Monday, 28 July 2014

Be in this world as if you were a stranger

كُنْ فِي الدُّنْيَا كَأَنَّكَ غَرِيبٌ

Be in this world as if you were a stranger

Hadith 40; The Quran

As the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Fitr arrives today, marking the new moon and the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, I remember the first time I experienced Eid in the Middle East. I was a stranger, wandering through Damascus, Syria, when a young man said hello and would I like him to show me the city? When the end of the fasting period arrived, Zaid took me back to share the feast with his family, and they welcomed me with open arms. I saw the family again earlier this year, five years on, in Italy, where they sought asylum as refugees. You can read about it here if you like, A Syrian Kitchen in Italy, Learning Arabic, and The Kindness of Strangers

Fasters sitting out the last day of Ramadan in the Ommayad Mosque, Damascus, in the day approaching Eid, 2008.

The family have now moved safely to Germany. This Eid so many people are strangers in strange lands, and the pressure on governments to respond to people seeking refuge and asylum continues to grow here in Lebanon, Jordan, and further afield, in Europe and the wider Western world. The pressure shows no sign of abating. The Palestinians who have lived in camps and new countries around the world for decades now, watch the same pain they fled redoubled in Gaza these past few weeks. 

As the sun sets on Eid today, those who can flee Palestine in fear of the ongoing massacres in Gaza, Syrians continue to cross the borders into Lebanon and Jordan, and people leave Iraq in fear of ISIS. One of the greatest challenges this region faces in 2014 continues to be how the world copes with strangers and displaced peoples. Kindly, please, I hope.

My Arabic teacher will be happy that Eid has arrived. Doubly frustrated by fasting and our inability to grasp conjugation, she regularly warns us that if we do not learn the correct prefixes and suffixes she will throw us out of the window of our classroom, onto a bus to Syria. Out of the window, behind our school, is the Charles Helou Gare Routiere, where buses arrive and depart for Damascus and Aleppo daily.

In this same bus station, and in larger numbers in the larger bus station at Daura, hundreds of Syrian refugees spend their days, begging and living in poverty. This week, as we have two days off class for Eid, I will be assisting a Belgian documentary maker with interviews in Daura bus station, and will visit the offices of World Vision's Syrian refugee response to talk with the head of the response, to learn more about the refugee 
situation here in Lebanon, where over one million Syrian refugees now live, in varying states of diaspora.

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