It was New Year’s eve, and my daughter Saanya and I were at Skaramangas camp outside Athens, Greece listening to the heartbreaking and hopeful stories of refugees so we could share the human side of this massive crisis through our writing and photography.
We asked Mohammad, an affable Iraqi Kurdish man with blue-grey eyes, his wish for 2017. Saanya wanted to record him, but he said with a laugh, “but Saanya, I don’t have teeth!” He so wanted to be able to speak his thoughts, but after willing out a few words in English he would say, “sorry, my English not very good, little good.”
But we understood him clearly.
He said he wants everything to be very good for everyone. He doesn’t want bombs in this world; not just in Syria, but everywhere. He wants every person to live with love, without problems, with a giving heart. No bombs, no terrorism.
The wish for peace, after all, is a universal language.
Mohammad and his wife insisted we come to their apartment the next day. We learned aspects of their story – how they left Syria about three years ago, and walked 4 to 5 hours a day, and eventually made it to Turkey; Mohammad’s wife Manal was eight months pregnant when they arrived and she had no milk when the baby was born, so she could only feed him sugar water for 10 days (“Now we have everything, alhumdulillah,” she added.); they stayed in Turkey for two years, but it was a very difficult time; then came in a boat crammed with 70 people with their two babies to Greece.
When Mohammad got the call that they had been accepted to go to Germany, he says, “I’m crazy, I’m very, very happy. I’m happy not for me, for me any country no problem; I’m happy for my children, for my wife.”
The two young kids were eating the chocolates we had brought for them for New Years and watching cartoons on the phone. We had Syrian coffee and delicious homemade coconut cookies. I commented that the cookies were the most delicious I’d eaten. Before I could utter another word, I was given the whole plate to take home, and a second plate to bring home to my family in the US. Their big concern was that they couldn’t offer us a full meal; and for that we’ve made a promise, to visit them in Germany once they’re settled there. There is so much that people lack here, but hospitality and generosity is not one of them. Alhumdulillah.
Manal brought out a stack of large photographs of their wedding. “Before Manal very very beautiful,” Mohammad said. But I said she’s beautiful now. “Yes now beautiful, but before very very beautiful,” he said, “like model.” We looked through the photographs, which seemed like from another lifetime, although it was just five years ago. Manal in full makeup, with elaborate hairdos, in shimmering ball gowns in red and green, with tiaras and dangly diamond earrings; Mohammad groomed and dapper with dark hair and chiseled features.
They looked longingly at their former selves. “My teeth fall here, my hair gray here,” Mohammad said.
Manal came across one photograph, of her father. She kissed it and hugged it to her face, and cried. If I understood correctly, her father was in the hospital in Damascus undergoing heart surgery. “I cry for my dad, my dad cry for me, “ she said.
I asked Mohammad what he desires most. Three things, he said: a good school for his children; an opportunity to do the work he loves in interior decoration; and the chance to play the tambor again; if he could add a fourth, it would be to go fishing.
My friend Kim, on a recent trip to Athens, saw a tambor in a shop window. She gifted it to Mohammad, granting one of his wishes. He played several songs for us, including a love song to Manal, who sang along too.
Mohammad’s second wish is in the works. When we met them, he and his family had been approved to go to Germany; there his kids will have a chance to go to a good school.
I messaged Mohammad this week to see how he’s doing. He’s in Germany now at a camp, and sent photographs of Manal and the kids. Hopefully soon they’ll move into their apartment. No doubt he’ll decorate it beautifully; and then his neighbors will ask for his decoration services too.
Then, maybe he’ll go fishing.
Photos by Saanya Ali.
This story is part of a Ramadan blog called “30 days 30 deeds”; this year the theme is 30 refugee stories. Please read all the stories by subscribing to www.salmahasanali.com and ‘liking’ the Facebook page at 30 days 30 deeds.