Note: You won't see many photos of Zarena, Tamim's wife, or of Afghan women in general. Besides possibly fleeing extremist groups, their culture reserves the beauty of the woman for her family only, or at least in the online sense. Usually the fathers or brothers dictate this, depending on how conservative a particular family is—while Tamim would've been fine with it, her brothers would not be. Any photos of refugees, including photos of her, women in general, or children have been posted with express permission.
[Click photos for Instagram story]
Tamim told me the rest of his story the next day. Of his attempted suicide. Of his son Anil.
I was paralyzed. I couldn’t say anything. I felt stupid. We stood there, completely silent, propped up against the wall with arms crossed like a couple of sullen teenaged mall-rats, but with the weight of reality in the silence between us.
Any observer would’ve thought we’d just been hanging out, but the occasional tear-flick would’ve given us away.
He changed the subject.
“Where do you live?” It was an innocent question out of pure curiosity, but in that moment, the mental channel waters of “his devastation” were flowing full force. The channel-lock opened for my ‘Manhattan Beach’ answer, and all the affluence that goes with it suddenly flowed out and collided in stark irony—I couldn’t get anything out. I choked on my answer, mumbled something dumb and incomplete like “…doesn’t matter.”
By then the team was arriving and beginning to convene in the common area. He nudged us out of our stupor and we joined the rest for morning worship. Over the next few days, I found myself at their tent waiting out a rainstorm, for lunch, or for more visiting time.
"They would throw grenades into our property. We weren't safe."
The Other Refugee Crisis
It's a crazy thing, this refugee crisis.
I'll admit, because of the news, I was secretly hoping I'd be working with Syrian refugees, and was slightly disappointed when I found out I wouldn't be, except to see them bussed in from the Ritsona Camp.
But Tamim and his family were right there in front of me, real as ever.
Let me clarify: this is not to diminish Syria and Aleppo. There's enough devastation to go around. But there needs to be a little more explanation.
In Afghanistan, there’s no officially declared war—it’s war-torn, thanks to the Taliban and other extremist groups, but there’s no officially declared war like in Syria. As a result, Afghans' paperwork takes much longer to process by default since they're not technically "war refugees." Syrian cases take preference, and might have Syrian refugees placed in several different optional countries. Sometimes they're placed in a matter of weeks (however many Syrian refugees get stuck in the same waiting game as the Afghans).
It’s as unfair a hand as the one who dealt me in the middle of 1st World Los Angeles. To quote a dumbed down Buzzfeed article on the matter,
[They're] tired of [their] war not counting enough. . .it’s getting harder and harder for Afghans to be seen as “real refugees.”
Afghans make up the second largest refugee population in Europe – so why aren't we talking about it? -Al Jazeerah article "Afghanistan: The Other Refugee Crisis"
After all, there's been non-stop fighting for 40+ years. Old news right? Once they are granted asylum, they’re allowed to work and live elsewhere, but there’s an obvious caveat: The Greek economy sucks. A letter to their government won't change that. Stopping the fighting in Afghanistan wouldn't be much of a course of action for American Joe-Schmo either.
It’s a lot to handle once the stories collide with the knowledge of how hopeless their situation is...and how helpless we are. It's interesting to just observe the progression of evening activities and how they coincided with my mental capacities. The clinic would wrap up after dark, and I'd retreat with the team back to our place.
At the end of Day 1, we were doing yoga on the 2nd story porch and laughing at the fart sounds our backs were making on the tiles. (Yes.)
Day 2, I ducked out and took my writing out on the porch away from the group, decompressing and processing all the information of the day.
Day 3, I ducked out on the porch, and cried.
I’m useless if I just cry. I’m useless if I write and nobody listens. I know my audience—I'm part of it, where most any mention of the "Middle East" gets wafted into the complicated grey haze blocking the empathy-button. Money would make life better while they wait, but it doesn't accomplish what they really want, which is to get out and on with their lives. Which means I'm completely helpless.
To Be Continued...