Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015 - No comments

That Same Sea

Chicken Caesar wraps and watermelon.  Families on picnic blankets and vendors plying the beach with thermoses full of tea and Nescafe.  Kids in water wings and a parasailer floating overhead.  The sun setting over the mountains.  A cool dip in the Mediterranean to wash away the 38 degree day.   

My friends had convinced me that, on my first day back in Turkey, the best cure for jetlag would be an evening trip to the beach.  They were right - the swim woke me up and the catch-up conversation kept me awake until my 9:00 goal.  But as I bobbed in the waves and let them tumble me against the pebbles, I couldn’t stop thinking about another beach - a beach 450 km away where just over a week ago a limp little body in a red t-shirt was tossed to shore by that same sea.

I knew that, in just a few hours, as soon as darkness fell, that same sea would be lapping against the sides of flimsy dinghies crammed with dozens of people willing to place their lives and those of their children in the hands of uncaring smugglers who would shove them from the shore into the merciless waves.  Their hopes for new lives free from war and terror would carry them to Greece, then up on to the Balkans where they would begin the long trek to Austria or Germany on foot...if their inflatable rafts made it across at all.

Three days before my return, my mom and I went to the memorial for Aylan, Galib and Rehanna Kurdi.  We wept with the boys’ aunt, their community, and a hundred or so strangers who, like us, couldn’t let these deaths go unmarked.  That same day, we cheered as the news showed Austrians handing refugees bags of water and food along the road and Germans welcoming migrants at the Munich train station with open arms.  And we rejoiced as, seemingly all at once, the world “woke up” to the refugee crisis and asked a collective, “What are we going to do about this?”

But an “awakened world” has not changed the number of boats departing the Turkish coast every hour.  Two days ago, the coast guard rescued 153 migrants from the sea, and yesterday another thirty-four drowned a few miles from our shore.  Among them, four babies, six boys, five girls.  Eleven little Aylans and Galibs.  A heartbreaking headline that has become all too commonplace.  

Tonight I was reading a piece by CNN’s Arwa Damon about how she connected with several refugees as she documented their journey through Hungary on their way to Germany.  And I couldn’t stop crying.  Migrants fleeing through cornfields as police chase them like criminals.  A grown man sleeping on a train’s luggage rack.  A mother saying she wished her family had been killed by ISIS instead of living out this slow, shameful death.  

This week I travelled halfway around the world in a mere 22 hours. I sat in a passably comfy seat that (except on my middle flight) tilted back when I wanted to sleep.  There was a TV loaded with dozens of movies and TV shows and a map that showed precisely how far until our destination.  Someone brought me a blanket when I was cold, food before I even had the chance to get hungry, and seconds of coffee if I wanted it.  The fact that my original itinerary was cancelled due to a pilots strike was no big deal - there was a free hotel room and meal vouchers to make sure I lived through the inconvenience in comfort.

Sure, I had to deal with jetlag.  The neighbours’ rooster did nothing to aid me in my plight.  On my first trip to the market, one side mirror fell off my bike because it had melted in the summer sun.  The grapevine has taken over my balcony and it may require the jaws of life to reclaim the chair it ate, meaning I can’t sit in my favourite spot just yet.  And some freak error with the phone company has rendered my cell temporarily useless.

But I had a home to come home to.  And a bed and a bike and a balcony and a phone.  I have a blender, an air conditioner, photo albums, a pillow, a box full of every letter and Christmas card I’ve received in the past nine years.  I was greeted with a welcome note from my roommate and food in the fridge from some thoughtful friends.  

My journey here didn’t involve a desperate flight from a terror-stricken country.  There was no panicked sea-crossing with an inner-tube for a life-preserver in case the boat sunk.  I didn’t have to walk for a good part of a 2000 km trek (Athens to Munich) that Google Maps says should take two hours and twenty minutes by plane, or nineteen hours and forty-four minutes by car.  There were no police dogs, no barbed wire fences, no hard train station floors.  No wondering whether my apartment building was still standing or if the rest of my family would make it out alive.

Instead, I got to end the trip sitting with my toes in the Mediterranean, thinking about how I have everything.  Everything except the one thing I’d give anything to have right now:  a way to stop people from having to cross that same sea.