1500 Olive Trees

Friends, I wrote this back in January, but I know many of us have been hurting over what is going on in Aleppo, so I am reposting.

There comes a time on any trip where you feel overwhelmed, when tiredness and lack of control of your surroundings can creep into the journey. I think it is particularly true of any kind of refugee or humanitarian work.

Yesterday was my day to feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and inadequate with the needs I have seen and the stories I have heard.

To summarize, anything you have ever heard or seen about the refugee crusis is true, but worse. The stories of losing everything, people watching relatives killed, babies born to moms who can’t breastfeed because of inadequate diet, losing factories, businesses, and livelihood. All of it is true.

Two days ago, we sat across from a farmer who had 1500 olive trees in a village near Aleppo. ISIS has taken over his land and cut most of the olive trees down for firewood. It is a literal loss of generations of family’s work. It is symbolic of everything else they have lost.

I have met widows and new moms struggling, men who can’t find work and mothers who lost their sons, men who are being pressured to sell their kidneys just to get money to feed their families. The collective loss is unimaginable.

I have learned that ISIS is one kind of evil–and the other evil is the people that would profit from a crisis. Those who would buy children from a desperate parent; scheme to traffic vital organs; and charge thousands of dollars so people can drown in a poorly made boat.

When people are left without hope, we must hope for them. 

It is a privilege to sit with people and hear their stories and I am so grateful for this time. It is a gift to laugh in the midst of pain; to drink strong cups of Arab coffee while sitting in tents; to ask people how we can pray.

But I also have an obligation to pass on what I have seen and learned and to ask you to remember this crisis, remember Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Don’t forget them – and pray for peace to come to these lands.

The following information comes from this site:

Preemptive Love Coalition has been working for over 10 years in the Middle East. They serve families in both Iraq and Syria. You can take a look at their website for information and ways to make a difference for refugees.

Questscope has been giving at-risk people in the Middle East “a second chance” for over three decades. Now they are first-responders, providing critical and long term assistance for thousands of families literally on the run for their lives in Syria. Just this week, Questscope is rescuing 4000 women and children from Homs, Syria. You can give desperately needed funds for those families here.

World Relief works through churches in the US as well as throughout the Middle East and Europe to provide emergency and long-term assistance for refugees. Check out their website to see how your church can get involved.

Washing Cars in Wartime – A Guest Post

Just two days ago ISIS released a horrific video of the death of Jordanian pilot Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh. While ISIS is known to be brutal, this death showed a new level of cruelty, of inhumanity. If man is indeed made in the image of God then those who commit these acts are wounding their creator and I have no doubt, he weeps. The pilot was actually killed January 3rd – a full month before the video was released; a month where negotiations were going on between ISIS and Jordan for his release. The duplicity is nauseating. My friend Laura lived in and loves Jordan and it is through her that I have followed much of this news.

Today’s post is by Laura. It is not about Jordan or the pilot, but it is about war, about violence, about dignity — and human dignity is what I want to think about in the midst of this. Dignity of the innocent, the dignity God gives us in drawing us to himself, in calling us his children. Thank you Laura for this beautiful piece. 

rubber-boots-

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2012

Washing Cars in Wartime
“Syrian rebels attacked army roadblocks in Midan district in the heart of Damascus on Thursday to relieve pressure on outlying rebel strongholds being pounded by air strikes and artillery, opposition activists said.
“Assad’s forces responded by bombarding the densely populated commercial and residential district, situated just outside the Old City walls, killing a woman pedestrian and a worker in a car wash, they said.”
– Reuters, 8 November 2012

***

In the morning, he rubs his palms through his
hair and swings his legs over the edge of the bed.
At the door, like sentries, stand two pale blue rubber
boots. Knee-heighted waders, he puts them on.

In the morning, he makes his tea and, sipping, walks to
punch in the numbers for the punishing measure.
The tea is hot. Tit for tat, tit for tat, tit for
tat, tit for tat—the numbness is
learned, drummed into minds by
years, obedient generations, of slavish fear.

