Another day in camp

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The children’s area is like a damp dungeon — I worry that there is going to be a serious mold problem, as it’s impossible to keep dry due to the leaking roof and the hole in the wall to the outside elements.

Saufen’s twin boys arrived. We did puzzles on the damp, carpeted floor. The boys are amazing — they worked quietly together to solve the problems presented by the puzzles, in that almost nonverbal language that twins have. I was amazed how quickly they did two of the three puzzles. Afterward, we walked to Saufen’s tent and I showed her their work, telling her what amazing boys she had.

I closed the kids’ area up and headed to the front of the building, where the supplies are. On my way, Shaerwin, 14, met up with me. She is a lovely girl, with large, soulful eyes, porcelain skin and long, curling black hair. She could be a model for a Roman statue. She is also incredibly sweet. I put my arm around her shoulders and we talked for a bit. I asked if she wanted to help me put the start of necklaces together, for the beading activities we were going to have in the women’s space that day. She agreed, and suggested we go to her tent.

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We took the boxes of beads and went to her family’s tent — her two other teenage sisters were there, aged 16 and 17. Their English, as usual, was better than my nonexistent Arabic and Kurdish, and we set about tying beads to the ends of segments of dental floss (a stop-gap measure for string.)

We talked happily in the light provided by a sole LED lamp that threw stark shadows over us. Their littlest sister, who looked to be no older than 3, also came over and listened in. She had a headful of messy hair and beamed an elfin smile when I looked at her. So adorable.

I asked about brothers – did they have any? One of the sisters talked about a brother, whom I at first thought she called “Det.” Then I realized she was saying “dead.” I told her I was very sorry.In a graceful manner, we went on to talk of other things.

With my young friend’s help, I opened the women’s space tent, managing to trip and fall not once but twice, over the strings of the tent next door. Sigh. The tent was cold and dark. I borrowed a cigarette lighter from my friend’s dad, lit some candles and placed a large terra cotta flowerpot over the grouped candles. It gave out a nice glow and became a sort of heater for the tent. I put on a pot of water for tea — the staple of hospitality here.

My friend and her16-year-old sister hung out with me for a while, talking and laughing. I felt like I needed to offer them more, but there really wasn’t much to be had in this tent, besides the meager collection of makeup and nail polish that I had. There was a party that was going to happen later that day, and everyone else was getting ready for that. My ladies who usually showed up were elsewhere, knitting and sitting near the stage where there was to be a talent show.

Eventually, just the 16-year-old was still with me. We chatted about multiple things – where she was from — Iraq – the only Kurds from Iraq in the camp, she said. What she wants to be when she grows up — a dancer. What she likes — Japanese and Korean music and pop culture. She sings a song in either Japanese or Korean to me — she learned it from her phone, she said. She loves dressing in black — again, something borrowed from her love of Japanese culture. I tell her in my country it is called “Goth,” and she is curious about this. I tell her it’s from the term “Gothic,” something from the English.

She wants me to come over for a meal. She will ask her mother, she says. We have an extended conversation about the food she is describing, and she does a Google search on my phone — it turns out to be stuffed grape leaves. Her mother is an excellent cook, she says, and I do not doubt this! She would like me to sleep over one night.

However, I learn quickly that volunteers are not allowed overnight stays in camp. This is from Sam, the leader of the group I am with. This really does makes sense. Given the level of acceptance one can feel here, it is quite easy to forget our experiences are so vastly different. Many of these people have been to hell and back. They are vulnerable. Helpers in this camp can represent a lot of things they may not realize — including intense emotional attachments and access to material things that are scarce here. There needs to be a firewall of sorts between aid workers and camp residents. Friendships must be carefully managed here.

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