A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

Archive for September, 2016

Remembering Rosie…

rosie01

Tomorrow would have been Rosie’s 60th birthday.
It’s not an easy time.

I’m keenly aware that Rosie’s facebook friends will receive a Birthday Reminder notification for her tomorrow. For many this will arrive unexpectedly and cause the grief of losing her to return.

I haven’t yet deactivated Rosie’s account as this would mean we could no longer access it. Rosie’s facebook page is a place where we can still share memories of Rosie and the feelings of joy and grief that come with those memories. It also captures the later years of her life… the tough cancer journey, important events with family and friends, funny life experiences, all wrapped up in her unfailingly positive, joyful approach to life.

Rosie’s page is an invaluable record of how she lived her out life motto…
“Live Well, Die Well”.

In the coming month I will arrange to have Rosie’s account memorialised. This will still allow us to post on her page but we will no longer receive birthday reminders.

This morning I unexpectedly came across Rosie’s address book.
I opened the first page and saw her written instruction at the very top…
A big asterisk tagged with “People to ring… when I reach heaven”.
She had then asterisked and highlighted peoples’ names throughout the address book to ensure I didn’t miss any of them.

rosie02

It hit me pretty hard… this was one of the contact lists we had put together in the months before she died.

But it also reminded me yet again how much Rosie cared for so many people in so many ways… she wanted to make sure no-one was forgotten when the time came, including those with no access to email or facebook.

I was especially touched by the words “when I reach heaven”… Rosie’s unwavering faith in her God brought her deep joy and security in life. Death for her was not something to fear… it was not the end, but rather the beginning of a whole new life.

It reminded me of the quote she wrote out and stuck in the front of her Notebook…

rosie03

For Rosie these were not just inspiring words, they were her guide to living life to the full… She indeed made her torch burn as brightly as possible… right to the very end.

 

Ian James
29th Sept 2016

 

 

When compassion breaks through…

A friend in need… Manaf…

I have a friend. His name is Manaf. He has been living with his pregnant wife, Qamar, and three young children in a Syrian refugee camp outside the city of Thessaloniki in Greece in terrible conditions for months.

The refugee camp is in a disused warehouse… broken windows, a concrete floor, lines of tents along the walls.

The warehouse floods in heavy rain. One night much of Manaf’s family’s bedding and their few possessions were saturated.

The camp facilities are rudimentary. A row of washbasins line an outside wall for basic sanitation and washing clothes. Waste water flows away in an open drain. A row of portable toilets line another outside wall. Overflow from the toilets runs across the concrete pavement.

The mosquitoes were very bad. Qamar’s legs were so covered with infected mosquito bites they feared their unborn child could be affected. Qamar is due in September. Manaf wants to take her to a hospital. They are hoping the birth is not difficult. They have no access to an ambulance.

In summer the warehouse became so hot that Manaf’s children were unable to sleep… now the cold winter is approaching.

Manaf’s youngest child, Minas, was born in a tent in an earlier refugee camp. Manaf feels sad that his daughter has never lived in a real home. He does not want the new baby to be born in a tent.

Why they left Syria…

Manaf and Qamar lived in Idlib, near Aleppo, a focus of intense fighting throughout the war. Manaf worked as a mobile phone maintenance engineer and a truck driver. When the communications network failed and his truck was destroyed he resorted to collecting scrap metal from the streets to survive.

One of Manaf’s brothers and 13 of his relatives were killed by aircraft bombing. Daily heavy shelling made work impossible and life intolerable. They left Idlib after their home was destroyed.

Manaf took his family to Turkey. Europe offered the hope of a new life for his family. It took three attempts to reach Greece by boat.

They almost drowned on the third attempt. The people smuggler said he would take 34 people. He loaded 40 adults and 38 children people on a rubber boat designed for 24. Part way across heavy seas flooded the boat. The engine failed, women and children were screaming, everyone was terrified, Qamar fainted. Then a large wave overturned the boat and dumped them all in the sea in freezing conditions. They thought they were going to die. After two hours in the water a German rescue team arrived and took them to safety.

Europe…

Manaf’s hopes for a new life in Europe were shortlived. Soon after they arrived the European borders unexpectedly closed leaving them trapped in the refugee camp in Greece.

Manaf is not allowed to get work and has run out of money. He can no longer provide for his family. He feels he has failed his parents and disabled brother back in Syria… they depend on money from him to survive. He believed he could get work in Europe to support them along with his own family.

Our response to other’s suffering…

The media constantly bombards us with images of war, devastation and human suffering. The number of refugees worldwide is estimated to be 65 million and growing.

When we see people suffering…

We feel pain… compassion is hard wired into us.
We want to help but we feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the magnitude of the problems.
We can’t bear to feel the raw pain of other people’s suffering indefinitely so we shut it down to protect ourselves.
We become immune to the plight of others.

