Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Serving in Brussels.

As we drove to Dunkirk to help put a fence around a new school inside the Grande Synthe refugee camp, we passed the Brussels Airport.  That was a solemn moment.

In the aftermath of those terrible events, this is how a church congregation in the Brussels Stake responded.   They made and donated hygiene kits.

Watch the sweet video of many families with small children assembling the kits.

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org.uk/article/brussels-mormons-work-together-with-salvation-army-to-help-refugee

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Welcome Bags for Refugee Children

This is a massive project here in our stake.  Two young moms, Melina Grahovac and Lisa Koy, got the idea of donating their children's outgrown clothes to refugee children.  After I met them and we started talking about HOW, they organized this amazing project.

To watch the video, go to http://www.mormonnewsroom.org.uk/article/over-1000-welcome-bags-for-refugee-children  .  That is Michael Cziesla, our Stake President speaking.

http://www.presse-mormonen.de/artikel/welcome-bags-frankfurt

English translation follows the German original.

Aktion "Welcome Bags for Refugee Children"

 in Frankfurt am Main: 1.061  Taschen gespendet



Am Donnerstag, den 21. und Freitag, den 22. April 2016, fand in der Gemeinde Frankfurt der Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der Letzten Tage ein Hilfsprojekt der besonderen Art statt. Für sechs Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen für Flüchtlinge in Hessen und Rheinland-Pfalz packten unzählige Helfer 1.061 "Welcome Bags". Diese Willkommenstaschen für Kinder bis zwölf Jahren wurden in den darauffolgenden Tagen in den Einrichtungen in Bitburg, Büdingen, Gießen, Kusel, Neustadt und Rotenburg verteilt.




Initiatorin Melina Grahovac, Beauftragte für die jungen Mütter in ihrer Gemeinde, und Lisa Koy, ihre Assistentin, veranstalteten unter anderem im letzten Sommer Tauschbasare für Kinderkleidung. Der Großteil der übriggebliebenen Kleidung wurden danach an Bedürftige oder Flüchtlinge abgegeben. Dort formte sich zuerst der Gedanke, auch etwas für die Kinder der Flüchtlinge in der Region zu tun.
Bei dem zuletzt stattfindenden Basar in der Mehrzweckhalle im Gemeindehaus der Gemeinde Frankfurt bot Schwester Rebecca Holt Stay, Koordinatorin für Flüchtlingshilfe in Europa, ihre Hilfe an. Daraufhin beschloss Grahovac, dass jetzt der richtige Zeitpunkt sei, zu helfen und gemeinsam mit Koy und Nerea Plana-Garcia, der zweiten Ratgeberin in der Leitung der örtlichen Frauenhilfsvereinigung, die Kampagne "Welcome Bags for Refugee Children" zu starten. Grahovac stellte fast alle Kontakte zu den Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen selbst her und fragte gemeinsam mit ihren Helferinnen bei vielen Organisationen und Firmen an, ob diese bereit wären, zu spenden oder zu helfen.
Sister Caracena : she sorted donations as they came in for weeks
Freunde, Kollegen, Eltern einer Kindertageseinrichtung und eine Grundschule hätten sich begeistert bereiterklärt zu spenden, vorausgesetzt, jemand würde die Planung in die Hand nehmen, so Grahovac.
Christopher Guthier, einer der Helfer, erklärte, er selbst und viele andere hätten einfach nach einem Türöffner gesucht, der es möglich machte, zu helfen. Grahovac war zwei Tage mit ihren beiden Kindern vor Ort und trug ihre jüngste Tochter beim Organisieren und Verpacken größtenteils auf dem Rücken trug.
Nerea and Sister Hacking, who has been coordinating our arts and crafts in Limburg camp.














