The Nobel Prize Winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel was a believer in words and a believer in questions. He said, that to not transmit an experience is to betray it.
We, the good Doctor, Saad and I, the three musketeers, returned to Shingal just a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't a trip we wanted to make. To deliberately transit from the camps of death where we live and breathe every day and drive into the eye of mass destruction , well its not a family day trip with a picnic on the way. It is a journey into the jaws of hell, to be greeted by the malevolent ghosts of hatred and evil lurking on every corner, long kilometer after kilometer.
Did we have a purpose? Yes to scout out the camps and assess their current situation and our place in it. That was taken care of in one minute. Aid not wanted. Programmes rejected. Weapons yes please,"as many as you can get us. " We silently ate our chicken with rice and moved on . None of us connected. Not with the tent dwellers. Not with that area nestled in the valley between the mountains. Our heads pounded with heavy oppression We were in silent agreement. We knew what was beckoning us. The land which trembles and writhes with pain. The land which is a horror and a hissing without inhabitants ( words from Jeremiah the Prophet )
The scattered headquarters of Daesh. Their command centers. Their control centers. The head of the octopus. Houses, oh so strategic in their size and location that had been commandeered for evil and destruction, bomb making, communications centers, operations and logistics. We had to grab hold of the head of the octopus.
Wiesel also wrote that " Wherever man and women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place, must at that moment , become the centre of the universe"
That night I slept in the centre of the universe. In the bedroom of one of the masterminds..finally killed in Rojava. For one long night, his room where he plotted and planned and committed the unthinkable, I slept in his room. The centre of the universe. A night of eyeballing the stench of putrid evil emanating from every centimeter of his room.
The next day we continued our journey of silence into the villages where no one dwells, into the land where no son of man passes by. The horror of the muddy, still open mass graves. Desolation upon desolation. Not even wild dogs roamed. Not a bird flew. Only ghosts. And the slaughtered.
Our silence was heavy. Tears rolled down our pale faces. No attempt to wipe them away. We had no need to hide from ourselves. From each other. From the slain. We were. Witnesses. Therefore responsible. Therefore accountable.
Both our mood and the temperature were sub zero but we continued into the ruins of once colorful, vibrant, prosperous villages. Our mind, our emotions and even our bodies were exhausted and saturated with death and with the cunning of evil but we could not pull back. We would shout " stop" every few minutes, and get out of the car and gaze in silence as communities had been razed to the ground in such a complete and thorough way that they could never again be habitable.
We rounded a corner and were stunned to find something which kind of in a dinky way resembled a pop up store. We all gasped together..." Whaaaaaaat?"
We were suddenly energized and tumbled out of our vehicle into this hole in the wall faithfully selling a handful of pitifully decayed veggies a few oranges and a couple of pomegranates. It was like finding a few sole survivors after nuclear destruction.
Sub zero had suddenly become warm. The guys told their stories. How they had fought for their town. Taken their weapons and gone to the checkpoint even before the Peshmerga arrived. They fought Daesh face to face. Held, resisted, withheld, pushed back with every fibre of their being until that point came...
The townsfolk fled. These guys stayed. They spoke with a force and a passion about their land and their trees. They would die. They would relinquish their life and sacrifice their soul, but not their land. And here they are thirty months later, in a damp cement pop up shop with no produce and no clients. We decided to hang out with them and just chilled and chatted for some thirty minutes, during which lo and behold some other Desolation Dwellers turned up. One saw a vehicle and word passed from mouth to ear to mouth and they just popped up. Out of total ruins. No electric. No water. Nothing yet here they were survivors of devastation.
We looked at each other. Questions were unnecessary. Whatever we had left in the vehicle we would give them. Hats, gloves, scarves, coats, footballs. Desolation Dwellers need homes rebuilt. Lives restored. But for today it would be the material things that do make a difference when you are a Desolation Dweller.
Here in the epicenter we found our tribe. The Desolation Dwellers. They took balls. We took phone numbers. We hugged. We told them that we would be back. They asked to be volunteers. We cried. Sub zero tears. But we cried. Tears that bore witness to the courage of man to suffer.
And wept more when they walked back into their desolations and we climbed into our warm vehicle and drove away. We left our hear there with the Desolation Dwellers. We will be back. To stay and to rebuild lives and maybe even a building or two.
Springs of Hope Foundation, Kurdistan. Shingal. Your cry has been not just heard, but for ever etched on our individual and collective memory. We are both more broken yet richer for being saturated with your pain and suffering. For now we will sing your song. The song of death, the song of courage and outstanding bravery. The song of desolations. But as we sing your song, take care to listen to the higher notes. The notes of hope. It's coming.