Last night, there weren’t many opportunities for photos. Well, there were some gorgeous and adorable children, but no time. Simply too many people to help all at once. The refugees came by taxi, instead of by train. Normally when they come by taxi they come group by group and it is a lot easier to give them each personalized attention – as opposed to when they arrive by a train which unloads 1000 shivering desperate human beings all at once. But I don’t know, maybe some of those taxis were traveling as a convoy. Because at a certain point in the night, it was like everything hit us at once. Suddenly our little shelter was wall-to-wall bodies of children, parents, and grandmothers. Everybody needed something. And most spoke Farsi, so even my tiny Arabic vocabulary wasn’t that useful.
“Please m’aam, do you have shoes? Please, do you have a jacket?”
“Daqiqa, Daqiqa. (Wait a moment, wait a moment),” I say, smiling and motioning for them to sit.
I tried to handle one child at a time which is usually the most successful approach. First get one child fully clothed head-to-toe, and then move on to the next. But every time I turned around, there were several bodies between me and the mittens. Too many people in the room. But no one to kick out, because everyone belonged there. Everyone was a refugee or was one of the few volunteers we squeezed in to help them. Outside it was cold and raining sleet – having people wait out there was not an option.
It was one of those nights when we were all climbing on top of each other and trying to stay organized in an utterly non-organizable situation. Poor William, Bejtula, and Orhan were being showered by demands for shoes from all of us at once. “This baby needs shoes!” “What size?” “I don’t know, the mother put away the old shoes already … look at his feet … no, those feet …”
Zara and I tried to keep up with the flow of babies and children. But oh, children … Children are not always patient.
One little curly-haired and persistent smiling toddler sticks in my mind. I was helping his sister and he didn’t understand the idea of waiting his turn. He saw me giving mittens to her and he very cheerfully demanded his mittens as well. I handed him some mittens and continued to help his sister. He came back smiling and chattering away … he needed something. I had to figure it out … oh, he needed me to snip away the place where the mittens were sown together. Done. Okay back to helping sister.
He came back later. Big smile on his face. Very excited. “Boat! Boat!” [Shoes! Shoes!] he exclaimed with a giant demanding and endearing toddler grin. I nodded and gave him a big smile, assuring him he would get his shoes too. And continued to try to help one child at a time while I called out to the other confused volunteers. “Bigger size for this baby! No, not that baby. That baby. Sorry sweetie you will get shoes too in a minute …”
In the end everybody got shoes. In the end, everyone was happy. New socks, shoes, clothes, jackets, bananas, and chocolates.
And my little curly-haired friend was happy and cheerful, grinning and waving as he left.
“Salam alaikum,” we called out with smiles.
And inside, the silent thoughts.
May god give you a home.
– Megan Tucker
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