Humans of Moria - By Sindhuja Sankaran

It’s been about a week since I arrived in Lesbos and started my work at camp Moria and without a doubt there is just so much to say. I have managed to do a few shifts including school for kids, school for adults, medical assistance shift in the evening and at night. But today’s blog is not going to be about the work but about a few people I’ve gotten to know. Perhaps it’s the environment we are in wherein we are all working towards a common goal, you know that the conversations are real, the interaction is special and most importantly when you share a laugh together, it’s real. As the title suggests, and a point I have reiterated in the previous posts, people in camp are regular people with unfortunate circumstances. Engaging in conversations reassure a sense of normalcy in an otherwise debilitating situation and a few people have managed to make an impact in my week here.

The first person I’d like to talk about is a little 10-year-old kid from Kabul, Afghanistan. The first time I met him was when I was trying to communicate to an adult in English with a lot of gesturing and then the kid said ‘’It’s important to know English, it’s very useful’’. He then came in front of the community centre and showed off his ‘hula-hoop’….he was good! I tried, it fell to the ground in 2 seconds. We then chatted for at least 30 minutes. He apologised to sit and talk but he said he wanted to practice his English and again the topic of having a ‘normal conversation’ came up. He was very open about his life back in Kabul, to the extent that he was very matter-of-fact about being around Taliban and constantly hearing bombings. He also mentioned that his parents had passed away and that his older brother made the decision to move away. They apparently had a plan which included learning English. This kid now speaks fluent English that he learnt in 1 year and also a little bit of German (sorry Deutch, as he corrected me). He said, his other 2 siblings were in Germany and that he couldn't  wait to get there and therefore wanted to read as many German books as possible. He also said he wanted to be an artist when he grows up – painting and drawing and later he gave me something he created out of paper (see picture). I was literally at loss of words (and you know... I  always has something to say!). This kid was so resilient, unbelievably smart and motivated and had this thirst for knowledge and the future. No one needs to normalize being around Taliban leave alone a kid.  When I was 10 my biggest worry was probably that my school uniform was not ironed (inaccurate but you get my drift). Extrinsic motivation is limited in Moria, but clearly there is something internally driving this child and I can’t be happier about that. It is this internal motivation we need to harness and nourish, whether it is in the form schooling or just having a regular conversation. The knowledge that things could be normal and that people will treat you with the same amount of dignity and respect is extremely important in a situation like this. I will always remember this kid and I hope to see him flourish 10-15 years from now and perhaps be a proud owner of his paintings. 

The next person I vividly remember is an elderly man from Afghanistan whom I met yesterday, when I was helping out with the medical shift. He walked up to me with folded hands and started talking to me in Urdu. I of course understand and speak it because of its similarity with Hindi. The last time I had to fluently speak Hindi, was probably when I was living in Delhi when I was about 8 years old! My native language is Tamil, which is remarkably different from Hindi. I would say I’m more fluent in Tamil than Hindi (although my parents would beg to differ as they laugh out VERY LOUD when I speak Tamil these days). Luckily, a few days of attempted Hindi/Urdu has made me relatively fluent, enough to have a lovely conversation with this elderly man. He kept calling himself an ‘’old man’’ and reliving his youth. He is from Afghanistan with his family in Switzerland and he speaks fluent German. He had returned back home and when his family insisted on him returning to Switzerland, well, you know where he ended up. Our conversation ranged from his life in Afghanistan, the great standard of living in Switzerland and Holland and food! He was also very keen to know about my profession and literally clapped his hands when I said I was a scientist. A young kid next to him asked me if I was married (in Urdu) and the elderly man told him off saying, ‘that’s not a question you ask people who are helping you and there is no necessity for women to be married, being independent and having a career is very important’’.  This time I clapped my hands in excitement. His feminist attitudes clearly resonated with mine and his very pleasing countenance just made that interaction even more distinct. I had to leave and I thanked him for a lovely conversation and wished him the best health and he said, nothing comes even close to the fact that he could have a normal conversation with people thereby not being reminded of the terrible circumstance. With folded hands we parted ways.

In the week I have been here, we spend a lot of time with translators (who live in Moria) and help us out in the medical cabin and sometimes the school as well. They are an absolute delight. Our conversations range from food (yes, we discuss a lot food and agreed to share recipes!), of course the tough times in their home countries and most importantly we constantly make jokes and tease each other. There is one guy who loves Justin Beiber. Naturally, me being a music snob, I shook my head in disapproval and told him that he had to listen to Radiohead (ok, admittedly that was pushing it, but oh well!). He played the beginning of No Surprises and 3 seconds later, fast forwarded it to the end and then said ‘’No, too boring’’ and started dancing to Beiber again! I knew he would never listen to Radiohead but that is our own little thing which has now earned me my nickname by him – Dr. Radiohead (I love it!). With another guy we also discussed music and we both enjoy Sufi music, so we were for instance talking about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and agreed to share some Afghan music (again I specifically said no commercial stuff 😊). Then we have our friend from the Gaza strip who argues that he makes the best food and would have cooked so much had he the resources to cook or find spices. The fact they speak about their cuisine so much just shows how much they long for it. They might not go terribly hungry here but something as simple and trivial as food makes a huge difference. Heck, when I don’t eat dosais (see picture) for more than 6 months, I go nuts! 
Image result for dosais
Except I know I can go home whenever I want or I can go to any other city with good south Indian food. I suppose discussing food can be bittersweet. And then we have someone who refused to believe I was 32 (yes, I do take it as a compliment and thank my parents for their brilliant genes) and I had to literally show my ID to prove that I was born in 1985….he still thought it was a fake ID! Finally, we have Mr. Trouble (as one of the medics named him), he tries really hard to tease me and then whenever I call him the same in Hindi, he just giggles like a child. He has very formed opinions about a lot of things and has no qualms sharing it. He calls me Ms BBC, because I talk a lot and wow….is he accurate or what! Most interestingly, they all share an unparalleled love for Bollywood movies and I mean the ‘typical’ ones. The one movie that we all saw and I liked was the one they hated. Clearly, they like their ‘Bollywood’ drama. I can’t imagine spending the remaining 10 days I have here without chatting away with them and I really hope they manage to go wherever they wish to as they keep hoping for.

By Sindhuja Sankaran


Post a Comment

Popular Posts