CC Issue 48 / Reflections / Social Work / Theology / Faith

On Keeping Your Eyes Open, The Power of Friendship, and Life Inside an Iraqi Refugee Camp (Part One)

I have a friend who lives in Irbil, Iraq. Of course she is my hero.

We met each other young. 18 and ready to take on the world. Bible school prayer partners for better or worse. (That was 15 years ago.)

Our roads have not been straight. We have both been all over this great big world and it is amazing. My life is marked by tradition: marriage and kids. Hers is not. I watch from a distance as she forges ahead. Itʼs never ever ever been easy. For either of us. We have witnessed great losses together, powerful successes, and the constant struggle to carry on.

I always see the gold in her life and she in mine. I listen to the struggles but I believe in the beautiful tapestry her years here are weaving and I speak it out because she canʼt see it. She does the same for me and I resist – I counter her as well. We are a funny pair.

It often sounds like we are arguing and we are. Trying to convince the other of our worth yet again. It is safe to be real together and that is something special.

I am so thankful for her. All her failings and successes. They show me the winding way.

And because of her: I canʼt close my eyes.
She positions herself towards all the hard things.

She manages refugee camps and still manages to have compassion for me: a tired stay at home mom in the thick of marriage and parenting. I wonder how on earth?

Yesterday we skyped. She was having a hard day. Families were turned away, the new camp wasnʼt ready and it wasnʼt her fault, but it is her job. Thatʼs not easy and she has to be brave and strong and the entire time we were talking I watched my sweet sister take deep breaths. Every minute sheʼd inhale and exhale, quick and deep. And those breaths, they say more than my words could ever say.

I could hear the wind blow behind her as she opened her window, talking about the storm. I watched, from the middle of Canada, the lightning in Iraq as she spoke out concern for those living in tents right outside. What about them? She asks me.

What about them?

I say goodbye, Iʼll pray, Iʼm sorry. I go to the school to pick up my kids and I try to be gracious because I know, I know, I know that our problems here matter. Of course they do. But listen, I had a moment. Dare I say an “aha”? (forgive me, but Oprah is one of my mothers, *saved for another essay…) I am at the school with that question lingering in the air around me: what about them… Iʼm talking to a friend about my friend having to turn away refugees in Iraq, and the pressure she faces each day to present a strong front because weakness is not welcome in her line of work, and I hear a mom insist that her daughter get-up-off-the-grass because those-stains-will-not-come-out!

And everything stops. Because… I hear myself. God help us.

Today, as I write, her Facebook status reads: “Adrenaline is pumping – it’s 5pm and we are expecting two convoys of refugees from Kobane to arrive in the camp late this evening. Getting ready to receive them.”

And honestly, sometimes I have decided to keep my eyes shut. Even though this: my dear friend is working through the night to receive refugees, day in and day out. I ignore another article sheʼs posted, because, you know, “itʼs just too much.” But friends, it is not. It is not too much for us and looking, it makes us better. I promise.

Even if it only allows us to understand that grass stains are not a problem.

And now Iʼm off to Chicago to spend three days with Jennifer, hallelujah. I will do my best to absorb all I can in those days together. Then. I will write part two: Life Inside an Iraqi Refugee Camp.

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