Plana-Garcia sagte: "Wir sind dankbar für alle Spenden, die wir erhalten haben. Freunde, Kollegen, Bekannte, Nachbarn, Kita-Eltern, Kirchenmitglieder - ohne ihre Unterstützung sowohl mit Spenden als ihre tatkräftige Mitarbeit, Zeit und Enthusiasmus hätten wir es nicht geschafft. Oft, wenn wir ihnen für ihre Mithilfe dankten, antworteten sie, dass sie uns danken sollten, weil wir es möglich machten. Die Menschen sind begierig zu helfen, wenn jemand es organisieren kann."
Ursprünglich geplant waren 500 Welcome Bags für Kinder, doch die Anzahl der Welcome Bags wurde aufgrund des großen Bedarfs der Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen erhöht.
"Wir haben uns bemüht, dieses Ziel erreichen zu können“, meinte Koy. "Dass die Leute so großzügig spenden würden, konnten wir zu dem Zeitpunkt allerdings noch nicht wissen. Wir hatten nur das Gefühl, dass über 1.000 Taschen möglich gemacht werden könnten."
Elias, from Iran, joined the church in January and just baptized his friend Mohammed last week














Wie sehr sich dieses Gefühl bewahrheiten würde, konnte man an den überwältigenden Spenden der einzelnen Menschen und vor allem auch dem Großteil der spendenden andersgläubigen Freunde erkennen, die mit ihren kleinen und teilweise auch sehr großen Spenden das Projekt in dieser Ausprägung erst möglich gemacht haben. Koy bezeichnete die Aktion und die Großzügigkeit der Menschen wiederholt als "wundervoll": "Weil Menschen auf ihr Gefühl und Eingebungen gehört haben, konnte durch viele kleine Dinge etwas Großartiges entstehen! Es war unglaublich zu sehen, wie der Himmlische Vater arbeitet - ich persönlich habe noch nie so viele Wunder in so kurzer Zeit erlebt!"
Neben den Spendern registrierten sich mehr als 200 helfende Mitglieder und vor allem andersgläubige Freunde an den beiden Tagen, um Kleidung zu sortieren und zu packen. Neben den Pfählen Frankfurt, Friedrichsdorf und Kaiserslautern halfen auch die Mitglieder der Gemeinden Krefeld und Koblenz an der Hilfsaktion engagiert mit.
Die Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der Letzten Tage stellte 300 Fleecedecken, 1.061 Handtücher, 1.700 kleine Packungen Feuchttücher, 670 Packungen Windeln und 422 Unterwäsche-Sets zur Verfügung. Weitere etwa 200 Packungen Windeln wurden zudem von privaten Spendern übernommen gestiftet.
Elder Young, who is a really helpful tech elder who assists us with computer work in our offices on Wednesdays: he worked for two full days sorting.
Zur Freude aller Beteiligten erklärten sich auch einige Firmen bereit, zu helfen. Ikea spendete etwa 750 der Taschen, in welche die Spenden verpackt wurden und zusätzlich noch Buntstifte, Filzstifte und Blöcke. 284 Taschen wurden von anderen Personen zusätzlich gekauft. Die Firma Faber-Castell beteiligte sich mit Stiften, Anspitzern und Radiergummis, Playmobil verschenkte Spielzeugfiguren. Von Ria Limam, die sich privat bei Flüchtlingsprojekten engagiert, wurden 760 Decken, die ursprünglich von der Deutschen Lufthansa gespendeten worden waren, zur Verfügung gestellt.
Insgesamt wurden drei Europcar-Transporter zur Verfügung gestellt. Zwei davon wurden von Dimension Data finanziert, der dritte Transporter wurde von Europcar kostenlos als Spende gestellt.  Die Brüder Christopher und Florian Guthier, beide Angestellte von Dimension Data und Ruben Marzolla halfen beim Transport der Spenden. Die Benzinkosten wurden von der Kirche übernommen.
Sister Robertson and her son, age 8.














Schlüsselfiguren bei der Organisation dieses Projekts waren neben Melina Grahovac, Lisa Koy und Nerea Plana-Garcia folgende Personen: Rebecca Holt Stay, Ria Limam, Yvonne Bausmann, Marianne Heißer, Corinna Trindeitmar, Dana Pease, Boris Borm (Fotograf), Richard Clabaugh und Marilyn Caracena.
me
















Organisationen wie LDS Charities, die Food Nanny, dem Träger für Kinderbetreuung BVZ und deren Einrichtungen, der Osterkindergarten Frankfurt, der Evangelischen Familien, der Kleiderkammer Neu-Isenburg, das Regierungspräsidium Gießen, der AfaA in Bitburg, der Mother’s Corner und Expats Baby Frankfurt gilt ebenfalls großer Dank für Spenden und Unterstützung.

