Our village is celebrating Eid, today, a winter feast day that comes after three days of fasting during which it is customary to make acts of generosity, hard for a people with nothing to give yet somehow they find a way and give with pride.
A knock on my door early this morning brought a grinning child bearing a dish of candy. I was unable to attend a lunch ( the thought of Mary had a little lamb which was heading to my plate, caused me to diplomatically back out ) but another banging on my gate, brought lunch to me served with a smile by Mr. Elyas aka SOHF Ambassador to Shariya, who told me that he would not allow his family to sit and eat until he had brought lunch to me. Oscar, my dog is deeply grateful for a fine lamb on the bone meal. I am appreciative, and relieved.
The simple acts of generosity that truly warm your heart.
Take, for example, the Directors of our Sewing Hope, Salwa and Latifa, both of whom live in tents. "We want to do something for those less fortunate than ourselves." And they did. During Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we opened our sewing room in order to invite the poorest of the poor, those who are really outcasts of the tent community for a number of reasons, an undefined status beyond poverty, and those with mental health issues. We spent two days tracking the most needy, we visited them, invited them, and they came in humility of spirit mixed with a tinge of excitement, grateful for the opportunity to choose their first new dress in seven years. Women chosen, no longer overlooked or ignored.
"I think no human being can give more than this, making life possible for the other, if only for a moment"
Martin Buber, Psychology & Psychotherapy.
We invited the wives and daughters of the street cleaners. Oh the joy, the delight of buying without money. This will be an Eid that they will never forget, when they knew that they were seen and accepted. I would love to see them today walking the muddy camp in pink, red, orange, in the forbidden (for many) turquoise and ornamented with sequins and bling, heads held high, strutting over the puddles.
"The Lord bless him! He has not stopped showing kindness to the living and the dead."
Ruth 2. 20
On Sunday we headed out to a strategic military base, positioned along the seam line of Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, home to 100 Peshmerga each of whom is stationed on a frontline checkpoint covering a 60 km radius. The base is under the command of General X who fought on the Sinjar frontline against ISIS in 2014, one who was awarded for personally pushing back death.
We gave them 100 solar radios which will be perfect when out there alone, plus 100 solar lights which can be worn on the head leaving the hands free, more than helpful when checking identity documents by night. Happy to have guests, they served us the most bitter pistachio coffee, followed by chai, followed by an additional round of “we won’t take no for an answer” coffee.
Nurse Jazia accompanied us and was soon busy checking our warriors’ pulse and heart rate. They sent messages to all their buddies to come and get checked, recording their results, comparing sugar levels with much camaraderie.
Prior to all our chat and laughter, were of course the formalities of protocol, the introductions, the recognition of their service, hearing their need for help, the need for help for their war disabled, and likewise for the oft forgotten martyrs’ wives and children. It was a time of listening to the behind the scene stories of the men who sacrificially stand in front of death so that this region, and the west alike can sleep at peace at night.
"Defend the rights of the poor and needy."
From the moment that Khero unlocks our blue gates every morning there is a steady trickle of poor people asking for goods. We always stop to listen, to treat them with respect and honour. We explain that our focus is education, we give whatever we have and we keep their phone numbers with the promise that we will call them when we have something suitable for them.
The trickle inevitably increases before an Eid. As these broken men with pants tied up with a piece of string, or torn flip flops shyly walked in, my thoughts went to Rabbi Professor Jonathan Sacks OBM who in his book, The Dignity of Difference, wrote that "we are being summoned by God to see in the human other a trace of the Divine other. The test is to see the divine presence in the face of a stranger, to heed the cry of those disempowered in the age of extraordinary powers, who are hungry and poor and ignorant and uneducated, whose human potential is being denied the opportunity to be expressed."
On Thursday morning they came through our blue gates with a purpose. They had been invited. Their perceived status had been upgraded. Oh, what it is for a refugee to be "on the list" it's kind of noteworthy, akin no less to the Queen’s Garden Party or a meeting at The White House. Our gift to them on the final day of fasting, was food for the Eid, and the promise of a festive lunch post Eid. Most of our recipients borrow food, oftentimes their meager wages as street cleaners go on repaying debts to their tent neighbors who lent money to pay the ransom fee for children taken into the captivity of ISIS. A dollar here, five dollars there, but it all adds up and leaves them with nothing at the start of the month. Then there are those who have no physical or mental capacity to work, each month the zeros add up, taking them way, way beyond nothing into a never-never land where u-turns are unknown.
As they entered with a quiet but questioning deliberation to receive their food packages, which we ensured were both practical and bountiful, I thought of our Patriarch Abraham who encountered God when He invited three strangers into his tent. My heart pounded with gratitude at the opportunity to host our strangers, for me to be changed, for my heart to be softened to the needs of others, to impart memories of kindness into the barrenness of a stranger’s life. I thanked God for these, our strangers.
They entered carefully, with respect, to me the question hung in the silence, "Will they give me food I can actually use?" This is a super valid question. I will never forget visiting the bombed out Mosul several years ago, prior to the purposeful rebuilding. Mines hid behind every door. There was barely a safe place to stand. Mountains of rubble. Out of the blue came an international group looking for living people to whom to give a bucket and broom. The locals could have used mine detectors. We gave food they could use, chicken, rice, pasta, lentils, chickpeas, tea, sugar, oil, flour, tomato paste, tehina, chicken, cookies and candy. They left strong, backs straight, with a hint of a smile on their tired faces. The restorative strength that comes from knowing that they provided for their family at Eid.
As we handed them their food packages, we invited each one to Sunday lunch, another opportunity for a meeting with God. Another opportunity to show respect and dignity to those who would otherwise walk the camp unnoticed.