FOTO: Bruno Alencastro
A repórter Letícia Duarte em meio à jornada com a família de refugiados sírios
When I left Brazil for Greece to write this story on September 17, I tried to prepare myself to listen to the pain of those who have escaped war. I followed the news about the Syrian civil war and the unrest on European borders, where tear gas was dispersing refugees. What I had never expected to find was such generosity in the midst of this.
This generosity showed itself in the very first days, when I arrived on Kos, the Greek island where migrants in overcrowded boats land after a harrowing, often life-threatening crossing from Turkey. Even though everything was very scarce, the families whom I sat and talked with would offer water, biscuits, apples and even rice meals to me. They insisted on sharing a portion of the donations they got with this unknown person holding a notepad, who couldn't even speak their language.
On the boat 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, one of the young men from the group came after me. The young Musa was about to sleep on the floor but had saved two seats next to each other so I could stretch out. I was already embarrassed by all the kindness, but he took off his jacket and laid it on my legs to serve as a blanket. Since he didn't understand English, I said with gestures that I could not accept that. Since I didn't understand Arabic, Musa pounded his palm on his chest to convince me that this was not at issue. Through gestures that needed no translation, he expressed that he was doing it from his heart and I could not refuse it. A grand gesture which had me in tears.
More than once during the trip, worried that my presence would become another burden in their journey, my dilemma was how to deal with such a situation. With refugees living in 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, Issa, a Syrian that I had met in Kos, 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 to Arab melodies someone had thought to bring along. While for most of the trip, the children’s crying increased the agony of waiting, the little ones were also capable of picking up a stone from the ground and turning it into a plaything. I was never able to understand their joy, which resisted the cold, the rain and the fatigue, until I realized that they were traveling in high spirits because the war had been left behind. There would be no more bombings or severed heads on this 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. These good-hearted people who still care about The Other, even when everything they have fits in a simple plastic bag.