He marches in his boots to his post,
puddles and soap. The cars roll in.
Astonishing that cars must be washed
during war, bodies of metal,
gleam and polish.
The rain of weaponry makes nothing clean.
Cars must be washed.

Next he marches down the hall to report to the next
goon up. Breathtaking the fruitful efficiency of war
and its stillborn child, death.
Rolling like a wave over the weeping face of
the earth, deracinating life from its soil.
Life scrubbed lifeless.

The soapy water runs red into
the gutter drain. Down in the valley, the cracked
earth drinks the blood of patriots and villains
in equal measure. A green patch of grass,
a bold rebuke that life will not finally succumb and
bow to the instruments of death.
The emptied rubber boots in melted pieces
held more personified dignity in one car washer than a thousand
sorry soles of the regime.

***

LauraAbout the author: Laura Merzig Fabrycky is a freelance writer and editor, and serves as editor of Missio, a blog of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Her writing has been published in Books & CultureThe Review of Faith and International Affairs, the Foreign Service Journal, and Good Housekeeping Middle East; and her poetry has appeared in Glass, her church newsletter, and family Christmas cards. A diplomatic trailing spouse and mother to three young children, Laura has lived in Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; and currently resides in the fever swamps of the Washington, D.C. area

Central Square Walgreens: A Lesson in Humanization

Central Square Walgreens is a city drugstore. As you walk up the stairs coming off the outbound redline you will see it directly to your right. It’s always busy, ever crowded and not particularly clean. The staff are as iconic as the customers with diverse cultures, ages, clothing and personalities the norm.

It is the great equalizer. At Walgreens in Central Square people do not care if you’re a famous Harvard or MIT professor or a homeless person. You could be a doctor that discovered a treatment for a rare cancer or a stay-at-home mom; a barista or a post doc; a nurse or a tatoo artist; no one cares. You are served the same, wait in the same line, and try and get your pictures printed from the same computer. This is one of the reasons I love the city.

While living in the suburbs it mattered to people that our banged up Toyota Camry sat next to their Lexus. It mattered that Aeropostale and Banana Republic were not in our closets and it mattered that we didn’t care. At Walgreens an equalization takes place – a leveling of the playing field. People may try to assume airs and superiority but these are forced to the surface and squashed as quickly as they are assumed.

It was at Walgreens that I made the acquaintance of a Jordanian woman who knew no English. She walked in the store passionately requesting information in Arabic. Blank faces looked her way, and then everyone went back to doing what they had been doing. So the voice got louder. And the staff? They had no time for this woman who was speaking rapid-fire Arabic. Walgreens may be the great equalizer – but only if you know English.

At this point, I, standing at least three aisles away from her and knowing I could understand at least the basics of what she was saying, moved in a bit closer. It was one of those times where in a flash I had to weigh my decision to get involved against the urgency with which I had originally entered the store – in other words, I didn’t want any obstacles in my way between checkout and walking home. And the woman (dare I say it?) was an obstacle. But obstacles that are human have this way of getting into your brain and reminding you that getting involved is sometimes a mandate, not a suggestion.

Her name was Laila and she was frantically asking where the mosque was. Good. I knew and could tell her. But there was more. She wanted a cart to carry her groceries on city streets. She was older and carrying bags was too much for her. In the space of a few minutes I had heard about her daughter and no-good son-in-law; her grandchildren; and the mosque down the street – it’s amazing what you can learn about another person in a short interaction.

We found the cart in the front aisle but when I told her the price she looked dismayed. She took out a ten-dollar bill, held it out to me and began bargaining with me on the price. My Arabic is basic at best and she was persuasive. She kept pushing the ten-dollar bill into my hands, explaining that this was all she had. But there was a problem – I hadn’t set the price, Walgreen’s had. And if we know one thing in America – we don’t bargain. While an art form in some countries, it is simply not done in American retail. I laughed and told her that this would not happen, she would have to pay full price. So she argued some more. I responded that if she was in Jordan, this would work, but in America she would have to pay full price. And she argued more. I had met my match.