But from time to time an image breaks through…

Like Omran Daqneesh, “the boy in the ambulance”, a 5 year old Syrian boy dug out of the rubble after his house in Aleppo was destroyed in an airstrike, his bloody face and clothes covered with dust… his stunned, blank expression tearing at our hearts.

We feel grief. We feel outraged. This little boy’s suffering grabs the raw nerve of compassion within us. But what can we do?? We know real people just like us are suffering but they are half a world away.

But when we turn off our screens they fade from our thinking.

But what if one day you woke up and Omran Daqneesh was sitting in your lounge room instead of the back of an ambulance?

What if you opened the front door and a refugee family was standing there? Homeless, no money to buy food, their clothes their only possessions?

Compassion breaks through…

The ‘front door’ to my home was a Facebook friend request. Normally I delete unsolicited requests but this time I was curious.

I ‘opened the door’ and found a refugee family standing there. Manaf and I started exchanging messages. I asked a lot of questions. It became very clear that Manaf and his family were in desperate circumstances.

How could I ignore them? They were no longer unknown faces of suffering in a remote country… I was exchanging personal messages with another human being living in inhumane conditions.

Nonetheless, I was wary. How could I be sure that Manaf was genuine?

I told Manaf I wanted to help but needed to verify his identity first. Manaf sent me a photo of his passport, other identity documents, and photos of the refugee camp. He also entrusted me with a copy of his wife’s passport and photos of her as well, asking that I not show photos of Qamar on facebook as this could bring shame on her family.

The photos of Manaf’s children showed the camp in the background. An internet search verified they were indeed in the Sondos camp.

I checked for aid agencies working in the camp and couldn’t find any. This was consistent with Manaf saying there were none working in the camp and their reliance on assistance from the army.

Taking a risk…

No amount of photos and documentation could be a 100% proof.

In most life decisions, the facts only get us so far… often our intuition is the final decider.

The more I communicate with Manaf the more I am convinced he is genuine.

Manaf’s grasp of English is not great… but his rudimentary use of words conveys a powerful message.
Manaf loves his family… this clearly shines through his facebook page and messages.
He is very reluctant to ask for help despite being in great need… he expresses both shame and a great deal of gratitude. (I’ve asked what he needs and how much it will cost before sending money… a couple of days later I receive photos of a smiling family with what they have managed to buy.)
Manaf cares for others despite his own circumstances… he bought two fans and gave one to his neighbour.
Manaf has a sense of social justice and openly campaigns against ISIS on facebook.

I have so much, Manaf has so little. I live in comfort and security. Manaf lives in terrible conditions with no security. My excess gives me security… but still it is hard to give it away.

The amount I could lose was minimal compared to the benefit I could provide.

What I’ve given so far has cost me one cappuccino a day for a few months, but it has provided Manaf’s family with life-changing essentials… nourishing food, a pushbike to save him walking 17km to town to get the food, mosquito protection for Qamar, and a fan for his children.

Out of the frying pan … into the fire?

Recently Manaf messaged me with a very tough decision. Four pregnant women in the camp had been offered small apartments rent free for 6 months by a benefactor with a big heart . Manaf desperately wanted to get his family out of the hell-hole.

But there are consequences….

They will not be allowed to return to the camp under any circumstances. So what happens in 6 months if he cannot pay the rent??

The camp provides food (subsistence level), some medical help and basic provisions. Manaf is not allowed to work so how does he feed and provide for his family?

They need basic furniture and bedding for the apartment .

They need to provide for the new baby (due very soon).

I asked him to estimate the cost of providing for his family… 7 to 8 euros (about $12AUS) a day. I doubt any of us could provide the basic needs of 2 adults, 3 young children and a baby for $84 a week!

I told him I could provide a third of this for a year and encouraged him to get his family out of the camp. A significant risk for him, but an opportunity that may not come again.

He chose to move into the apartment. A big step forward (hopefully)… but what of the future?

The Challenge…

Don’t let overexposure to suffering steal your compassion and make you immune.
Those who suffer are all real people like you and me.

Material wealth does not make us rich… it is the people we allow into hearts and lives. People in need may give us far more than we ever give them.

Am I asking you to help Manaf? Yes, but I’m not sure how best to approach it.

Yes, I want to appeal to your heart. If anyone is moved with a genuine desire to help then it will be greatly appreciated. A little from us can make a huge difference… it can even change other people’s lives.

However I don’t want to manipulate or pressure anyone. So if this not for you feel free to let it pass.

If you have questions feel free to ask. If you want to help please message me privately.

Manaf’s photos…

All the photos have been sent to me by Manaf or posted on his facebook page (except the Google maps image). They tell the story from his perspective.

