(To see Claire’s previous articles click HERE.)
It’s been over a year since I went to Jordan, and what I experienced and witnessed there continues to shape me. I spent a brief three weeks visiting Syrian families who crossed the Jordanian border on foot and can still see the blue mountains of their homeland on a clear day. They haven’t gone far, but everything has changed. Irrevocably.
I arrived at the airport early, and unusually emotional. The toll of my three weeks was adding up, and a consciousness that my life would never be the same was rising. When I got to my gate there were already several families there. Sitting nearby were a few young people in blue IOM vests, the International Organisation for Migration. They were very discreetly, in a way that offered honour and dignity, escorting refugees as they ventured towards their new homes.
Whether here in Edinburgh, at my parent’s home in Canada, or when I was in Jordan, I am
consistently astounded by the spirit and resilience of Syrians I meet. One of the images that
lingers with me from Jordan is from my departure. To me it encapsulates the Syrian heart for
hospitality and celebration.
I eavesdropped as the Syrian adults exchanged the names of foreign cities: Cambridge.
Manchester. Aberdeen. These unknown cities, where they were going to make their homes, and
build their lives once more. It was a brief moment of connection with one other, before they were
isolated from their countrymen.
It catches me off guard at moments. “It”, the depth with which this trip impacted me, the degree
to which I miss life in Jordan. Unexpectedly, I’ll have a pang of what can only be described as
homesickness; for the faces, the stories, the sound of car horns carving their way through traffic,
the sugary sweet Arab desserts, the taste of hot and dusty air at the back of my throat, the sight
of domestic pigeons soaring in the city skies, the energy of the street market late at night after the
fast of Ramadan has been broken.
The teenage girl convinced her mum to let her buy a tray of chocolate from the airport shop.
“Let’s buy some sweets Mum! Our last chance to enjoy them.” A few moments later, she came
back to the departure gate proudly carrying a tray laden with elaborate chocolate morsels, and
began to take it round the cluster of adults, sharing the expensive treats. When she finished
serving the Syrians, she looked around, uncertain what to do with the remaining candies. Then
she came in my direction, and wordlessly offered me one of her chocolates, sharing her last taste
Mostly, I miss the rooftop of my accommodation, where I spent hours standing, and seeing.
Simply looking. It’s there that I let my guard down and had my heart broken for Syria. It’s there
that I sang songs and prayed prayers and cried tears, doing all I could to shrug off the pain and
frustration of injustice. To combat the disturbing idea that we, the human race, were failing an
entire nation and generation; that I was hiding from my discomfort, afraid to leave my safe space
and let my life be irrevocably changed, alongside thousands of others who had no choice.
The youngest boy leaves his siblings by the window, where they are excitedly watching the plane
be prepared. He quietly sits down beside his mother and tenderly pulls a well-handled, folded
paper out of his pocket. It’s a hand written letter. He sits there for a few minutes, still and silent,
holding this message carefully in his hands. Folding and unfolding it a few times. Then he slips it
back in his pocket, jumps up and dashes back to his siblings, noisily joining in with their
observations at the window once more.
On the rooftop, the tallest point in the city, I watched life unfold. And I realised that I was
surrounded by life, and that the only way to truly live myself, was to engage. To see my
neighbour’s humanity and offer to share mine. It wasn’t about me. And it isn’t about you. And it
isn’t about “them”. This is about us. All of us. Together.
And I watched their mother, alone with her growing children. I dearly hope she was going to be
reunited with some extended family, some anchoring adult company. But for now, it was just her.
Her face was a churn of emotions: relief and grief, joy as she watched her children, and sadness
when she had a moment alone, the children’s backs turned. A gravity of emotion expressed in her
posture and actions. The pain of leaving, with no idea when, or if, there will be a return. What
dreams is she dreaming for her children? What hopes is she carrying? What loss does she grieve
on their behalf, them who may never know what they’ve lost?
It’s there, on that roof, that I realised I couldn’t. Couldn’t fix it, couldn’t make it stop, couldn’t even
make it better. I couldn’t run from it, couldn’t ignore it, couldn’t untangle my life from it, couldn’t
give an easy answer for it, couldn’t erase it from my story.
At some point in the small hours of that morning, the emotional toll of my trip caught me: my
eyes welled up and tears splashed gently down my cheeks. All that I had witnessed in my three
weeks, and the substance of this moment itself struck me. I tried to be discreet. What I was
witnessing in the departure hall was not my story. And yet, as I sat there, tears rolling silently down
my cheek, one of the young boys noticed. Taking the water bottle his family had been sharing, he
poured a little into a disposable cup. Then he came and offered it to me. He sat silently beside
me for a few minutes. We had no words to share, but we shared the moment.
As I wrestle with my role and posture in the midst of this story, I have no words that don’t seem
trite. In face of what was happening in those moments, and the moments that continue to
happen. Writing it down seems to boil the humanity out of those acts, which were so supremely,
Syria resides in a fragile inconclusiveness; not bereft from the past, nor without a future. There is
no ending to this nation’s story. This is no longer a passing moment of crisis, this is enduring,
formative. This is an on-going story. So, how do we respond? How do we take ourselves off the
roof, out of our safe space and let our humanity (and probably our humility) tumble out of us,
taking the lead?
Claire Meghan volunteers with our Edinburgh Weekend Club team. The Weekend Club is a project of Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees which seeks to respond to the social isolation experienced by many refugees, asylum seekers and new migrants (New Scots) arriving in Scotland. Its aim is to enable New Scots to become active members of society through the building of strong social relationships. By providing a relaxed and fun environment at a series of social events the Edinburgh Weekend Club gives its participants the opportunity to meet new people, build friendships, improve their English and learn more about Scottish culture and history. Interested in volunteering? More details HERE