Don’t let it bring you down
That’s the 1971 Neil Young’s classic that resonates in my headphones that morning on my way to school. It’s only castles burning. Taking a step back…Lately I’ve been taking a break from the news so as not to be brought down by the sheer horror of war and/or impending war, depending on which part of the globe you look at. “What does the future look like for humanity?” I got asked some time ago. As a journalist, I’m tempted to answer that the immediate future looks pretty grim. As a historian, I know this is only the end of a circle, and a vicious one at that, in which we are currently stuck but which should give way to something necessarily better, some kind of redemption, but only in a future probably not foreseeable by our generation. And provided the anthropocene won’t wipe out all form of life in this planet. As a teacher, I would like to be optimistic for the sake of the young souls I interact with.This is made easy enough when the kids, who are the true survivors, shine like they did today.
We’ve established a little “us” time everyday, where we don’t talk about grammar but just exchange on our respective cultures. We have our very own scrapbook where each week, we write a couple of words in every language we know on a page. And I know that they will remember that word for a long time if not forever. First thing they asked after “Mother” and “Hello” was “I love you” in French. Love, this universal feeling that prevails upon any other. This week, as I came back from holidays in a far far away country, we use our cozy time to talk about the countries we want to see. I got them bracelets and as I adjust each one around the little wrists (ok, not so little as they are all teens, but younger than mine and all of different colours), I think to myself that each wrist accounts for one hand that wasn’t left for Europe to ignore and for the Mediterranean to swallow. I think of all the hands I shook in Greece and at the soldiers’ faces in Schönefeld when we greeted strangers who looked worse from their walk through Europe than they did when they managed the passage from Turkey to Greece. So many shattered bodies just looking for a safe haven.
Those hands. Their hands. Together and a testimony to life. History will judge, and hopefully too the hand of justice will fall upon those who denied the right to so many to a decent, war-free life.
I show them a foreign currency and they ask questions about my trip. Have I paid much for the flight tickets? Have I taken a boat? I think that’s how the boat comes in the picture once again. Fouad, the youngest of the class, told me many a time his love for swimming. I never thought of it but he’s the only one of those kids who willingly goes back into the water. And today Fouad, who asks whether I took the boat during my holidays, told me he was sitting on the edge of a rubber boat with sixty other people on the way from Turkey to Greece. As always, I try to hide my worry and sadness upon hearing such stories and pretend it’s the most natural thing to do to reach a new land when one escapes war. “Oh yeah, did you?” I ask. He only needed that nod to keep on: “Yes yes Miss! and I also showed a small kid how to swim because the boat was too full so we fell into the water!”, he laughs. “Oh really…”, I say. It’s hard to pretend it’s normal, it really is. But Fouad wants to impress me so I have to keep pretend all of it is normal. The others, a bit older, smile as he explains how he reached Europe.
“And Miss, Miss, do you know how much we paid to get on the boat?” he says, enthusiastically. No, do tell me what is the cost of a life…”We paid one thousand euros for each person and we were five!”, he continues, “and in Turkey it’s like that, if you want to do anything then you pay thousands and thousands and you give away millions!”.
Below, a screenshot of what it costs to reach Greece from Turkey when you have the right passport in hand (retrieved on Rome2Rio):
And now, this video on how it is like to try and reach Europe when you’re what is known as a “refugee”. To helpers, it looks like a frail light dangling at sea in the middle of the night. Knowing that when the light comes off it means the person holding it most likely sank into the water.
I answer to Fouad; “it is actually much cheaper when you are legally entitled to cross to Greece”. He looks surprised. “But why Miss?”. “Ah, that will be because life is unfair Fouad”, I say. “Oh…”, he answers. By now I think it isn’t a concept entirely new to him, but he still seems surprised. Still, he goes on: “Haya too came by…by…”, he forgot the word for those bloody dinghies in German, and he says “wait wait, I’m going to show you on the board”. And here he comes forward, enthuastically attempting to draw a rubber boat. He makes me think of the little prince and his boa/elephant. “See Miss, Haya came in that!”, he says proudly, pointing at the flat-ish circle he drew. The whole class is giggling. “Do you mean Haya came on a flying pancake?”, I ask. As we studied a text about witches coming on flying broomsticks I ask whether it was perhaps on one of those. Haya laughs so much she can’t speak anymore. Fouad genuinely thinks I didn’t get his drawing: “noooooo look Miss, it’s not a pancake!!!”. He draws a second line around the first, in an attempt to show me the sides of the rubber boat. Haya exclaims: “I didn’t come in a plate!”. It’s true that it looks like a plate. Fouad still tries to bestow his drawing skills upon us and by now the pancake slash plate slash rubber boat is surrounded by beautiful rays. “She came on the sun?”, I ask, smiling at that poetic image. “Yes, she came when it was warm at sea”, Fouad beams. Or how to slam a poetic image with a brutal reality check. She didn’t drown, because it was warm and they could swim ashore.
“I was there too”, I say. “What?!” Fouad says. Some of the others know but they still want to hear how and why. I tell them a little, but my experience is nothing compared to theirs. I’m glad they know I really know, though. “Show me pictures!” Fouad asks. He thinks I took a boat too. I show him pictures. I think I gained the popularity contest today with those. I’m one of them, kind of. And very proud of it at that.
Should we stop laughing about it as we do now? Probably, for thousands still don’t have the chance that dozen of kids had. Probably, because we live in a world where kids are gassed. But for now, it’s how the ones who made it here, survive it, by making it a small setback, an adventure they went through and left behind. Something they can look back at, acknowledging the horror but also being able to face it without trembling anymore. And for those who are here, and alive, hearing them laughing about it is the best answer given to the inhumanity Europe is inflicting upon them.
Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning
Just find someone who’s turning
And you will come around.