An Eid Holiday Without Joy and Celebration for Refugee Children
(Translated Opinion Piece by Yonous Muhammadi, see original here)
It has been years that I have been volunteering in hospitals in Athens, specifically at two large children’s hospitals. In the past two years I have had less time to be present in the hospitals to help treat my fellow countrymen, but by phone I am at the service of the hospital management and my fellow countrymen 24 hours a day in order to help them resolve some of their challenges in communicating with each other. This year, with the unparalleled arrival of refugees in Greece, communication has been a significant challenge.
On the second day of Eid, the seventh day of July, I planned to go to the children’s hospital to visit the children for Eid. I also planned to deliver money that had been collected by my good friend Dr. Zeki Khalil, a citizen of Sweden who has raised funds for refugees, to Arman, my 8-year-old fellow countryman who is hospitalized in one of the children’s hospitals. Since I know the doctors of these hospitals, they all complained to me about the challenges of communicating with the refugees in the hospitals. I was faced with several problems at once. In one section alone, four children were hospitalized. There were no interpreters, and the hospital personnel were attempting to communicate using signs and gestures.
During all this, I came across a patient whose sight made me weak. I am generally a strong person, and as a result of spending years observing war in my country, observing bloodshed day and night, I rarely cry. My work in Greece has always been with patients in critical condition, and with serious medical situations. Most of the time, instead of crying, I search for practical solutions. Because of this, my friends know me as a tough, brave, and fearless. My main point is to help explain the severity of the conditions that I observed in the hospital. The doctors took me to one of the rooms where there was a hospitalized orphan from Afghanistan. He was 13 years old. His name is Zabi. He was so skinny and fragile that I was scared to look at him. I was worried that if I touched him his bones would break. Without saying anything, I held his bony hand and I sat next to his bed. I couldn’t help but get choked up, and I cried. The doctors and other patients surrounded me. They all thought I was a relative of this patient. I heard one of the doctors ask, “did you find his father?” This question furthered my pain. I am a father… my son is 15 years old, and he has all the comforts of life. He doesn’t know anything about the pain and suffering of refugees. At this moment, he is busy having fun with one of his friends in the beaches of Athens.
The sick child, who looked at me with puzzled eyes, asked a question with a trembling voice. “Uncle, who are you? Why are you crying? Am I dying?” I couldn’t tolerate these words. I quickly wiped my tears, and answered him with a smile. “My dear, God forbid, I’m crying because I haven’t been able to visit you earlier. This is my duty.” He sighed in relief and said, “It’s ok uncle. Now that you are here, thank you. Did you bring any bananas?” I said “Zabi, now that I’ve found you, I’ll bring it for you next time.” When I translated this dialogue to the doctors and nurses, they confirmed that Zabi always asks for bananas from the doctors and other patients. I saw that he drew a picture of a banana, and each day he would show the picture to the hospital workers in the hopes that he will get a banana to eat.
Zabi is 13 years old from Baghlan. His family has been living in Iran for some time. His parents put him in the care of his aunt to take him to Europe with her. His aunt also has three small children, whom she can’t leave alone in order to visit Zabi. From my conversation with the doctors, I found out that he has an incurable respiratory disease. Sooner or later, his life will end.
In another corner of this room, a child under the age of three was sitting in a crib, behind bars so high that it looked like a cage. She was crying and screaming “daddy, daddy.” A female nurse was trying to comfort her with a doll. The doctor looked at me and said, “This little girl is also from Afghanistan. She’s not sick, but is living here under a court order. Her father committed a crime and is in jail, and her mother is nowhere to be found.” I understood the situation right away.
Her name is Yalda. Her mother is either in Afghanistan or Iran, or might have left for Europe with her father. After the closing of the borders, her father tried to get illegal documentation to go to another country in Europe, but was caught by the police and transferred to a detention center. Because there is no room in orphanages, Yalda has been in the hospital for over a month living with patients and nurses. Yalda has been away from her mother’s embrace for months, and can’t see her father. But the important question is this: Why it takes so long to come peace in my homeland and why people, so VULNERABLE, have to leave their homes and taking so dangerous and tragic journey? Should people go through all of this suffering just to get to Europe? Is it worth sacrificing the well-being of their children? Should our innocent children pay for these unrealistic dreams? And for how long? Is life that unbearable in our country? Did Zabi’s family know about his health problem? His poor appearance is such that even a blind eye could judge his condition. Did his parents think that perhaps he could find a cure in Europe? Would little Zabi be a burden to his parents in the difficult conditions of Iran, and did they leave him to alleviate their burden? Is that possible???
I am worried that the dream of reaching Europe has even put into question the pure instincts of a mother. What mother or father would agree to leave their sick child in this condition, in this difficult situation? I am worried that our people have found too much comfort in the idea that human rights exist in Europe. I am worried about the children and youth of my country, whose physical and emotional wounds will never be cured. I am worried about my country, and the hundreds of thousands of youth that are needed now more than ever. They leave their country behind so easily. I hope that one day I can leave these worries behind.
Eventually, after one tiring and sad day, around ten pm, I went back to visit Zabi, Yalda and Arman. Arman was sleeping in his father’s arms in the hospital bed. Yalda was sleeping in her crib, holding her doll. I rubbed her face and I thought about my own three-year-old daughter, Lena. Zabi was staring at the door, waiting for me. He was excited at the sight of the bananas, peaches and chocolates that he had asked for. He quickly put some chocolates and bananas next to him so save for Yalda. He is truly watching out for Yalda. If only we all looked out for each other in that way. There was no sign of the Eid holiday in this hospital. I didn’t mention Eid to the children because I didn’t want to remind them of their past. Especially little Yalda, who deserves an Eid gift and her mother’s warm embrace, not a crib in the corner of the hospital.