How the story of a refugee changed my life forever.
When I was in high school a Sudanese man broke into the ordinary and dull routine of having a 10-hour school day (yeah, I know, my brain is still recovering from that) – and came to tell us his story.
I don’t think I have ever seen us – 26 teenagers in full hormonal and stressed phase- pay that much attention and be affected by the words of this kind and eloquent man in front of us before in our whole educational journey.
His story was tough to swallow; it was hardship at its finest. Crossing the Sahara under an old jeep, saying goodbye to his family, holding onto a dodgy boat full of desperate and sick people like you, while waves as big as mountains are constantly pushing you away from the land.
My memory of this man is blurry and his story is blended into the thousands of stories of brave people who every day are pushed to risk everything they have to escape a life they can’t bear anymore.
But if I can’t remember his name, the details of his story said, or the look he had in his eyes; though I can remember the emotions that shook me into a state that creates a space that is so special to young people.
His story opened up a door to a side of the world that I had never experienced before.
I know that things were hard in the world, don’t get me wrong. But he showed me and my classmates that the place that I was occupying behind my school desk was actually one of the most precious and privileged thing to have in this life. A food in my belly; the freedom to play in the streets, hang out with my friends, hug my family tight and go to bed without worrying for a near future.
His words made some of us wept. Others sat in silence, maybe drowning in the polite silence that only a young discipline is able to be comfortable in, taking it all in while your emotions are exploding inside your ribcage, like a silent nuclear bomb.
Ever since that day, I have never been able to shut my eyes to the news of hundreds of people drowning at sea. It has never crossed my mind that refugees would want to ‘invade’ my country. I have never felt fear, or doubts while looking into the eyes of a refugee while helping my local shelter.
I have felt anger, frustration, always directed towards an imaginary bureaucratic web of lies, corruption and laws that has made this situation escalate to a point that bodies are drifting to shores.
But what does it do?
Absolutely nothing. Being angry is a legit way to feel about this situation, but what does it actually change?
Nothing. I used to think that the right way to tackle human rights issues was to get angry; to scream at people and shake them off this lethargic silence that we all seem to have fallen into as a society.
But it’s not.
I came across this video (down below) the other day and it reminded me of something.
It didn’t just remind me of the emotional staring of Marina Abromovic’s The Artist Is Present, but it made this message ting in my head: human connection.
As humans we might differ in religion, political views, lifestyles and favorite Snapchat filters, but when we look at each other in the eyes, something magical happens.
We connect. It’s nothing new-age or spiritual, but it’s because we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to fall into the real comfort of ourselves and we place the masks we carry on our faces every day to the side.
This was an incredible experiment that it was followed by another astonishing project with a similar intention: Look Into The Eyes of The Children’s Refugees. A series of portraits shot by Muhammed Muhesein, a photographer who wants us to force us to stare into the eyes of the children who have only known conflict and hardships.
All of these projects might seem meaningless to the eyes of the cynical bureaucrats who cry for real change, but I strongly believe that they do what cold statistics and gaury videos sometimes can’t do.
They establish a connection. They remind us of something that perhaps we had lost in the cracks of our comfortable lives.
When we connect, we do it with all our being; it’s a visceral force that starts from your guts, then overtakes your heart and between a tear and an awkward laugh, the memory of having learned something new remains in your brain. Forever.
That day I heard that man’s story on an ordinary day of school, I connected with his pain, his drive to survive and his dedication to spread his words. I connected with his story, and it has changed my way of looking at things.
Stories might not change economic policies; they might not transfer the billions of dollars that the United Nations need to face this humanitarian crisis; nor it will bring back the 1000 people who have drowned in the sea this week, or the millions that have died every year.
But stories will do one thing. They will plant a seed in your mind that won’t be able to be taken away even by the biggest bigotry and most vile political propaganda. That seed will grow into a memory that you will always carry with you; like your first love, or the movie that had changed your life.
These seeds of change will be what will move people to feel the pain of millions of people who have no home to go back to.
This seed of information will be the one that will want you to stand up and care about the story of a stranger, who has crossed a sea of troubles to live a life that you are currently too blind to appreciate.
So start listening. Connect. Don’t waste your young brain cells and your compassion on cynicism.
If you are still confused about the current situation with the refugees, this week’s topic was about Syrian Refugees.
You can check it out here.