My time was winding down in the camp—the medical team and volunteers had vacated, leaving Kristin and Shion as my remaining travel companions. We'd come back from the weekend and the winds had changed drastically. It wasn't just the absence of the bright blue volunteer shirts, or of the purpose that some residents had found as translators—the blue shirts had taken the unseasonably warm weather with them, leaving behind a cold snap and sickness across the entire camp.
As mentioned before, it was hard for me to get stories; I realized that striking up banter about the worst days of their lives was the last thing I wanted to do, but I knew of one perspective I hadn't gotten yet: a Muslim woman.
I called on the help of Tamim to help me find someone willing to talk about their current struggles—being able to photograph her would be a plus. He leaves for a neighboring tent and comes back to direct us. "Mareyam will talk to you. She doesn't know English—I will translate for you." He leads us around the gravel walkways to another tent.
We exchange greetings in the shuffle to remove shoes and enter into the furnished tent while kids of various ages are gathered from various corners. Furnishings, in whatever availability, are given when a family comes into the camp, and these have their own particular flair.
She mentions nothing more of their journey to the camp—they've been here since March 2016. Her husband was helping US forces transport fuel out of Kabul in the fight against Taliban. One day he didn't come home and she's still unsure whether he's dead or alive. She had to make the decision which of her 7 children to take with her; she took the four youngest, leaving her three eldest daughters with her mother back in Afghanistan.
Immediately going into "fix it" mode, I'm curious of what can be done, if anything. While she's stuck in Greece, it's obvious until she's granted asylum that she can't work, but what about after? What about now?
"I don't know English, I can't read maps, I don't know who to go to. I'm trying to learn English but my mind is always thinking about my daughters, about everything..."
"Do you know what's going to happen to me?" No one knows how to respond.
"Mobile, Mobile, Mobile"
Here's where it gets a little embarrassing for me. Urgent throughout the conversation, she brings up her mobile—she's been out of contact with her daughters for 10 days ever since it broke and died. "I need to talk to my daughters, my mobile...." We juggle the ethics position we're in—we can't feasibly help everyone. Our meager financial contributions to individuals wouldn't be long-term sustainable, and it can create issues within the camp, with some refugees (like the ones who know English) being able to buddy up with volunteers and ask for help while others aren't able to. If we help, we help them all. But she brings it up again. And again. The conversation progresses and Tamim translates, "She's asking about her mobile again..."
We eventually take leave and head back to Tamim's tent; she comes with her mobile in hand and we reenact the awkward glances and uncomfortable tension.
It reminded me of my time in Ethiopia where young rape/prostitution victims would leave their children when they reached the age of 5—but she would hardwire them with 5 years of begging experience before she left. It explains why whenever our truck stopped, we'd be swarmed by kids tapping irritatingly on the glass with their hands out. My brother was in another part of Ethiopia and recalled how the one boy who had the wherewithal to refrain from asking was the one showered with gifts. It reminds me of conversations with homeless that become awkward because I have cash and say I don't.
When I mentioned my observation to Kristin that some seem to speak the middle-class language and appeal to volunteers, while others act more out of desperation, she points out, "But she's the one asking the hard questions."
"Do you know what's going to happen to me?"
Truth. I'm choked by my own bias—It would be the same if I were dropped in the midst of fundraising from millionaires sporting Birkin bags and Patek Philippe watches—how to act, what connections to namedrop, how to dress, how to talk; there's a dialect, a language that I am most definitely ill-equipped to wield. My bias is no different, where I feel more drawn to give to those who "ask right" when in reality, their ignorance is out of their control or their need and desperation outweighs the propriety deeming it uncouth to ask—again, out of their control.
In either asking situation, there's a human in front of me with a need, and my ignorance is within my control. I'm still learning—media ethics was a class for photo journalism and unfortunately my film degree didn't really touch on it. An upfront disclaimer of "I can't help financially but I can tell your story if you want it told" would've made things clear from the get-go. There is still much understanding to be gained, more experience, more thought to be put into solutions to an extremely complex situation.