Overshare alert. I’m having a really hard time at the moment. Not in general, I mean right this moment—now, trying to write a blog post alone in my living room at midnight, crying. More like sobbing—racked with heaving, just-read-the-part-where-Dumbledore-dies kind of sobs. I wanted to write about my visits to the camps over the past two weeks. I’ve been to four now. There is a lot to say. But I don’t think I can do it right now. I was just looking at my pictures from our visit to Skaramagas Camp today, and I’ve become overwhelmed with the feels, and lots of them. I’m about to turn on some Sarah McLachlan and really give in.
What was the trigger exactly? A runny nose.
There was one particular photo of a little boy, maybe two or three years old, with a very runny nose, bare feet, and a smiling face. When we met, he was playing on the water pipes behind the containers/houses (they’re called “isoboxes”) where Syrian and Afghan refugee families live, but he followed us around a little throughout the day, dragging along a bent wire like a pet.
At one point, this tiny kid had a giant sneeze, so I used some paper towel from my backpack, wet with the juice of a nectarine pit, to wipe his nose. I don’t really know why this picture and thinking about wiping his nose just threw me so much. I’ll admit, some of it is pure pity thinking of a little boy entertaining himself with rocks, pipes, and wires and walking around without shoes, his face chapped from an un-wiped runny nose.
But it’s also his smile. Most of the children I’ve met at these camps are just so trusting, so affectionate, so happy. This is cliché and obvious, but they are so innocent. And it kills me. It makes me so angry that they aren’t all in comfortable houses with clean clothes, shoes that fit, medicine for when they’re sick, soft tissues to blow their noses, food that they like, toys that aren’t broken, full days of school, and families that are whole and happy and healthy.
Children like me. They always have. I am blessed with a squishy body that is made for baby-holding and toddler snuggles (don’t worry, no rock hard abs here), one of those automatic, manic smiles that turns on at the sight of literally anyone under 12, and the all-too-natural ability to make a fool of myself to kids’ delight. When I worked at the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Albany, I kind of shirked as much actual responsibility as I could to just play with the little kids who had to wait in the office while their parents applied for Medicaid or took language lessons, and I’ve always missed that completely natural comfort I have with children who don’t really speak my language. Now I get to experience it again almost every day.
It’s really special to bond with kids who seem to love fearlessly despite language barriers. That’s what I’ve always loved about working with refugees in general—the ability to connect even when the only common language is laughter. It feels so human. Of course, non-verbal connections make me feel better about my shameful one-and-a-half languages (Italiano?), as I’m working in the international community where even the children are polyglots.
And because I’m in the oversharing mood, I’ll admit the other thing you readers might have already suspected with an internal eye roll, especially if you know me personally—I love the attention. Seriously. I love that the kids I meet make me feel special and loved and yes, popular. These things make me happy, and making them laugh and light up with individual attention makes me even more happy.
But here I am, heartbroken, in a very annoyingly “white savior” way, thinking of these children in relation to myself. I have the privilege to do that, and the fact that I’m sitting here analyzing my feelings in a blog post is even more repugnantly privileged. Empathy is a wonderful trait to have, but it doesn’t do much good to just cry and blog about it.
Luckily, that’s not the only thing I’m in Athens to do. As an organization of refugees who are also Greek citizens, the Greek Forum of Refugees is in a unique position to really positively impact the distressing reality of the refugee crisis. And I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be part of this amazing team.
PS- Thank you for indulging this feelings post, but keep an eye out for future news about an upcoming report from the GFR I’m helping to write about the on-the-ground situation of the camps, which will be less *Mattea* focused, I promise.
PPS- Please check out this article I wrote about how the GFR experienced World Refugee Day.
Posted By Mattea Cumoletti
Posted Jun 23rd, 2016