FOTO: Bruno Alencastro
A repórter Letícia Duarte em meio à jornada com a família de refugiados sírios
While I was traveling to Greece to write this story on September 17th, I tried to prepare myself to listen all sorts of painful narratives from those who escaped war. I followed the news about the Syrian civil war and the unrest on European borders, where tear gas was being fired to disperse refugees. But I had not expected to find so much generosity in the midst of this escape journey.
This generosity revealed itself to me in the very first days, when I arrived in Kos, the Greek island where migrants land after a life-threatening crossing in overcrowded boats. Even though conditions were very scarce, the families whom I talked to would offer water, biscuits, apples and even rice meals to me. They insisted on sharing a portion of the donations they got with that unknown person holding a notepad, who couldn't even speak their language.
On the way to Athens, I had another surprise during my first night with Ghazi’s family. At bedtime, when I was looking for a place to lay my head down, one of the men from the group came after me. The young Musa was going to sleep on the floor but had saved two seats next to each other so I could stretch myself out. When I was already embarrassed by all the kindness, he took off his jacket and laid it on my legs to serve as a blanket. Since he didn't understand English, I gestured that I could not accept that. And since I didn't understand Arabic, he pounded his palm on his chest to convince me that it was not at issue. Through gestures that need no translation, he expressed that he was doing it from his heart and I could not refuse it. A noble gesture which made me cry.
Several times during the trip, I had dilemmas about how to deal with that situation, worried that my presence would become another burden in their journey. With refugees living on desperate conditions, sleeping along the way and eating whatever they could get from volunteers, I did wonder if I wasn't taking the space of another refugee by accepting that corner under the blanket that they had saved for me. Then one night, while we waited on the border between Greece and Macedonia, a Syrian that I met in Kos, called Issa, explained to me how they saw my presence among them.
“Most journalists ask a lot of questions and then leave. You stayed with us. You didn't have to, but you're going through this with us. We're glad about that.” he said.
As I walked with them for several hours carrying a backpack, I was surprised to see them smiling along the way. On the bus, they danced listening to Arab melodies. While the crying children increased the agony of waiting for most of the trip, the little ones were also capable of picking up stones from the ground and turning them into toys. I could not understand their joy, which resisted cold, rain and fatigue. Until I realized that they were traveling in high spirits because they had left the war behind. There would be no more bombings or severed heads on that road.
For all these reasons, what I am going to remember from this trip is not sacrifice, but generosity. And a deep feeling of gratitude to the Syrian people, who renewed my faith in humanity. This good-hearted people who still care about each other, even when everything they have fits in a plastic bag.