The Tent by Thabit from Sudan

13616300_10154484935502259_248102252_oAmong the thousands I saw every day in and around the Idomeni camp at the Macedonian border, I once encountered a young mother who I will never forget.

She was, like many other refugees, men, women and children alike, walking the 25 km that separated them from the border.  I was walking, purposefully dealing with many little situations, but, when I saw this young mother, something in her eyes spoke to me,. I stopped to listen before the words even came out of her mouth:“Can you help me with a tent for me and my children please?” I stood there thinking how to act. This was, of course, not the first time I was asked for a tent, but since the crisis began or ever since I joined the team to help, the context of my work had been changing so much on a daily basis that it made a little task like obtaining a popup tent for a family a question of balance between priority and resources.

Deciding what is and is not a priority is highly subjective to the conditions of each, individual case—requiring a quick and objective assessment usually on the spot. As the objective-yet-humanly-involved debate played inside my mind, the grief-stricken woman waited. I knew, at this point, anything I would say would be received with anticipation. I looked to my right towards our distribution point in the busy camp and I spotted a colleague. I looked back at her teary eyes and asked her to “just give me a minute please” as I quickly slipped myself under the metal bar that separates the distribution space from the outdoor corridor of the big tents where we stood. My colleague confirmed my suspicion that we’re out of tents at the moment, “but there are blankets I can give you” he said. I came back to her with a plan in mind and her eyes caught me again before I started “Ok, I’ll go and find you a spot inside one of the bigger tents” I saw small tears in her eyes but continued, “is that okay? I am very sorry but we are out of small tents at the moment” she nodded accepting my offer. I couldn’t ignore the hurt I felt for her as she stood next to her two little boys having to ask for something such as a tent just because she needs to keep her dignity intact. I asked her to wait for me on a bench in order not to lose her in this crowded place, while I made a little tour to find her some space to accommodate them.

Before I walked off, however, I found myself telling her “please don’t cry, everything will be okay” and she cried a little more. To avoid confronting her pain so directly, I kneeled down to the height of her little kids to remind them gently that they have such a strong mother, and they should always remember this. In my hope to comfort her a little, I wanted this mother to hear it and know that I recognized the spirit inside of her that was bigger and stronger than the challenges she was facing in that moment. I wanted her to know that she was not a ‘refugee’ asking for a tent, but she was a dignified human and a great mother who took  so many risks in order to give her children a safer life. She maybe went to the wrong place to find that safety, but regardless of her disappointment, having made the journey here proves her strong will to survive and protect her children.

Around us were many others like her carrying their own pain, and the pain of their families, only looking to feel like human beings again. There is so little we can do as volunteers, but our support can serve as a distraction for a short moment, nonetheless the real questions always keep hitting us– “when will they open the border? why are they doing this to us? We just want to pass and be safe, do they not see we are humans too?” And I stand there helpless between the stretched out material resources and the unknown answers of the bigger questions.

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