My Monday night was a special one. It was my first shift on my own at the clinic, meaning there wasn't anyone to ask questions to. I kind of knew what I was supposed to do but also had no idea what I was supposed to do--but it was going to happen. Fake it 'til you make it? And made it I did. From helping reunite two different families with missing family members to using my Hindi/Gujarati to act as an Urdu translator (very similar languages) to working with an incredible group of people, it was a good night. The highlight of the night was meeting David though. The night started off with a fairly steady stream of people coming in. We weren't swamped, but we were on our feet for the first few hours going from one person to another, taking information, checking vitals, writing down treatment plans and getting to know each other in the few minutes in between. Working that night we had Dawn, who was a pediatric nurse many years ago and the veteran volunteer of the group having been at the clinic for a few weeks already, Cris, our only doctor--a GP from Spain who lived in London, Jose, her husband who is an optometrist with a similar background, KP, an optometrist (Jose's mentee) who is from Canada and lives in London and also an Urdu interpreter, Nicole, a midwife from Michigan who has helped women safely bring babies into the world in all different environments, and myself. For the start of the shift, we had two different interpreters, one speaking Arabic and one speaking Farsi, were in and out between the clinic, the tea tent and the clothing distribution tent but around 7pm, we found ourselves without any translators and using a quick cheat sheet someone had made with basic translations as our interpreter--and Google Translate, when we could get a signal.
At some point, a couple walked in needing some help. As I started to struggle through my questions written phonetically in Farsi to ask them what their complaint was, I heard a voice next to me let out a string of Farsi and beating me to the punch. I looked up and there was a guy in glasses, about my height, wearing a white scarf and a mid-weight jacket, eating an apple between phrases. That's how I met David.
"She says she has a lot of pain in her throat and has been coughing all night. The pain is so bad she couldn't sleep." "You speak Farsi?" "Yes! I can help you and translate for you." he replied in impeccable English. "Oh thank goodness! Can you ask her how long she's had the cough for?", and that's how we became acquainted.
Once we finished up with the Farsi speaking patients in the waiting area, I pulled out my Arabic cheat sheet to start asking the Arabic speaking patients questions about their condition. Once again, he interjected and started speaking to them. "Wait, you speak Arabic too?", I asked him, a look of surprise on my face. "Not well, but a little bit. I'm so sorry, my Arabic is more formal and their accent is very different and so is their words so I'm not so good at it." "Umm..have you heard my Arabic? You're doing MUCH better than we would be doing without you." I replied.
Before I knew it, we had worked through all of the patients, including the Arabic speaking ones, even though he kept apologizing because he claimed his Arabic wasn't good. (Again, way better than any of ours!) When all of the patients had been seen and treated, we had a moment of quiet and I extended my hand to introduce myself. "Hi, I'm Sejal." He stepped back and bowed slightly as he replied, "I'm so sorry. I am Muslim and cannot shake your hand. I am so sorry. I mean no disrespect." While I had heard that this might happen, I had never experienced it before. "Oh no worries. What is your name?" "You can call me David."
And that's how we met David.
As the next few hours slowed down, we sat and chatted with David. Asking him about himself and his journey and his next steps. David was 28 years-old and was trying to make his way to Germany, where his sister and family live. Born and raised in Iran, David's family is from Afghanistan but his parents moved there before he was born in hopes of a better life for them. You see, they're Shia Muslims, which is a crime in Afghanistan. A Sunni muslim won't even take water from someone who is Shia, even if they're dying of thirst, that's how deep the animosity runs. Yet after he finished his schooling, he felt a duty to return to his motherland, so he did. (And I think he may have been forced out of Iran as well, even though he was born and raised there, he was still viewed as Afghani.) Back in Afghanistan he worked at a university as a professor and taught on subjects such as philosophy. His studies also included political science and war, so when he made two fifteen minute speeches at his university speaking out against the Taliban and ISIS, he became a target. He received threatening letters and was told to leave the city. So he did. But there he received more threats. Four times--that's how many times he had been captured by the Taliban. The first two times he had to pay them to get away, the third and fourth time they tortured and threatened him with a gun against his temple before they let him go. He refused to let it happen a fifth time, so he fled. He left Afghanistan fifteen days ago and somehow, through lots of trials and tribulations that he didn't want to get into, he made his way to Greece and into our clinic at Moria.
We spoke for a long time, asking him questions about his country and his upbringing, trying to understand as best we could what life was like for him. Throughout the conversation, his modesty and humble nature was evident as he apologized constantly for his English (which was AMAZING) or he would take pauses, overwhelmed by emotion when recollecting his stories. "I am sorry. I do not want to tell you and make your heart hurt." he would say. "David, your stories do make our heart hurt, but it's okay. We don't know your stories. We only know what the media tells us. When you tell us these stories, yes, it makes us sad, but then we tell our friends, and they tell their friends, and they tell their friends, and that's how awareness of what's really happening spreads." Understanding this, he started giving us some more details. As a group, I think we all collectively shed some tears. Especially when he told us about a 9-year-old female who was beheaded. Her crime? Being Shia. "These are monsters! These people are not human, they are monsters. Please, do not think of them as Muslims. They are not Muslims. Islam is not like that. Muslims are not like that. Only monsters can do something like that." The pain and fear and earnestness filled the room. I had heard stories like this before, but this was the first time I was hearing it with my own ears from a person who had lived through the terror. My heart breaks at the thought.
As we continued to talk, he asked if he could just write it down for us. David's a writer! As we scrambled around looking for a pen and some paper, he said he would do something even better than writing his story for us, he would email us. So we exchanged emails and once I hear from him, you will too. And I hope you'll share his story as well. He's planning on moving on with his journey soon but in the meantime, he has stopped by different tents to volunteer his services as an interpreter. And what an invaluable help he has been. When you ask him about his journey and future, you can sense the fear in his voice. Although he's already been through so much, he has this feeling that he might not make it to his destination or he will be denied somewhere along the way. We tried our best to reassure him and be hopeful, but he knows too much and has seen too much.
As the night went on, I knew I wanted to help David. But how? What could I do for him? When there was a pause in our conversation, I asked him exactly that.
"What can we do to help you, David?" He paused, thought for a second, then looked up and said, "Do you know what dua is?" "Yes, it's prayer." "Dua. That's what you can do to help. We just want safety. To feel safe. To be safe. If not my generation, than for my son's generation. Help us feel safe. Pray that one day we will be safe."
(David was being hypothetical, he doesn't have a son, which makes the sentiment even stronger I think.) So, my friends, with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart, I'm praying for David's safety. And for the safety of future generations. I hope you will do the same.