Plana-Garcia ermutigt die Menschen in der Kirche und allen, die helfen möchten, mit folgenden Worten: "Wir müssen denen, die in Not sind, helfen. Während wir nicht die Welt ändern können (zum Beispiel die tragischen Umstände, die Menschen zur Flucht aus ihren Heimen zwingt) können wir einen Unterschied in unserem Umfeld machen. Wenn wir das tun, können wir andere inspirieren, die - zur gleichen Zeit - wieder andere inspirieren und so weiter. Sei ein aktiver Spieler im Leben."


English translation: notes in [brackets] are mine. RHS

1,061 bags donated at "Welcome Bags for Refugee Children“ campaign
 Originally 500 welcome bags for refugee children were planned, but the number kept increasing with the generous donations. 

„My brothers and sisters, our opportunities to shine surround us each day, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. As we follow the example of the Savior, ours will be the opportunity to be a light in the lives of others, whether they be our own family members and friends, our co-workers, mere acquaintances, or total strangers.“ – President Thomas S. Monson, General Conference, October 2015
Elder Stay putting new books into the bags
Friday, 23 April 2016 – On the 21st and 22nd of April a very special aid project took place at the Frankfurt 1st and 2nd Wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. For six ireception camps for refugees [where the refugees stay until their paperwork is processed and they are given an apartment]  in Hessen and Rheinland-Pfalz including Bitburg, Büdingen, Gießen, Kusel, Neustad and Rotenburg 1,061 Welcome Bags for all Primary children (0 – 12 years) have been packed by countless helpers and were distributed to the camps at the 23rd of April.
Initiator Sister Melina Grahovac, Relief Society coordinator for Young Mothers of the Church and Sister Lisa Koy, her friend, organised a clothing exchange for childrens clothing last summer. 'Most of the unwanted clothing was donated to the needy and refugees. At that time, the   thought came to do also something for the refugee children in the local area, but that idea was not pursued.
Our poster
At the March clothing exchange in the Frankfurt wards, Sister Rebecca Holt Stay, coordinator for all LDS Church Refugee Aid in the Europe Area, had the feeling that she needed to go to the bazaar and walked over there from her office., where she met Sister Grahovac and Sister Koy in the foyer. As she heard their thoughts about helping refugee children, she offered her help. That same night Sister Grahovac felt powerfully that this was the right time to help, that she needed to act. Together with Sister Koy and Nerea Plana-Garcia, second counselor of the Women's Relief Society in the Frankfurt 1st Ward, she decided to start the "Welcome Bags for Refugee Children“ campaign.A Facebook page was started with links to spreadsheets of what donations were needed.   Sister Grahovac spent a lot of time connecting with the responsible people at the refugee camps and, supported by her helpers, also got in touch with countless organisations and companies to ask for help and donations.'
Lots of great online resources were used.

Later Sister Grahovac said that friends, colleagues, kindergarten parents and a primary school were enthusiastic about helping – on the condition that someone else would organize the whole campaign.
Donations from people all over the world arrived at our offices.
Brother Christopher Guthier, one of the many helpers who drove one of the trucks to two camps, repeatedly said, that people, including himself, were searching for a door opener like this campaign, which would make it possible to help. It should be mentioned that Sister Grahovac had her two children with her during the entire final two days of sorting, organizing and packing the donations, carrying her youngest daughter on her back almost the whole time. The joining of her faith and her love for the refugees affected and united the people around her noticably.  Everyone smiled the whole two days.
Also Nerea Plana-Garcia, Second Counselor of the Relief Society, who was helping during the project, said: 
"We are grateful for all the donations that we received. Friends, colleagues, aquaintances, neighbours, kindergarden parents, church members ... Without their support both in donations of goods and as well as their hands, time and enthusiasm, we could not have accomplished it.  Often, when thanking them for their collaboration, they replied that they should thank ME for making it possible for them to help. People are EAGER to help if someone else organises it.“
Typical of the donations: people gave really nice stuff

„We have endeavored to reach this goal“, wrote Sister Koy, who was supporting Sister Grahovac energetically. „We couldn’t know at that time that people would donate so generously. We just had the feeling, that more than 1,000 bags would be possible.“

