I was attending a cultural event at our university yesterday where Samir, a cinematic director with an Iraqi father and a Swiss mother, was presenting his latest work Iraqi Odyssey. The documentary is a tough pill to swallow, if you have a heart that is. It tells the tale of his family, how they were torn apart by the wars that ravaged the world and Iraq, through the takeover of his nation by a dictator, and how they could reunite for brief moments only to be separated again. In the Q&A session, he gave insights as to why he did the documentary. His motivation was on the one hand personal, a quest to explore his own identity, heritage and purpose, and humanistic on the other: he felt compelled to tell the world the story of his country and his family. The misfortune that overcame the people of a nation which deserved better. He must have had many questions in regards to his past. Whether it was to redeem the name of a misjudged country or to shed light on his paternal culture that seemed to be an essential part of his life, he did an extraordinary work. Iraqi Odyssey was well received, not only in Switzerland, but as well as in Iraq, and even Iran. Samir now uses his talent and the medium to spread the truth, justice and not the least, hope.
I spent an hour after the movie screening discussing the inequalities that surround us with a woman of equal just spirit. She does give off a charm that makes you wanna embrace the whole world even more. We digressed to the Middle East refugee situation. She mentioned an NGO called «Be Aware and Share» (BAAS) and the work they are doing in Greece. I then thought BAAS rings a bell, but I could not for the life of me figure out why. We exchanged numbers and she sent me the article. At home, I did not know I was going to have one of those moments where I would be writing a new blog post thereafter. This is relatively new, but I decided to write whenever I felt the need to get rid of the burdening dark slime of injustice that would ensheath my heart.
When I was reading the article, I realized it was mentioning my friend Baschi and his organisation I had ¨heard¨ about on Facebook and in the newspaper. I mean, we used to hang out every day, and I still remember his mother enquiring whether we would stay in touch, shortly before the high school graduation and with it me leaving my hometown, Basel. Truth is, Baschi was not the best of students 14 years ago and was treated by the majority as such, while I was being a sort of nerd. But I knew there is something that binds us, so we became good friends. Frankly, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him; that is, through the sheer nature of our friendship. Now I apprehend what the cohesive matter was that made us feel like brothers. It’s the heart. The heart to view the world in a different light. I’m tearing as I write this, so I’ll cut to the chase. I am angry and happy at the same time. His project, about which I will be writing shortly, and his compassion makes me proud; proud to be a human. He belongs to those who wander the realms of people dedicated to one thing, and one thing only: to give life purpose by doing what needs to be done. I would say, altruism is inborn in humans, but very few make something out of the predisposition until it is to be buried in oblivion.
So, I was saying, I am happy and sad; I am happy because of him, and I am sad because of what happened to the people I am going to write about below, and also as I think I could be doing more to change circumstances for those people. Leaving myself aside, let’s talk about what BAAS did and still does. I may have to expand the scope of what I wanted to tell, in brief: it all started with him feeling awful about the way things were going down in southern Europe with all the migrants arriving, or indeed not. Hence, he reached out to his social network. It pribably helped that he is well-connected and a social worker. What started with packing a VW T-van to the rim and heading south with four friends, escalated quickly to a grand project with dozens of supporting parties, including various non-profit organisations, individuals donating, and companies compensating the new bigger team’s ¨trouble¨, trip and stay. I used “trouble” because that is how some people would refer to leaving everyday matter aside, bringing life as they know it to a halt and embarking on a journey helping those in need. So they head to Greece where many refugee ships arrive from Turkey.
What they were about to witness would be engraved into the deepest depths of their memories: People in red vests storming toward the volunteers, hugging and thanking them, laughing, shedding tears of joy and relief, the arms stretched to the sky exclaiming “Allahu akbar!” Men, women and children, awed by the mighty ocean, proclaiming one thing: to have escaped death by a hairbreadth. But at what cost? It can’t be that human life means so little, that people have to leave behind loved ones, the place they used to call home, in hope of survival, thus possibly a better life. And for what you ask? That’s the best part. For absolutely nothing. I am saying this for the fourth time: “We indeed need an alien race to set foot (or tentacles for all I care) onto our planet jeopardising our very existence, for us to unite as one and set differences aside.” Fact is though, and I am quoting Baschi here, “We are bothered by the smallest of things”, says Baschi and shakes his head. “And these people do not even know the country they arrived in and their sufferings continue” (Seelhofer, 2015).
Now that was it, with the positive aspects of the current political turmoil that puts tens of thousands of lives at risk. Let me tell you what is really going on there:
Scene 1: Volunteers clatter along the coast among wrecks even at night, as those refugees who do reach land, arrive on boats that don’t in fact even hold on calm inland waters. I repeat, those who arrive.
Scene 2: They prepare breakfast for the camp called Souda: a portion consists of bread, egg, tea and orange, which costed 50 cents to acquire in bulk. Latter, which they pick directly from a farmer’s trees who’s oranges don’t meet EU standards for consumption, because they have too many seeds, and would otherwise go to waste were given for free.
Scene 3: Just a week before, when they were dragging ashore an ill-shaped boat, they had to salvage a lifeless body of two-year-old who was floating amidst of those still alive on the boat. He had died long before the boat was in sight. Survivors stand in long queues for aid supplies behind the van, shivering of cold and overcome by the horror.
Scene 4: Baschi curses unstintingly, when he slits open a drenched life jacket he picks up from the shallow water, when he reveals Styrofoam. The type of foam that is used to protect electronic items. The very type that doesn’t last an hour out on open water. He curses again, when he thinks about the Mafia, who made thousands of Euros out of this.
Scene 5: Four days ago a boat reached the coast of Chios during the night. The sound of the motor tells those in night-shift that it is drifting along the coast without a clear destination. Volunteers coordinate through WhatsApp. When it finally touches land, volunteers with food, blankets and an ambulance are already there to take care of the newly arrived. Among them was the Greek boarder patrol, observing the scene. A scene which also showed a screaming woman, holding a child that was panting for air.
I am asking myself, when people celebrate certain occasions, or make money for consumption, whether they ever would have thought to bear testimony to this kind of ordeal. This is, ladies and gentlemen, human nature, as it can be found just outside the comfort of your rooms.
And whilst all of this is going on, to top it off, what BAAS does is illegal. Foreigners are not ought to provide – even non-profit – services without permit. Yet, they said, they will remain there, as long as there are humans who need their help.
I say, screw politics. While those bastards are discussing a potential resolution to this ¨problem¨, people are suffering hunger and drowning to death. Anyone should be able to do what they can to help. Keep in mind, we are all at the whim of someone else, but also at the benevolence of many.
While I definitively cried half a dozen times while writing this, I am so proud to have people in my life, who care more for others than themselves. Click here to know more about BAAS and the work they do.
Thank you Samir, Baschi und Julia. Peace.
Seelhofer, B., 2015.10.19 from Huber, L. <em>Während andere in seinem Alter ausschlafen, stellt er einen Hilfseinsatz auf die Beine</em>. Tageswoche. Accessed 10.03.2016: http://www.tageswoche.ch/de/2015_43/basel/701479/
Seelhofer, B., 2016.03.07 from Huber, L. <em>Dort, wo die Flüchtlinge landen: Eine Reportage von der griechischen Insel Chios</em>. Tageswoche. Accessed 10.03.2016: www.tageswoche.ch/de/2016_10/international/713306/Aufmerksam-auf-Chios.htm