In her book " A Court of Mist and Fury," Sarah Maas spoke about darkness. " There are different kinds of darkness. There is the darkness that frightens, the darkness that soothes, the darkness that is restful. There is the darkness of lovers, and the darkness of assassins. It becomes what the bearer wishes it to be, needs it to be."
Just down the road from us here in Shariya Village we have darkness dwellers.150 families to be both precise and accurate. Ask them what they would like their darkness to be, they will give you another story. They do not wish for or need this darkness. Give them light and air.
As is often our case, we, meaning Saad and I just happenstanced across the darkness dwellers. We were at the close of a long day with our tent dwellers and needed to go higher, which meant to one of the mountains which cradle Shariya and just breathe for a while in silence and kind of expel the horrors which in which we had swum all day.
It was one of those crisp, blue, cold but sunny days, the sun now dipping behind our mountain even though it was only 4 pm. We took a different route home, just kind of meandering and ended up outside a school building. Only it wasn't. It was an unofficial refugee camp.
The guys, we later discovered that these were the darkness dwellers, hanging around on the school steps called us to come and join them. And thus it was that we entered the land of darkness. " A land of darkness as darkness itself and of the shadow of death, without any order and there the light is as darkness." ( Job 10.22 ) True words.
As we huddled around an ancient kerosene heater, the story of the darkness dwellers began to unfold. They had escaped from Sinjar. Took refuge in this unfinished school where 150 families with around 400 children have lived for the past 30 months, are living there and will continue to live there in the dark, damp, wet in the land of shadows. They received immediate help with food, receiving a two hot meals a day but that has been their only help and was short lived. We were the first to cross the threshold of the land of shadows and quietly sit with them and listen their to voices which had not previously been given utterance .
The darkness dwellers have erected simple tents inside the abandoned structure, with a few light bulbs semi - strategically placed and a dripping water tank in the midst of what should have been a corridor. Water drips from the roof, mould and damp stink, not just pervade but have totally taken over the air space. Everyone coughs. Deep spastic bronchial coughs. The land of darkness is one of those places where your instinctive reaction is to cover your nose and get the hell, out prior to getting sick. But no, there has to be an immediate willingness to embrace the shadows in order to be able to carry the light which can expel this darkness.
The darkness dwellers took us into each black tent, up each set of stairs leading from one dark floor to another darker floor. We visited the few what were designed as school toilets...no words. No water supply. No light. Foul . The tent dwellers were embarrassed to show me. I insisted. I need to see. This is no western rest room, ladies room or baby changing area. This is terrifying. No child could go alone. Bladder control has to be in place during the night. Rot and disease own the place. Enter at your own risk.
We left with a promise to return. The darkness dwellers do not believe in promises. They are correctly cynical .They have heard them for 30 long dark months without anything materializing. Even our usually very vocal Saad was silent as we drove home to our warm, light ( when we are blessed with the famous electricity ) home.We looked at each other Saad and I and immediately got to work. Pulled out all the scarves, gloves and hats we had ...came to around 300. Not bad. Pulled out our remaining footballs. 10. Also not bad. Though I have to be honest and say that I felt it was a mere gesture, a drop in the bucket when compared to their need for building bathrooms, toilets, running water, electricity. Somehow there arose a dogged determination to adopt the entire school of darkness dwellers and stick with them until the light comes. We loaded the car ready for our return visit to the land of darkness.The leaders were busy sitting on the school steps as we pulled up. Huge wide smiles covered their faces. It was as if they were saying, " these guys came back, they kept their word"
We decided to leave the distribution in their hands. Wise decision. When you have lost all and have nothing...its gets wild to say the very least.
The ancient book of Job says this. " He uncovers deep things out of darkness, and brings out to light the shadow of death" ( 12.22). The abandoned school which became a home to our darkness dwellers is a terrifying, fearful, morbid place. But it contains an abundance of treasure in its darkness. The shadow and darkness dwellers. Our new friends.
I conclude with a few words from Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks regarding community. It applies to our community of Darkness Dwellers. " Community is the human expression of Divine love. It is where I am valued for simple who I am, how I live and what I give to others. It is the place where they know my name."
Our name is Springs of Hope. We carry our name and our hope along with light for those who live in the shadow of darkness. Our community is one of tent dwellers and darkness dwellers. They are our pride. They are our joy.
Maybe they should know your name too?