How much this feeling was proven right, was shown by the overwhelming amount of donations of individual members and also the large number of donating non-members, who made the project in this form possible in the first place by small.  There were also some very large donations. Sister Koy designated the campaign and the generosity of the people repeatedly as WONDERFUL!:
"Because people listened to their feelings and inspirations, something great could be achieved by many small things! It was unbelievable to see how Heavenly Father works – I personally have never experienced so many miracles in such a short time!“

Besides the donors, more than 200  members and many  non-members registered to sort out the donations and to pack the welcome bags. In addition to Frankfurt, Friedrichsdorf and Kaiserslautern stakes, members of the Krefeld and Koblenz wards helped considerably on this project.
 „The wonder of the campaign was the overwhelming help of members and non-members. Every individual has made this project possible with their donation.“

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints provided 300 fleece blankets, 1,061 towels, 1,700 small packages of wipes, 670 packages of diapers (further generous donations of an additional  200 packages of diapers were made by private donors) and 422 underwear sets.
The IKEA bags
To the delight of the participants some firms agreed to help. IKEA donated approximately 750 of the bags, in which all donations were packed. They also provided coloured crayons, felt pens and sketch pads. 284 IKEA bags were bought by individuals. FABER-CASTELL donated pencils, sharpeners and erasers, PLAYMOBIL donated toy figures. Ria Limam, who is privately involved in refugee work, provided boxes full of children's clothing and 1000 blankets which were originally donated by Lufthansa (the nice ones from 1st class!)
Three Europcar trucks being loaded
Altogether three Europcar delivery trucks were made available to deliver all the bags. Two of them were funded by Dimension Data, the use of the third one was a gift from Europcar. The brothers Christopher and Florian Guthier, both employees of Dimension Data and brother Ruben Marzolla helped with the transport and the distribution of the welcome bags. Fuel costs were covered by the Church.
LDS warehouse workers making the delivery of pallets of diapers

Key players in the organisation of the project were – next to Melina Grahovac, Lisa Koy and Nerea Plana-Garcia – following persons: Rebecca Holt Stay, Ria Limam, Yvonne Bausmann, Marianne Heißer, Corinna Trindeitmar, Dana Pease, Boris Borm, Richard Clabaugh and Marilyn Caracena.
Thanks for donations and support are also extended to organizations like LDS Charities, the Food Nanny, the Träger für Kinderbetreuung BVZ and their establishments, the Osterkindergarten Frankfurt, the Evangelische Familienhilfe, the Kleiderkammer Neu-Isenburg, the Regierungspräsidium Gießen, the AfaA in Bitburg, the Mother’s Corner and Expats Baby Frankfurt.


Sister Nerea Plana-Garcia encourages members of the Church and all people who are eager to help with following words:
„We must help those in need. While I cannot change the world (i.e the tragic circumstances which made them flee from their homes) I can make a difference in my environment. By doing that, I can inspire others, who – at the same time – can inspire others and so on. Be an active player in life.“


More impressions and informations of the Welcome Bags for Refugee Children campaign you find on the official facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/Welcome-Bags-for-Refugee-Children-1582869458699160/?fref=ts


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Another report on the Grande Synthe camp project

Congregation members on hand to help Calais refugees

in Community News
residents from south west Surrey helped to deliver thousands of food parcels and complete the new refugee camp in Dunkirk as part of a major humanitarian effort by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Hammer church member Sarah Bull received 14 food parcels locally out of 450 boxes donated in the Haslemere area.
She was part of an 80-strong group of volunteers, who travelled to Calais with 2,900 donated boxes in a convoy of 20 vans.
In Calais, the group worked with 60 members of the church from the Calais and Lille areas, to pack 600 additional food parcels and 2,000 hygiene kits provided by the church’s humanitarian aid department in Frankfurt.
Fellow church member Kelli Gilstrap (pictured in red hat) joined Sarah and other volunteers who delivered 2,400 to refugees in Dunkirk and helped complete 125 wooden shelters at the new Grande-Synthe camp, for those displaced when ‘The Jungle’ was dismantled by the French authorities.
The new camp opened on March 7 as part of a joint project between Doctors Without Borders and the local Green-run authority.
The site, which has room for 2,500 refugees, is a few kilometres away from The Jungle, infamous for its squalid living conditions.
Sarah said: “I woke up the next morning feeling extremely grateful for the simple things I take for granted. It was an amazing experience to be part of a team where no matter what the task was, there were so many willing hands to get things done.”
Russell Ball, regional president of the local congregations, who lives in Haslemere added: “This has been a remarkable effort.
“The support from the members of the congregations and local communities in our region has been fantastic. We were blessed to establish relationships with the good members of the Lille Stake Diocese. Uniting with them in the language of service has been very uplifting to us.
“The timing of this event could not have been more crucial.
“We returned during a week of great distress and fear. We were grateful to make a significant food donation and to work on providing more comfortable shelter.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Life in Limbo: a guest post from my eloquent friend, Melissa

