Friday May 27th 2016
When the migrant crisis hits close to the heart
When the Migrant Crisis Hits Close to the Heart By Tamu McPherson
Today I traveled to La Spezia, my husband’s hometown, to renew my green card and replace my lost I.D card. As many of you can relate, visiting the immigration office is often a hateful experience because of the way the personnel treat applicants. Boy do I have some stories and I’m sure you do too. The lack of respect infuriates me to the point of no return and self control is key to avoid being detained due to an explosive episode on my part in defense of my fellow immigrants. But today’s experience was completely different.
As I walked up to the plaza that leads to the Immigration offices of La Spezia, I saw around 15 young African men sitting on the benches that lined the walkway. My mind slowly registered their presence. They were dressed in blue and black sweatsuits and wore flips flops on their feet. They were calm, quiet, and appeared a bit weary. Since news of the frequent arrival of boats carrying African migrants is a common topic on the news here in Italy (as is news of Syrian refugees entering Europe and the recent border closings that complicate things to an alarming degree), I assumed that this was their circumstance – I later confirmed their situation with a Red Cross member who along with a police escort accompanied the young men throughout processing. A bit shocked by their presence, it is truly one thing to read about the plight of those fleeing their countries and another to watch a procedural part of their journey unfold before your eyes. Watching them, I was transfixed by just how calm they were. They spoke among one another in soft, hushed tones. They did not seem worried or anxious about their situation, they just waited patiently to be called for their interview and finger printing.
While they sat in relative silence, three beautiful little girls ran up and down the plaza playing hide-and-seek, garnering smiles from everyone present, including the young men. At a certain point, two African men, who like me had appointments to renew their papers, left and later came back with bags of brioche, bottles of water and soda for the group of young men. As they tore open the wrappers to what may have been their first or second meal in days (news was that they had arrived this morning), one of the three little girls approached in search of a treat. And what transpired after stole my heart. One of the young men offered the little girl a bite. When she was unable to bite a piece, he broke off a piece for her. Once she had eaten her share, she went back to the man for a sip of his soda. Her mother who had been inside the office came out at that moment. I thought that she would squeal with displeasure, but instead she simply took the soda from her daughter and handed it back to the young man. No scene, just grace that preserved the purity of the situation.
The acts of kindness that took place this morning have etched a place in my heart. First, the men who went out and purchased a small meal for their “brothers” honors the principles of taking care of your own as well as supports the concept of social responsibility. Second, and this is absolutely where my heart melted: the young man who shared his brioche and soda has probably lost all of his possessions if he had any to begin with (these young men traveled with no bags and I didn’t see wallets, passports…nothing). But, he so freely and unselfishly shared his meal with this baby girl. The image of a village comes to mind in a surreal way here. A village where acts of kindness are not lost in the face of uncertain and heartbreaking realities. Little girls running around playing with one another, mother’s and father’s looking on, friends near by. Kindness – a fundamental and basic principle in most communities intact in light of the extremely difficult circumstances. Maybe in this case, it’s like the saying goes: You can take the boy from the village, but you can not take the village from the boy. There are certain sentiments that we hold onto throughout our lives, and no matter the struggle, we are guided by them. Maybe our leaders need to open their hearts and allow compassion, another important principle that we learn in the village, to guide their decisions with regards to their borders.
What I witnessed today is a glimpse of the beautiful side of the human spirit that remains strong and unbroken in the face of conflict and strife. I am blown away and humbled.
The original image is in color and is courtesy of Reuters.