Travel Thought Thursday :- Reality as a Refugee

Throughout my life, I’ve seen countless people living on the streets of various cities – asking for assistance, asking for money, asking for food, asking for clothes. Some ask for a ride home. Some ask for money to buy drugs or alcohol.

They all have stories to tell.

How often have I stopped to listen, to care? Sadly, horribly – not many times.

On my recent travel through the Southeastern region of Turkey, I came across many refugees from nearby Syria. While riding long distance buses between Turkish cities of Antakya (Hatay), Sanliurfa (Urfa), Gaziantep (Antep) and Harran – I’ve seen refugee camps from afar and up close.

One of the main difference I noticed in Istanbul this year compared to my visit 4 years ago, was the large influx of homeless refugees. Groups of young boys, standing and waiting at traffic lights, hoping to make a Turkish Lira by cleaning windshields of cars. In Canada, we would call them “Squeegee kids.” Women cradling their sleeping child in their arms ask for money or try to sell small packages of tissue paper.

They are just trying to survive.

Travel thought Syrian refugees in Istanbul Turkey

I took this photo while walking along a major street in the Fatih neighborhood in Istanbul. A homeless mother with her 3 young children. The young boy was ecstatic when my friend gave him an umbrella. His mother had to explain to him what it is and how to use it.

The extreme of emotions: Joy vs Sadness.

The photo is out of focus because how often do we really find out the truth, the reality?

How clear is the picture we see with our eyes?

***

2 months before I took this photo, I went inside the post office in the city of Sanliurfa (Urfa) in Southeastern Turkey. I noticed many Muslims waiting within the post office. I wondered why. I struck up a conversation with the man who sold me the postage stamps. He explained they are mostly refugees from Syria, waiting for money transfers from their relatives from abroad. Some had to travel from their refugee camps to Urfa to receive the money through Western Union. Those who have no relatives overseas have to rely on NGOs and other assistance or resort to begging on the streets.

***

The day I made a day trip to the old city of Harran in Turkey with a travel friend, we took the local transport called a dolmuş which is like a shared taxi or a minibus. During our return trip, I sat beside a Muslim woman as my friend sat in the back with the other men. Within the short ride, she spoke to me in simple English as she was curious of my origins. She told me how her home is nothing but rubble in Syria. That she has no relatives abroad who could send her money. That all that was familiar to her is gone – destroyed.

I looked down and notice she’s holding onto a plastic bag with 2 loaves of bread and 2 tomatoes. She left her refugee camp to buy food in Harran, a small city 20 km North of the Turkey-Syria border. Soon she showed me photos of her husband who had lost a leg during the war. Her 2 sons who are still fighting in Syria. Photos of her 2 dead grandchildren burned into my mind.

Even though I did not know how she came to the Harran-Kökenli refugee camp, it must have been a scary experience.

How we sometimes say “I can only imagine” – came to my mind but really I cannot. No matter my past experience in this lifetime, nothing can compare to what she had experience. I have never seen war or live through war. Even though I have heard stories of my family’s struggle through war and famine, I cannot relate.

When I was in Hebron, Palestine and Jerusalem, Palestine – I’d jump out of my skin when I hear any sound that resembles an explosion. I cannot relate to any one who has actually lived through a war.

Luckily while I was traveling within countries labeled as dangerous and should be avoided by several travel advisories, I was safe. The explosions I heard in Jerusalem were fireworks to celebrate a wedding. However, the explosions I heard in Hebron were the Israeli government’s response to some protests across the valley.

I did feel safe while traveling solo.
I was safe.

I would like to imagine a world without religion, without war.

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