LIFE IN LIMBO: THE AHMED AND SHAFEKA KHAN STORY

Eyes speak. That morning at the Limburg refugee camp, I heard volumes.
“Guten Tag,” I said, tipping my head toward the man sitting alone. One of the dozens I’d met while volunteering as a German teacher in refugee camps near Frankfurt, he had drawn my attention more than once.
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Some of my students/friends at a previous refugee camp.

Hard to miss: Shoulders nearly as broad as the end of the table at which we sat; Ring with blue stone on his left hand; Vividly colored mandalas he’d painted on art day; Fantastical flying stegosaurus he’d fashioned with felt tip markers. The steady, weighted gaze from under the brim of his baseball cap gave him the air of a once-imposing but now-cowering animal, bruised from serial blows.
His eyes had been watching, speaking while I worked. Two minutes earlier, a dozen or so children and I had been rowdily chant-singing “Kopf, Schulter, Knie, und Fuß”, our laughter spraying like lemon yellow microbursts into the slate gray camp atmosphere. But the kids had lost interest after an hour and had run off the instant there was a lull in the rhythm.
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Only one child, Sultan, had stayed. Now he moved down the table, dragging a leftover piece of my big roll of work paper in front of him, and took his seat next to the man in the cap. The man placed his hand on the boy’s back, patting twice. It was then I saw these two had the same eyes; moss green, mournful.
“Guten Tag,” the man said to me, his smile lifting the corners of his mouth, but not the edges of his eyes, which were fixed and, though shining, heavy.
Deutsch? Englisch?” I asked.
He raised his meaty fingers, making a pinch, “English. Little.” The man pointed to Sultan, “My son. He speaks little English. Also little German.”
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A woman joined us, slipped in, silently, sat with hands folded. Veiled in soft gold and brown patterned cotton, maybe forty, she moved gracefully, cautiously into the chair between Sultan and his father. Affection and sorrow spread across three faces in front of me, with hers a rounded portrait of weathered beauty centered in clear, wise eyes.
Sultan, whose slick black hair had been trimmed recently, piped up, tipping his head to one side: “Mother, die Mutter,” then the other side, “Father, der Vater.” Then be busied himself, writing.
Und woher kommen Sie?” I spoke directly to the father, asking where they were from, and launching an interview disguised as a German conversation lesson.
The mother understood nothing. Sultan whispered, translating. The father nodded, pointed to himself, his wife, his son. “We: Afghanistan.”
Und was schreibst duSultan? What are you writing?” I asked.
“Family. Die Familie KhanMeine Familie. ”
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Always seeking common ground, I said, “I have a husband. We have four children.” And I scribbled our family and ages, pretending this once that my eldest child was still alive, so 27 years old.
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“For fünf-und-zwanzig Jahren we’ve moved a lot, too.” I wrote that above our heads, then continued, listing the countries, nine in total.
It was the “too” that felt wrong, a barb in my throat. I suppose that in another setting full of folks for whom international travel and residency is a given, “moved a lot” might have drawn a line of connection. Someone might have said, “Oh, we loved Hong Kong, too,” or “Really? We were in Vienna for three years,” or, “Which arrondissement of Paris?”
But did our moves as corporate expatriates and the Khans’ flight as terror-driven refugees have anything in common? Anything except perhaps geographic displacement? Mine was a superficial, even ridiculous, comparison. So my voice cracked with unease, trailed off in apology.
Trying to recover, I looked into Shafeka’s eyes. “It has not always been … easy.” Sultan translated the words, and I hoped this woman would read the real story behind my eyes, the one I couldn’t quite splice into the narrative, the one explaining how we had buried our firstborn, our eldest son, during that ragged borderland of moving between countries. Instead of that, I said it was hard because, “Every time, you know, another new language.”
Language acquisition was an obvious point of contact. I listed my few tidy European tongues and what’s left of my dormant Mandarin. Ahmed’s brow stayed flat. He then asked me to spread out both my hands, palms up, as one-by-one he bent my fingers closed, ticking off his ten languages: Farsi, Turkman, Uzbek, Tajiki, Balochi, Ormuri, Pashto, Pashayi, Dari, Krygyz. I even didn’t recognize half of them. “And little English,” he shrugged.
