October, 2014, a group of us visited a community in Lebanon where some Syrian refugees had collected. They were sharing whatever space they were given. Three families shared a space on the floor, with one pot in which they cooked. There was no table. They invited us to share their food.
A couple of days ago, CBC news played a short clip of refugees landing on a beach in Spain. Someone had caught this, as it happened. A small boat, packed with people, struggling through the waves close to shore. On the beach, people in their swim suits were watching, moving towards the imminent landing place. Lots of people. It was a public beach. And then they landed; the refugees (maybe 75 people?) spilled out into the shallow waters, scurried up the beach … and melted into the surroundings. By the time any authorities arrived, the reporter said, they had all dispursed. A normal beach. Sunbathers. And then … refugees piling out among them, gambling for a new life.
Palestinian mothers in the West Bank rarely sleep well we are told. The Israeli military who occupy the West Bank regularly invades homes with a lot of noise and threats in the middle of the night, not necessarily even to arrest anyone but to keep everyone nervous.
An article in the Calgary Herald (Aug 12) talks about the trend towards strongmen running the world. Hungary. Venezuela. Turkey. Philippines. Countries ‘where it was thought democracy was taking hold’. There are others: Russia. Zimbabwe. North Korea. The United States. And still others where the struggle for power is destroying the countries: South Sudan. Somalia. For a fleeting moment, the article reads, in the Spring of 2011, the world watched as ‘citizens in the Arab world rose up against repressive regimes’. It was all hopeful. And then it all went sideways as Syria imploded, ISIS moved into the chaos (of Syria and Iraq) hundreds of thousands died and millions lost everything as they fled. Today the threats, bluster, giant egos, tantrums and the constant feeding of polarization do not make the world a better, safer place – only those sitting in complete safety and security can think that; instead, they create crisis and havoc, people’s lives are upended in ways that those of us who mostly see this on the news cannot come close to imagining. From the safety of a kitchen in Calgary, it’s deeply disturbing. It’s deadly for the millions who are violated, ruined, terrorized … .
A week ago, Kathy woke up to something. A noise. She stepped out of our bedroom and saw a person wearing a hoody at the bottom of the steps, near the front entrance. She woke me, dialed 911; they warned us to stay in our room. Police arrived in a few minutes but the burglar was gone. It was about 3:30 am. We quickly saw what likely happened. They came through our garage, probably carrying a hatchet they lifted off the wall, quietly rifled through a number of drawers and cabinets both downstairs and up, lifted my wallets, my MCC laptop, a briefcase (my walking filing cabinet), a pair of new shoes, and the keys to the SUV standing outside. Both sets. The police stayed for a while as we cancelled credit and debit cards, filled in police reports and wondered what door we had left unlocked. Near morning we dozed off for a while and then got up to our adjusted reality.
They were tidy thieves. Nothing was damaged, and drawers were carefully opened but not dumped. A tray full of coins had been pulled out of a cabinet in the kitchen, but left on the floor; why bother with coins when you are getting an SUV? The hatchet missing from the garage wall; the only thing they took there. A weapon? And my well-used biking gloves. What?
But aside from losing some things, there is a loss of something else. For several nights I woke up in the middle of the night, and found myself checking around a bit, wondering who is in the shadows. Kathy found an old wall hanging she had gotten from her mother decades ago. It’s a Koala bear image; she hung it over the front door. The eyes are friendly and for a few nights we kept it there along with a bottle of wine (maybe the wine would soften the memory a bit) and an aloe vera (healing) plant some friends brought over for that reason; an attempt to at least dilute the image of a young man – police say there were three or four – who has just been through our house with a hatchet while we were asleep.
It works. Sort of. This idea of reclaiming your home. And time helps. But that security thing is haunting. The insurance gave us a rental for a few days; I wake up and check to see if it’s there. We check the doors more than once. Even during the day time, when we have often left all doors open for hours, we now find ourselves not sure. Our neighbors are checking their doors more often. Others who know what happened tell us they lock up more carefully.
It’s a thing. I don’t know if it has a name. Probably. Trauma? An unsettling experience? We miss our car. We miss Joshua’s little shoes on the front dash; we had kept them back when he and his parents moved to Manitoba. Five years those shoes had travelled everywhere with us. But we still have a house. Our house. We don’t have to run. Our neighbors are kind. We have not lost family to violence. We were not raped. Soldiers have not come in the night to raid our home and terrorize our neighborhood. Our children are building familes. We are all pretty safe.
And I keep thinking about the 65 million displaced and terribly terrorized people, many with little children who have not slept in their own homes, maybe for months. Years. Refugees and displaced families so desperate for a kitchen that can be their own, they risk everything for a chance at it; they have no choices left but to survive. And the strongmen with their giant, reckless egos build bigger armies and higher walls and utter more threats to keep the world safe. It’s kitchens they should invest in.