I love newspapers on the weekends.
It’s a tradition I’ve picked up from my Dad, where we would go to the local drugstore and see if there was still one in stock (first come, first serve in a small town). On the weekend, papers are thick and take hours to get through – I try to read every, single article as a way to think outside of what my world usually contains (Health and Sports and Travel, thank you).
Two days ago, I picked up a paper in a local supermarket, and quickly put it back down.
“Don’t you want to get a paper?” Sarah asked, similarly as keen to catch up with the world while we were away.
The headline read, in blazing bold letters, “Where Are We Going to Go From Here?” In mosaic style, around the headline, were pictures of Syria and Afghanistan and planes and refugees.
To me, it felt like the newspaper headline was directed at me.
At my life and my choices.
It is the exact same question that has been rolling around my soul since we boarded the plane to leave the island two days ago. “Where are we going to go from here?”
I’m a bit cagey right now. Always am when I return home. Because I know it’s harder to come home than it is to leave. When you come home, the noise stops, and you have to listen and digest and feel again.
Sure, you can try and tune it out with work and the gym and filling your time up, but it’s the people and the places that pop back into your head. At some point, you have to deal with it. Same as anything, if you repress it and try to forget it, it comes back to bite you.
When you are in the field, you delay the emotions and the feelings, and concentrate more on the day-to-day work. You put emotions on hold, because you have to keep it together. You are there to support others in need, not be weighed down by it all. So you stay strong, soldier on and deal with it later, when it bubbles and overflows.
Case in point, Sarah and I had just left Lesvos and were sitting in a café in Athens after ordering a meal and sat there silently, each of us absorbed in our thoughts. When the waitress came by later, to deliver our meals, we still hadn’t talked, but both were nearly brimmed with tears. The emotion sits in your chest, and just bubbles there, Sarah described it. It’s heavy, and overwhelming and comes on in an instant.
I thought marriage would be the end of my work in the humanitarian field. It never dawned on me that we could actually work together (duh).
Three weeks ago, when Sarah woke me up to tell me that “I would go by myself if you don’t want to go,” I knew we opened a new door to our relationship.
As a team, we actually worked really well together. In Moria camp, we went on outreach throughout the camp together, identifying cases and people who needed more support. As the Muslim men would leave their tent to shake my hand and tell me stories, the women and children would beckon Sarah to enter their makeshift homes and share their personal problems with her.
While helping an Iranian man open a can of chick-peas (in the end, we needed four people), I looked down the ridge and saw an elderly mother reach out and touch Sarah’s hand and smile at her. She could connect with people I couldn’t, and vice-versa.
We’d wander throughout the camp and each be approached by different demographics. In that way, we were able to see, treat and care for as many people as we could.
“Where are we going to go from here?”
I think about the refugees and migrants and asylum seekers that we met. Where are they going to go from here? Where is the Syrian man who we had to walk to the bus station after his house was destroyed in an air-strike going to go? Or the widowed Afghani mother of three children we helped get papers? Or our passionate translators, who worked for NATO and then were left behind to fend for themselves?
Where are they, even now?
It’s hard to reconcile the truth of the world. It’s even harder finding the space in the world where your own truth lies.
Coming back makes you ask tough questions to yourself, to the person you are married to. What kind of life do we lead? And what kind of life do we want to lead? If the two differ, then that’s a problem.
I could not be prouder of the team that we were a part of. I feel like it worked out, and we were at the right place at the right time.
You can’t form community faster than this. Perfect strangers arrived at this tent, and infectious disease doctors became waiters and pharmacists, while GP’s did the ditch digging, nurses recruited the dentist and his colleague and everyone picked up what needed doing.
We saw and treated hundreds of patients, but not only with medicine but with handshakes and smiles and conversations. When people felt listened to and cared for, they would relax. And smile. We stood in circles and heard stories of families whose boats flipped and lost everything. There were times where we laughed heartily with each other, and other times where we sucked back tears with each other.
The Health Point Project, started by Hadia Aslam, was an organization built on the premise that we were going to provide any type of care to refugees – exactly what they needed with as little red-tape as possible.
We named this blog “cold drop on a hot stone,” because we knew that the difference we would make would be just that, fleeting.
But ask the elderly Afghan lady who lost her family on the boat, who Sarah spent an hour rubbing her back and listening to her, if her presence mattered.
Ask the parents of the 12 day old baby with a cold who was shivering and we helped provide a night of warm clothes, sleeping bags and a tent for privacy, if our presence mattered.
Ask the slumped over, diaphoretic 60 year old Iraqi man who we were able to get fast-tracked and onto Athens if our presence mattered.
We can’t stop the war in Syria, or the smugglers in Turkey, but we’ve seen hundreds of patients and we’ve stood with them and listened to them and shared some really serious and seriously ridiculous moments together.
I’m still humbled by the response, either you believe in the cause or you believe in us or a combination of the two. You’ve helped carry us with your words and your support. We connected because your contributions allowed us to connect.
The answer is simple, “I don’t know” where we go from here. But we can’t go backwards. And we can’t unlearn what we now know.
We are now engaged and informed and, yeah, even a little upset and angry. Now is not the time to be apathetic and powerless.
As this experience has shown us, people are not powerless, and we do care.
Ravi and Sarah