I have tried to capture the essence of Manaf’s descriptions in the captions.
I’ve written the captions as if Manaf is speaking…

(Initially Manaf asked that I not share photos of his wife… he has now given me permission.)

Manaf and his family…

My wife Qamar and daughter Minas...02-manaf-and-wife

 

Meet my wife Qamar and our
youngest daughter Minas…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qamar is pregnant… she is due in September.
I hope the birth is not difficult… we have no access to an ambulance…

 

 

 

I love my three children... Yasser, Rose and Minas...

 

My three precious children…
Yasser, Rose and Minas…

Minas was born in a tent.
She has never known a real home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why we left Syria…

The daily shelling in Idlib became relentless…
Our home and my livelihood were destroyed…

One of my brothers and 13 of my relatives were killed…32-syria3

Idlib at night… these memories are distressing…Idlib at night...

 

33-manafs-elder-brother-on-crutches-twins5

 

We left my parents and elder brother in Syria… there was no money to take them with us.

I am their only support but I am not allowed to work in Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My brother has twin boys. He is disabled and in despair.
“They have stones and scraps to eat”…
My brother has twin boys... "they have stones and scraps to eat"

The boat trips…

The three attempts were all made at night so Manaf has no photos of the trip. 
boat-crossing

This photo was taken one hour before we left the Turkish city of Izmir. We were attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece.

Part way the boat capsized in large waves. We were in the middle of the sea for 2 hours. We felt icy cold. We were terrified and felt on the verge of death.

We were saved by a German rescue boat and taken to Greece.

The Refugee Camp…

The refugee camp (bottom right) is in the industrial part of Sondos, outside Thessaloniki, Greece… The refugee camp in Sondos (outside Thessaloniki, Greece)...


Our front door... the shadows express how I feel...

 

The front door of our home…
The shadows express how I feel…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rows of tents in a disused warehouse…
Broken windows, concrete floor…
It floods in heavy rain…
The refugee camp - rows of tents in a disused warehouse...

Our home...

 

Our home…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where our children sleep…Our bedroom...

 

Our food…

Food from the camp... pasta one day...

 

Food provided by the camp…

Pasta one day…
alternates with rice the next…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rice the next day... rotten rice makes you cry...

 

 

One day the rice was rotten…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our health…

Manaf has an abscessed haemorrhoid from the camp diet.

22-wifes-mosquito-bites1

 

My wife’s feet became so badly infected with mosquito bites… we were afraid for the safety of the unborn baby…

 

 

 

 

 

 

My children get sick too. Minas has asthma... she was very hot...

 

 

My children get sick too…
Minas suffers from asthma.
She was very hot…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was very distressing seeing her like this…I feel distressed when I see Minas like this...

Facilities at the refugee camp…

Our bathroom and laundry...

 

Our washroom…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open drains...

 

                       Open drains…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our toilets...

 

Our toilets…

 

 

 

 

 

Chemically treated overflow...

 

Chemically treated overflow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qamar preparing to bathe Minas...

 

 

Our childrens’ bathroom…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I love Minas so much!"

 

 

                  “I love Minas so much!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where do the children play?

The inside playroom... a cold, rough concrete floor...

 

Our children’s indoor playroom…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our backyard…Our garden and clothesline...

The garden playground... lots of safe, modern play equipment...

 

The children’s playground…
lots of safe, modern play equipment…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Providing help…

Manaf is reluctant to ask for help… he feels a great deal of shame.
When I have offered he and Qamar are incredibly grateful and send photos of what they buy…

Now I can feed my family with healthy food…Now I can feed my family...

Fresh fruit and vegetables!Fresh fruit and veges for my family... thankyou!

29-fan

 

A fan to help my children endure the heat…

Sadly it was damaged when the warehouse flooded…

Manaf also has compassion for others. He bought a second fan to give to a neighbour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankyou for my new bike... now I don't have to walk 17km to get food...

 

 

Thank you for my bike!
Now I don’t have to walk 17km to get food for my family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manaf’s call for justice and compassion…

Photos from Manaf’s facebook page… 

We could not stay in Syria…
We believed Europe would help… but the refugee camp is a hell-hole and we are treated like cattle.
We have found no humanitarian care in Greece…35-sj3-isis1

36-sj1-omran-daqneesh2
Omran Dagneesh (left), “The boy in the ambulance” pulled from the rubble of his house in Aleppo.
Alan Kurdi (right), the 3 year old Syrian boy who drowned when his family tried to reach Europe by boat.

Meanwhile, world leaders keep talking…37-sj2-omran-daqneesh3

Images that break through…

The images behind the “Choices for Syrian children” sketch on Manaf’s facebook page.

Omran Daqneesh and Alan Kurdi in real life (and death)…omran-daqneesh-alan-kurdi