Do you remember the family I wrote about from Syria, the second one, who lost a sister and her 8 children during a bombing last week?
Today, I returned to see them. This time I brought a friend, and with us, two baskets full of gifts that my Home Group--i.e., my Sanctuary friends, i.e., my sanctuary of friends--put together in five days.
Here is what love looks like in "things" form.
Coloring books, pipe cleaners, markers, journals, dates, flour, olives, and tea. Just to name a few.
But it was more than that, because it wasn't really about that.
We gathered round, the mother, her six children, and the eldest girls' school teacher who had dropped by for a visit, and instead of tearing at the baskets like it was Go-Time, the children politely put them aside, brought out dates for us, and we sat in a circle in the living room talking in English and Arabic about school. About where we're from. About persimmons and oranges and mangos. We watched the one year old be delighted by a smart phone and giggled at her reaction when it rang. The girls showed us their English homework and photos from their school in Syria. They pointed out their best friends. They told us they have no way to talk to them, to know where they are. If they are.
I learned that twelve year old girls are stronger than I am.
I attended a talk today called "Austerity Measures."
Yes, it was about Greece.
No, it wasn't about the economic crisis.
Well, okay, it was, but really it was about poetry.
Austerity Measures is the title of a new anthology of poems written in Greece over the last decade. Described like this: "When there is less to go around, people fight, grab, get tough. Lately, Greece and the Balkans have been living with more than their share of less . . . Poetry, though, is one thing there is more of. Much more."
The focus was both on the content, and who's writing, but also the translations. The book is presented both in Greek and in English, and each poem was thoughtfully paired with a translator. There was a great story by one of the women, a journalist-writer-teacher by trade, who also works with translation.
In London there was a treatment center for people who had, at some point in their lives, suffered as victims of torture. Her role there was to use writing as a tool, a therapy.
One of the women there--I don't remember where she was from--had suffered torture as a young teenager, maybe 16 years old. She was quiet, soft-spoken, reserved. Her English was fragmented, but she was learning. Her project, the one she wanted to spend time working on, was writing about the house she grew up in.
So, together, the two of them went room by room and constructed the house together. Where words were ambiguous, they looked them up. "What plant was in the windowsill?" "What did the curtains look like?"
And when she had finished, when she had re-written her house in beautiful English prose, she was free. She left the center.
The talk was, in part, about transformation.
Here's one of the poems from the anthology, translated by the woman who shared the story above.
Dreams come from far away places
The stone, the birds and I take on new forms of life
Dreams have their own road
And we live far away these days, like dreams.
Ένας άνθρωπος από στάχτη
Τα όνειρα έρχονται από μακρινό μέρη
Η πέτρα, τα πουλιά, και εγώ παίρνουμε νέα μορφή ζωής
Τα όνειρα έχουν τον δικό τους δρόμο
Και εμείς σαν όνειρα μακρινά ζούμε πια