Then four young women approached. I recognized two; Summiyya and Safia from previous interaction, and knew they spoke exceptional English and had refined, discreet manners. “My daughters,” Ahmed said. And I was not surprised.
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From bottom left: Some of the Khan family: Ahmed, Shafeka (veiled), Summiyya (veiled) , a friend, Safia (veiled), another friend, myself, friend Samir in the blue hoodie, and Sultan in red stripes.
“Now you learn German together as a family,” I said, trying to cheer them on. “You must work hard. Moving and learning languages is hard.”
Those last words petered out into yet another pool of shame. Those words could not stand before this man’s face, his woman’s face, this son and these daughters’ faces with eyes that have seen “hard” and horrors my eyes have only read of.
Nothing about our experiences with “hard” was similar. I’d moved from comfort to comfort, willingly, eagerly, with every possible advantage, every conceivable yellow brick already patted into place along the road forward. Suitcases in the multiples. Air shipments. Sea shipments. Jet planes. Eye masks and earplugs while grumbling about economy legroom. Hotels. Taxis. Relocation services. Rental homes, per diem, restaurants, facile passport stamps, schools awaiting along with piano, drum, clarinet, flute, horseback riding lessons. Freedom behind me. Abundance around me. Safety ahead of me. All as far as my eyes could see.
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Art work with one of the many children in Limburg.
In contrast, here are the scraps of the Khan family saga:
The Khans’ world has always been at war. For generations, in fact, Afghanistan has been the stage of end-to-end conflicts, coups, rebellions, reforms, radicalization, insurgencies, the widespread violence of mass bombings, and the personalized atrocity of public executions. Once part of the intellectual elite, Shafeka’s father, a brilliant aeronautics engineer, had been executed by the Taliban. She looked away as she spoke and Ahmed translated, both wincing while tears sprang then streamed freely.
With their family surrounded by mounting violence and constant fear, Ahmed and Shafeka knew fleeing was the only option to preserve their family. They fled leaving everything; relatives, friends, home, neighborhood, mother tongue, all that had been their history, everything they had planned for their future, including the antique business Ahmed had built up over two decades.
With their seven children, Ahmed and Shafeka traveled from central Afghanistan to central Germany (a distance of over 5000 kilometers or over 3000 miles.) That is roughly the distance from Oslo, Norway to the Italian island of Sicily. Or from London across the Atlantic to Boston. Or from New York City to Denver, Colorado, and back to New York City again. This odyssey, which they undertook during winter, took four months.
They began by looping southward to Pakistan but were detained there by police who forced them to return home. They fled again, this time through Iran, where they were detained again and sent home. Again they fled, though I don’t know exactly how or by what route in order to avoid police. This time instead of being sent home, guards shot Ahmed in the feet.
(I’ve heard of this tactic used by police/guards/ border control officers from more sources than Ahmed. Shooting anywhere in the legs doesn’t kill, so a guard cannot be seen as inhumane, and a war council couldn’t prosecute. From the hips down can be counted as a misfire. Still it stops literally in their tracks those who are fleeing, and it intimidates others.)
Injured feet could not keep the Khans in Afghanistan. Carrying only what they could sling on their backs and hold in their arms, they left home again. Hiking in mountains, hiding day and night, going days without food, they survived that life-threatening trudge to that infamous Turkish coast and beyond. The daily, sometimes hourly, threat of violence. A father’s fear for his youngest. A mother’s anxiety for her precious daughters. Vigilantes now line the well-trodden route between the Middle East and Central Europe. Hundreds and even thousands of refugees, especially children, have simply “gone missing.”
Under moonlight, smugglers took too much of the Khans’ money to load them (and a pile of other desperates, including unaccompanied children) onto an inflatable raft. They lurched in the pitch black across even darker waters, arriving predawn on the shores of Greece.
