I really, really love my new city! I have been enjoying navigating the roads and discovering it’s treasures. I have been pretty active on the weekends, and I find myself having to force myself to rest at home. Most days I work from 8:30 to 7 with an hour lunch break. I enjoy my work and at the end of the day when the two guys in my office room have left, it gets quiet and easier to work, and if I don’t have evening plans, then I just continue to work towards completing the tasks I started throughout the day. I derive a great deal of satisfaction and accomplishment from my work. There are a lot of challenges, and a lot to re-shape, but the creative process of establishing effective solutions is fun and rewarding! The senior staff member in Syria that I manage usually calls me around 9am to start the day. He always makes me laugh and I enjoy working with him very much. The 6 other staff on my team (Arabic speakers) are passionate about their work and their chief complaint is that they want support to enable their work; they need supplies and tools. That’s what I’m here for! In fact, they wrote a drama for the hygiene club in a primary school in one of the camps and filmed the students’ performance! They recreated a debate on a news show, on the topic of taking responsibility for using the water and sanitation facilities that IRC provided in the camps. Isn’t it adorable how passionate the school-girls act? And they even feature me as the “Official Global Hygiene, Lee Van” as the expert call-in on skype! I just love how creative they got and can’t wait to see what else they do!
Some days are really hard because the people I work with and for, Syrians, have been through a lot of trauma, have experienced bombings by their own government on their homes and cities, seen brutal and violent deaths, family losses, loss of country, loss of identity, ashamed to be Syrian, ashamed of the war that is happening, experiencing discrimination in Turkey, etc. Most of them are positive and really great people, but sometimes their brokenness shows and it breaks my heart.
For example, The Humanitarian Cup. This is the soccer competition between teams representing the humanitarian aid organizations with offices in Antakya. Everyone’s been pumped up about it. It brings people together. It lifts spirits. It helps get our minds off of work. It releases tensions. Until it didn’t.
All day, the buzz around the office was about the evening’s match when our team would play against another organization’s team. Our team is comprised mostly of Syrians and a Bosnian/Serbian ex-pat who holds a high management position. The opponent’s team was mostly ex-pats from what I could tell. Two of our team members are on the environmental health team with me and they’ve been rallying for my support for a few weeks. In the team spirit, I made a fan poster with the our logo. Many people that don’t normally come together actually came to the game!
During the game, the ex-pat on our team was hit in the face pretty hard, apparently intentionally by a member of the other team. His nose started bleeding as his anger burst forth. He lunged forward and the fight erupted. At first, the rest of the players held their respective teammates back, but somehow within a few seconds everyone was fighting and spectators were rushing onto the field to stop the fight. This included a man on crutches who passionately hobbled towards the fighting and shouting and eventually dropped the crutches to go faster. While I did burst a laugh at seeing this man attempt to fight, I quickly felt my heart drop at the sight of such violence and anger among my own colleagues, my friends.
Worse, they are humanitarian aid workers, and if we can’t keep peace among ourselves and treat one another with respect and forgiveness, then is there hope for the people stuck in the middle of the conflict in Syria? In South Sudan? Those are the people we are meant to help. We get frustrated almost every day when our staff report that their work is being restricted by the people we are trying to serve and those who give themselves authority over them. One day, the news was that one “camp manager” was killed by his own cousin. This week, warning shots were fired as some of our team members left a camp after distributing kits containing hygiene items for families. It wasn’t seen as a fair distribution process so the team was first blocked from leaving, and then forced to leave. There’s a lot of tension between the Turks and the Syrians, between Syrian government supporters and faction supporters. Somehow these things erupted in the soccer game that was intended to unite us. It’s shameful and heart-breaking.
The game ended at that. The lady spectators left the stands to the street, and as we exited, police on motorcycles rolled up, then an ambulance. It had not been a quiet scene.
The next day, my colleagues were raving mad at their opponents and defending themselves for fighting. While I lost respect for the team member who got the bloody nose and didn’t just walk peacefully away, they gained respect for him for sticking up for himself. They joined the fight to defend him, thus showed him honor and respect and maintained a team spirit. In fact, one colleague said he wants to go beat the other team up again! He said, in this world, if you don’t stick up for yourself and toughen up, then you get trampled. Everything he said was the opposite of what Jesus teaches in the sermon on the mount. I was telling him that the good way is peace, forgiveness, and love. He said, once the world changes to be that way, then he will change. I said, if you know it’s not the right way, but you do it anyway, and everyone else does too, how will the world ever change?? He reduced his life to a struggle of survival. He is stuck in the war mentality. It is the same that I encountered in South Sudan. It is such bondage. “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” May the Lord’s spirit be released to reign in Syria! Amen.