery/