Sunday, July 10, 2016

One degree of separation...

I have been waiting for an opportune moment to share this; but I am realizing there will never be one. This world is crazy and fractured, and we have the power to hold each other up or tear each other down...

This documentary hits hard for me. I know it is long for our usual western media attention spans, but these stories are important and so worth the listen.

It starts out in the port of Pireaus, which is where my own journey working with refugees in Greece began, and ventures through many other places (some of which I also visited) and ends with a discussion with siblings Ali and Wisam - friends of mine, that I met in the refugee camp at Idomeni, along the Macedonian border. 

When I met them, they graciously invited me into their home for a drink. I was so honored to be welcomed in, and so impressed with how they had managed to build such an impressively functional community space with so little - and I really do mean build...they had branches and wooden structures to create gates and other sufficiently home-like amenities out of repurposed was pretty cool, even if it was born of necessity. It would have been even cooler if that was just a sweet hangout, and not the home they were stuck dealing with...but Ali said something to me as we talked around the fire that really stuck with me:

We were talking about whether or not it was a good idea to get on one of the buses taking people to new camps, where there could potentially be better conditions and an opportunity to get paperwork through to begin the relocation process. His point was that the people stuck in Idomeni -most of whom had been there for weeks or months - had no reason to trust the authorities (true, misinformation was rampant enouh to be considered the norm), and since no one could even tell them which bus was taking who where (also true, I think because they didn't want to have people start fighting about who went there the drivers were not allowed to tell anyone where they were taking their passengers...I'd be pretty creeped out by that, too!), why on earth would they want to take the risk, when "at least here, we have our family and our friends, we've built a community that we can trust and rely on...why would we ever want to give that up?"

The conditions may have been bad, but they had the human connections that make life worth living there, and that would always matter more than having a slightly nicer tent even farther away from their desired destinations.

Take a listen, and if just hearing the stories of unknown individuals is too abstract for you, maybe the fact that, through me, there is only a single degree of separation between you and the very real, very kind, hardworking and intelligent people who are living through this hell will help you to feel the connection.
The only picture I have of Ali and I, along with our friend Christina...the polaroid was part of a project she was working on.
ADDENDUM:  I am not going to mention their current locations in order to protect their safety, but Ali and Wisam have since been separated, and are still working to reunite their family.  The situation is awful, there is a very real potential for them to be prevented from bringing the two separated groups of their family together for at least five years, and the saddest part is that their story is anything but unique in this regard. There has to be a better way to help families escaping crisis than tossing them into a bureaucratic nightmare where they are objectified and left stuck, no way forward and nowhere to go back.