“While the earth sleeps, they still wander.”
I saw these words, by the Palestinian poet and writer Mahmoud Darwish, stitched on to the backpack of a fellow traveler as I waited at the train station in Catania, Sicily, two years ago. I was on my way to document the stories of refugees arriving in the Italian island’s capital, Palermo, nicknamed the “Gateway to Europe.”
A week later, at an abandoned military barracks where Syrian refugees were sheltering in Lavrio, near Athens, a boisterous group of children ran in circles around me and my translator. One of the children lost his footing and landed on my bag, breaking a little clay statue of Ganesh my mother had given me as a keepsake when I first left home many years ago.
As I fumbled to fix the pieces, cursing to myself, a little girl from Homs thrust her own prized possession into my palm. It was a locket with a blue eye – the so-called eye of Fatima, a traditional talisman from her home region, meant to cast out evil.
That simple act of kindness made our otherwise disparate worlds collide. We had both carried a small part of “home” with us – things whose value could only be measured by the sentiments they evoked.
These two experiences were the beginning of the idea for “Bags and Belongings” – a series of photos and narratives from Syrian refugees featured on Refugees Deeply over the past six weeks. See the full interactive with each of the refugees’ stories below:
We partnered with The Outpost, a literary magazine focused on the Arab world, in gathering stories of Syrian men and women who left their homes amid the unceasing war and are now scattered to places ranging from neighboring Lebanon to the northern cities of Europe.
We simply asked them what they packed in their bags when they abruptly left their homes; what they left behind and what they found along the way. We asked how the meaning of home has changed for them since they embarked on their undefined journeys.
Underlying many of the stories we report about refugees is the notion of home and belonging. The angst of wanting to belong and the exhilaration of chance discoveries along the way – these are experiences to which we can all relate.
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