Safia and Summiyya added their memories: “There was no bath, no water.” “Tired, so tired and sometimes sick.” “Afraid, always afraid.” “Where to find food? Where to sleep?” “Which person to trust? How to stay warm?”
As Ahmed and his daughters recounted this, Sultan stopped writing and raised those sea green, radiant eyes, and Shafeka shut hers, shook her head now hanging low, pressing her crossed arms to her rib cage. Then everyone’s eyes met mine, as if saying, “This is our truth. We deny none of it. We are here only because we have survived.”
Since the day they stepped off a train, (what Ahmed calls “so big luck” from the Austrian border to Frankfurt), they have all been here in Limburg –– or in Limbo, as I call it –– a refugee camp under a train overpass that shakes and shrieks like the bombs that fell back home. People, mostly strangers to one another, are waylaid in overcrowded, utilitarian spaces for months on end, not knowing when they will be moved to another camp, where that camp might be, or if they might be denied asylum altogether and be deported. That threat hangs perpetually in the air.
So in limbo they stay. No school, work, routine, private space, even shower stalls. Children grow bored, mischievous, withdrawn, or aggressive. Or remain miraculously sweet. Adults grow limp from aimlessness, rabid with restlessness. Or remain miraculously civil.
Everyone agrees it is stressful. Hearts skitter, tempers sometimes flare, despair spreads its paralyzing poison. Ahmed’s high blood pressure worries Shafeka. Shafeka’s low blood pressure worries Ahmed.
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But back to Afghanistan? To Iran? Iraq? Syria? To hell? As bleak as life might sometimes feel in limbo, life in hell is worse. Ahmed schooled me, his eyes narrowing and darkening. “War was terrible, terrible. No words. Terrible.” And his eyes scanned the hall full of refugees around us, all people I’ve grown to know, many whom I consider my friends. “All. All have dead because war. These people,” he was pointing,  “dead father, dead mother, dead brother, dead children.”
I know all of my losses combined cannot touch the edge of what Ahmed and Shafeka have known, but I offer my one truth. I share with them––though it is hard to speak the words and I speak only with great restraint––a short version of how we lost our son, the one who is not more than a stick figure on paper, the one I said was 27 but is forever 18. “I know the feeling of losing someone you love with your whole heart. I know thatfeeling.”
Then I quickly add, “But I do not know this,” and I write the words with a vengeance. “I know nothing about this.”
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Our conversation ended there. The multipurpose hall had to be set up as a cafeteria. All of us ­–– Sultan, Safia, Summiyya, Shafeka, Ahmed the Afghani antique dealer, and their American German teacher –– had shared scraps of our stories. Those stories, I reflected as I packed up my belongings, are as far from each other as are our countries. A seemingly inestimable expanse between us.
Or is it so? Now we were here, we had connected. In Limburg. In limbo. Maybe somehow all stories connect if you follow them deeply and far enough. And it could be that it is our stories of loss that connect us all.  Don’t we fuse where we have been shot through, whether in foot or in spirit? Don’t we bond on our broken edges?
And where do we sense these bonding stories more poignantly than face-to-face, eye-to-eye, spirit to spirit? How do we better understand? When do we truly see each other?
What I saw as I  walked under the train overpass to my parked car was a bunch of refugees, maybe forty, milling about on the gravel, waiting for “Mittagessen,” lunchtime. Among them, I spotted an Afghani antique dealer, father of seven, husband to Shafeka, a survivor named Ahmed Khan. He stood there behind the chain link fence, and not far behind him stood a son named Sultan. Both had their hands in their pockets, Ahmed with his black cap , Sultan with black bangs, both with magnificent eyes.
Those eyes. Those storied eyes. I stopped, turned, looked longer, closer. The general became specific, the “bunch of refugees, maybe forty” became particularized, human. So many eyes. So many stories. Eyes glinting in early afternoon sunlight. Eyes blinking back a world of lived darkness.  Eyes behind which the sacred and unspeakable are known and preserved. Eyes in front of which limbo either looms or opens up as a bright and promising horizon.