Unbreakable Love on the Syrian Border
Three weeks have passed since we left the Middle East and come back to the world of consumerism, bikinis, bad coffee, endless supply of clean water, and not so terrifying driving. I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience on the Syrian border and the following is a mixture of thoughts I wrote while in Mafraq, as well as some reflection at home. In other words, as the busyness of life in the US quickly reemerged, I may have procrastinated putting these thoughts that I have deeply wanted to share on paper.
By trip definition I went to Love, serve and learn from our Syrian refugee neighbors in Mafraq, Jordan. I mean what better reason is there to go anywhere?
Mafraq is full of beautiful people with stories that no amount of effort could lead us to fully understand. Love comes easy in Mafraq. Love is easy when you are sitting in an empty room surrounded by beautiful children with the biggest, most genuine smiles on their faces graciously giggling at my attempts to speak Arabic… poorly. Love is easy when complete strangers great you with hugs and kisses as if we were long lost friends finally reunited. Love is easy when a family, who has lost everything and has nothing, serves you tea in their simple yet joy filled concrete single room home with only a few cushions on the floor.
For a shy introverted girl, outwardly expressing Love can be bit awkward (or painfully uncomfortable) especially with strangers. But not here. The Love that I was surrounded with overcomes any boundaries I could possibly put up and these strangers became instant dear friends. I absolutely treasure the warmth in this Love. I even kind of figured out the correct amount of kisses (kind of).
I fell completely in love with one family of six in particular. Their home was full of joy, kindness, and smiles that stole my heart. I could have stayed forever, they felt like family.
We played and laughed with the four young children, they drew beautiful pictures in my small notebook and I even was able to help the two girls with their Arabic math and writing. One of the sons who was barely four, reminded me so much of my son (my three year old saw a picture of this sweet boy and said “that’s me” J), his smiles and wild facial expressions were amazing and we were instant buddies.
The father drew a hilarious picture of a certain world “leader” and the mother had the most kind and gentle spirit. Her eyes told a story of a journey through the most horrific circumstances, yet her smile and embrace was that of pure kindness and love.
Like countless other Syrian families, this family lost everything when they fled Syria. They are not allowed to work in Jordan (if they are caught working they are sent back to Syria, a likely death sentence). Their family is scattered around the world and they long to go home, an impossible desire until the war ends. They have faced and seen the unimaginable with stories that would shatter your heart.
This family has every reason and is completely justified to be mad at the world. Yet there was not an ounce of bitterness in this household. They embraced us with Love like I've never felt before. Complete strangers.
Before we left, the oldest girl who only had a couple of toys in a small purse, pulled out a green bead and told me she wanted me to have it. I have never received a more beautiful and meaningful gift.
This family has chosen to Love boldly when they have every excuse not to.
What have I learned from our Syrian refugee neighbors? More than could ever be expressed in words.
Imagine going to spend time with a family who has made an inconceivable journey to safety, giving up everything they have ever know in an instant, literally everything. Risking not only their lives, but the lives of their children, dodging bullets and bombs as they watch other less fortunate die all around them. Fearing immensely for their beautiful daughters because being captured means being thrust into the dark horrifying world of human trafficking.
In the bubble we come from in the West, we can’t even begin to envision what our Syrian refugee neighbors have gone through. It would be arrogant to think we could.
Imagine walking up to the door of a family who has recently been through all of this and more, and being warmly embraced with smiles and hugs from children and kisses from women, all of whom have never met you. Walking into their single room home furnished with only few cushions, brought tea when you know they can't afford food for the month or the rent of the cold concrete floors. Knowing they can't afford these things because they aren't allowed to work in this country, they will likely die if they go home, and much of the outer world seems to have turned their backs on millions of amazing people losing everything.
I have learned more about kindness and hospitality from our Syrian refugee neighbors than I have ever learned in the “comforts” of the US. With the tension that is so prominent in our own country, we could all take a lesson in kindness and selfless hospitality.
I came to serve the amazing people I encountered. I even came prepared with suitcases full of medicines and medical supplies that so many people with amazing hearts donated. It is my soul’s desire to serve.
My husband and I were able to go on a medical distribution with some of the supplies we brought. Something deeply needed in the region are diabetes testing kits and blood sugar strips. Jordan has one of the highest rates of diabetes per capita and I was told that a box of 50 blood sugar strips cost about 20 Dinars. In the US I could easily find these testing strips for half the price (which is crazy because anything medical in the US is generally jacked up beyond reason, because we are all about the Benjamins and health care is no exception).
To put it even more into perspective, our refugee neighbors in Jordan are not allowed to work and if they are registered with the UN they receive only 20 Dinars a month for food. 20 Dinars to eat for an entire month! Otherwise the likelihood of being able to buy medical supplies that cost the equivalent of “one month’s” food allowance is basically impossible.
We arrived at the home of an absolutely lovely older Bedouin woman whose face was covered in awesome traditional tattoos. We of course were greeted with Love, kisses and wonderful tea and coffee. She lived with her two daughters who were in there 30’s (one of which refuses to marry in order to take care of her dear mother), and her beautiful timid 7 year old granddaughter. This woman had already had one leg amputated due to diabetes and had not been able to afford to get any of the vital basic medical monitoring supplies needed. When we gave this sweet yet strong woman these supplies, the entire family was overcome with gratitude.
As this family profusely thanked us, I sat next to the young granddaughter playing Uno and felt overwhelmingly humbled. The reality is the families I encountered in Mafraq served me far beyond any way that I could have served them.
Being surrounded with the warm embrace of authentic Love that seems to come so easily to our refugee neighbors both abroad and domestically, after the inconceivable pain and suffering they face and have faced, continually transforms my heart and perceptions immensely. No matter how many times I encounter this type of Love, I grow in who I am and who I want to be. There is no comparison on who is really being served and I am forever grateful.
So there it is. What a beautiful experience I had Loving, serving (and more-so being served) and leaning from our Syrian refugee neighbors, my heart overflows! But now what? What is really different in life domestically? What if we always sought to Love, serve and lean from each other? Even better, what if we sought to Love, serve, and learn from those different than us, maybe even those we consider our enemy? I don’t think the violence, prejudice, divisiveness that floods our country could continue. Kindness and understanding would overpower fear. We would create an environment where Love could win in big and bold ways.