It was 1am, and I was being serenaded by a 95-year-old Iraqi lady somewhere near the middle of Turkey…
Some months earlier she had fled her home country with her daughter, son-in-law and nine-year-old granddaughter who all clapped along as she sang. I’d only met the family a few hours previous, but they were already calling me their son and had welcomed me into their temporary home accordingly.
We ate, drank incredibly strong coffee, laughed and cried late into the night as they told me about the fall of their city, their story of escape and their contagious hope for the future. I don’t think I’ve ever been made to feel more welcome or felt more at home in such an alien environment. For all the sad stories I’m sure they could tell, most of the time we laughed. They were incredibly happy, hopeful and joyful in the face of an uncertainty that is impossible for me to imagine. They parented brilliantly and loved each other inspirationally in spite of the circumstances they found themselves in. The nine-year-old girl hummed and sang a happy tune as she danced around their home. For all the craziness going on around them, they exuded peace.
I sometimes wonder what I’d be like in their situation. Taking my family on the run with no certainty over where we’ll end up. Leaving everything I know behind me. The school, the park, the back garden and the familiarity of everything I know. I wonder what I’d take if I had to take the boys over the mountains in the dead of night. I wonder what I’d tell them. How much of the truth they’d know and if I’d be strong enough to protect them so they could hum and dance in a foreign land without a care in the world. I hope I never find out.
It feels like the world is more complicated than ever. That the problems we face are huge and unscaleable. But, behind the overwhelming statistics are families like the ones I stayed with and it’s the people, not the numbers or the headlines that I’ll be remembering and celebrating this refugee week. Families who never wanted to leave. Families trying to find peace. Families looking for a place to call home. The statistics are overwhelming but the individuals behind them are exceptional.