|Caroline Brennan speaks with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Women and children make up more than 70 percent of the Syrian refugee population (photo by Sam Tarling)
The first word Caroline Brennan learned in Arabic was iidhlal —"humiliation." She was visiting refugee camps in the Middle East.
"Apologizing that they didn't have more to offer, which I would never expect," said Brennan, emergency communications director for Catholic Relief Services. "They say, 'This is who I am. Hospitality is part of my culture and you're a guest here in this place.' How people show themselves is a stunning thing. When you see it, against a backdrop of madness."
I phoned her because I was curious how those in the refugee business are faring in the current political climate. We were talking about what refugees actually are like, as opposed to what frightened people who never met any imagine they are like.
"It was in 2011, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon," said Brennan. "I was meeting this woman—the refugee camp was just a sea of women and children. She didn't have anything, a makeshift tent, pieced together. She was reaching into the air, wanting to offer something. I felt like she was reaching for tray of tea but into thin air. She ended up plucking a flower out of the ground, giving it to me. When you're talking about loss, they're not talking about a savings account. Not even a a home. A deeper sense of loss. She was telling their story. Everyone wants to tell you about the house they had, the number of rooms they had, the garden they had. It's so important to them that you understand: they had a life before; that this place they're in doesn't represent who they are."
This place they're in doesn't represent who they are. There's a lot of that going around.
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