It was about this point that it dawned on me that I would be the one paying for the cart; her bargaining had worked, thought not in the way either of us intended. So we moved up toward the check out.

This is where something interesting happened: the staff previously uninterested and annoyed began treating the woman with kindness and respect. I watched in amazement. As I pulled out my debit card to pay for the cart, the staff were no longer annoyed or dismissive, but engaged and attentive. Through one interaction a domino effect began and she was suddenly worth while. She had been humanized, deemed worthy of having someone get involved, someone pay, and in the humanization the attitudes of all observing her changed.

It was a strong lesson to me in the power of actions. Very rarely do I feel like my actions to either get involved, or not get involved, matter. But to the person who needs us, it makes all the difference in the world.

We hugged goodbye, Laila and me, and she walked off with her cart to the mosque. I have never seen her again and my guess is she may not even remember me, but I am reminded of the lesson every time I go to Walgreens.

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Repost – Living “Intentionally but Flexibly”

I wrote this post right after I began blogging. Although written for the new year, it’s been a good reminder as life picks up it’s pace through the holiday season. What do you think of the idea of living “intentionally but flexibly”?

Old Year is rapidly fusing with New and I am reminded of a letter we received some time ago from acquaintances who were living in Amman, Jordan.  They had lived in the Middle East for a long time and they talked about the conflicts they experienced with their personality differences ~

she spontaneous, he a planner.

They recalled the many negotiations they had to make through the years and how that related to their  cross-cultural living, blending American and Jordanian cultural norms and attitudes.   The parallel between their marriage and  cross-cultural negotiations and the words they used of learning to live ‘flexibly but intentionally’ resonated with me.  With purpose and goals, but always willing to bend those for the sake of people coming into their lives and unexpected circumstances demanding adjustment, flexibility and of course, time.  An amazing mix of East, where people and relationships are paramount and West, where goals and ideas yield some quite amazing results?  I think so.

It sounds like a balanced way to live.  Too often I have lived just spontaneously and then move into auto-correct by embracing a rigid way of life that demands control and order.   What I want is a balance of flexibility and intentionality.  The “how-to’s” of achieving this is the challenge.   Life with it’s endless distractions and choices often interferes with my spontaneity and goals, making for a chaotic existence.

Os Guiness who’s writing I deeply admire says in his book “The Call” that the key is having a calling.  He of course goes into this with much depth and clear word-pictures, some of which are captured in this phrase:

calling provides the story line for our lives and thus a sense of continuity and coherence in the midst of a fragmented and confusing modern world.

And perhaps therein is my “how to” of living intentionally and flexibly. Continue reading

Living “Intentionally but Flexibly”

Old Year is rapidly fusing with New and I am reminded of a letter we received some time ago from acquaintances who were living in Amman, Jordan.  They had lived in the Middle East for a long time and they talked about the conflicts they experienced with their personality differences ~

she spontaneous, he a planner.

They recalled the many negotiations they had to make through the years and how that related to their  cross-cultural living, blending American and Jordanian cultural norms and attitudes.   The parallel between their marriage and  cross-cultural negotiations and the words they used of learning to live ‘flexibly but intentionally’ resonated with me.  With purpose and goals, but always willing to bend those for the sake of people coming into their lives and unexpected circumstances demanding adjustment, flexibility and of course, time.  An amazing mix of East, where people and relationships are paramount and West, where goals and ideas yield some quite amazing results?  I think so.

It sounds like a balanced way to live.  Too often I have lived just spontaneously and then move into auto-correct by embracing a rigid way of life that demands control and order.   What I want is a balance of flexibility and intentionality.  The “how-to’s” of achieving this is the challenge.   Life with it’s endless distractions and choices often interferes with my spontaneity and goals, making for a chaotic existence.

Os Guiness who’s writing I deeply admire says in his book “The Call” that the key is having a calling.  He of course goes into this with much depth and clear word-pictures, some of which is captured in this phrase:

“…calling provides the story line for our lives and thus a sense of continuity and coherence in the midst of a fragmented and confusing modern world.”

And perhaps therein is my “how to” of living intentionally and flexibly. Continue reading