Making friends at the refugee camp.
"How long have you been traveling?"
Maryam's husband had just welcomed me in to their unit at the prison-turned-refugee-camp - with classic Muslim hospitality, he offered me some of the food portions I'd just brought them.
"One month and ten days." Forty days and forty nights.
"We had a 50/50 chance," they told me, laughing like it was a joke lost in translation. "Either we would live or we would die. The boat had a capacity of 16 people, and there were 65 of us."
They described the way the waves had rocked the boat. "I cried and cried," said Maryam. "I thought we were dead for sure."
Their four children had gathered around the food; the oldest, no older than seven, spoon-fed the ypungest before eating a bite. "You are very brave," I told her.
We brought them tea, sat and talked, prayed for their journey. Before falling asleep in Maryam's arms, the four-year-old rode a borrowed tricycle around in circles, all dimpled grins and curly pigtails.
"Your daughter is happy," I commented.
"She is happy to be free."
A sunny day on the border.
"Where do we go now?"
I turned around and found an entire extended Afghan family waiting expectantly. The grizzly-faced patriarch repeated his question. "We have registered, and they gave us a number. Where do we go now?"
It dawned on me that the neon volunteer vest I'd been handed fifteen minutes before marked me as someone who could help. Never mind that I'd just arrived myself.
I got tied up helping the women find the clothing tent, throwing paper airplanes with kids, looking for my students, finding them with the friends they'd made. I looked for Afghan Grandpa later and couldn't find him. So I didn't get to ask him his story, and I know his question was immediate - "where do we go in this jumble of tents?" - but I pray that he finds home.
Before leaving for yesterday's shift at the refugee camp, I threw my coffee supplies and Turkish slippers into my backpack just in case. The shift started out calm; we made friends with residents and organized donations.
Then the snow hit, and the chaos. A ferry strike means no transportation off the island. But the boats keep coming - seven yesterday, flooding the camp with cold families soaked to the skin. "We're packing them in," someone official told us, "filling it up like a kettle, top to bottom." He meant bottom to top, but he was in a hurry.
The snow also meant that when our shift was done we couldn't risk the drive through the mountains to our home base. So we holed up in two hotel rooms, raiding the mounds of donated clothing at the camp for ill-fitting dry clothes. Not unlike the refugees, I thought as I struggled to fall asleep in a room of wall-to-wall girls. Except we're escaping icy roads, not war, and we're relatively healthy, with homes to return to.
And this morning I woke up, crawled out of the room crammed with four beds and 11 sleepers, and drank my morning coffee, and read Isaiah 58. “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
(Also thankful for a wonderfully flexible fierce-hearted team.)