The average life expectancy on this planet is 71 years old. This means that if we’re lucky we’re on this planet for a grand total of 0.00000158% of its history. By the numbers, the insignificance of our lives is truly spectacular. Having said that the beauty of life as we all experience it is that it can provide us with experiences that transcend this time. These moments are indelible in our minds and in our hearts and with that can influence future generations for many years to come.
Two weeks. That’s the amount of time I spent in Samos, Greece working with the Boat Refugee Foundation (BRF) medical team as a translator integrating what I’ve learned throughout my life as an Iraqi Syrian and my training in medical school at the University College Dublin. I’m under no delusions of grandeur two weeks is a small amount of time. I knew coming in I couldn’t move the over 1700 people living in Samos to their desired destination. I couldn’t move the over 700 people living in tents in temperatures that would approach freezing at night into a warm home. I couldn’t fix the rain that I saw nearly everyday that would drench these people’s clothes, blankets, papers, and most importantly their dignity and self worth. I couldn’t fix the holes in those tents that put many of these refugees in danger of hypothermia to the point they would start fires inside those very tents even at the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. There are over 60,000 refugees in Greece some that have been here for over 7 months. There are children whose first memories in life will be growing up in a pseudo-prison playing soccer outside of our medical cabin. Simple math tells us that if just 5 countries accepted 12,000 refugees this problem in Greece would be solved. The Big House at my alma mater Michigan holds 110,000 every Saturday in the fall for a football game. I reject the notion that this is an unsolvable problem. Fear is the only hindrance to solving this humanitarian crisis.
In 2007 and 2008 I visited Aleppo, Syria. I walked the streets, visited it’s famous market, toured it’s beautiful castle, and made lifelong friends many of whom have fled through the vary path that I found myself volunteering in. In 2009, I visited Iraq for the first time. I saw the walls that segregated many of the neighborhoods in Baghdad making what used to be a 15 minute drive to school for my cousins into an hour and a half. In 2011 I returned in the summer and saw people living in over 60 plus degree Celsius with no electricity. I sat in a cab with a one-liter bottle of ice and watched it melt in less than 10 minutes. I visited Babylon and in pure blissful silence watched the sunset over the Euphrates and wondered how could a place this beautiful have so much pain. I had those same feelings as I watched the sunset over the mountains of Samos outside of the camp on the last day of my service.
Following in the footsteps of many others, my mission in Samos was to come and put a smile on people’s faces and give them some semblance of hope that things will get better. My experiences helped in doing that but what I didn’t account for was the wonderful people I met along the way that helped me succeed in my mission. With all the pain and suffering in Samos the one hope I was able to take away was that there were people here that wanted to make the same difference in these people’s lives that I wanted to make. With their help, I was able to forge a moment in my life that will transcend time and be indelible in my mind and heart.
Therefore “Charlie”, aka me, cannot in good conscience end this post without thanking my angels of BRF. To the medical team, specifically Lisanne De Graaff, Susanne Leenders, Willemijn Hollander, Arne Holman, and Christiane Deflandre, you’ve personally done more for me as a future physician than I could have ever imagined. Our experience together will transcend time. Thank you so much for your service to my people. To the milk, tea, and most importantly juice team, specifically Dieuwertje de Graaff, Zoe Roberts, and Rozemijn Aalpoel, who knew googly fruit juice packets could provide so many smiles at such an agonizing time. You’re passion and service to the refugees and specifically the children will be remembered. To the captains that kept our boat going, Frederieke van Dongen and Corien Tiemersma, your will to serve was my personal reminder that the spirit of Fern Holland and my Aunt Salwa lives on in both of you. To the countless of Samaritans, volunteers, and citizens of Samos the world may have forgotten you but I will never forgot you. You’ve done more for these people than their governments have for them. Finally to the refugees I met from all over the world. Cameroon, Algeria, Morocco, Iran, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria are all represented here. I am humbled that I was able to experience in a small way the journey you’ve all went through. Your stories will live on in you and all the other people you touch throughout your lives. There will be better times ahead.
Let’s never forget the most important numeral of all 1. We are one human race and no matter what our differences are we are all one family traveling through this journey we call life seeking those indelible moments that we will remember for the rest of our lives.
MB BCh BAO University College Dublin (Expected 2019)
MS BME University of Michigan
For more information on Fern Holland’s war read Elizabeth Rubin’s New York Times Account found in the link below:
Text: Salam Al-Omaishi
Photo: Bas Bakkenes