Our shift starts at 10:00 p.m. but we go early to mingle among new friends. When we knock on the door of the ISObox, curtains part and three children shout with delight, "Tony and Pat, c'est Tony and Pat."
That we have evoked such a response is a surprise, since our encounters have been so few. It reminds me how important genuine care and friendship under such circumstances are, no matter how few or how simple the kindnesses are.
"We've come to say goodbye," Tony says with sadness.
The children hug us again and again. "We will miss you."
Patricia, worn out, her eyes telling the story of her husband's imprisonment in Africa, lumbers over for a hug. The children take turns in the photo she has them take with her iPad. She wants one with just her and us.
We are the three Patricias. Divided by circumstances and country, yet we bear the same name, mother, daughter, volunteer.
On our way to the next ISObox, a group of five toddlers we have never seen before, swarm us with hugs. We bend over, pick them up, adore them for five minutes. A mother emerges and has the children say goodbye and blow kisses.
How do they know we are leaving? Ah...it is the pattern. It is Sunday night. A new batch of Europeans come in, the old batch leaves. Once in a while, an American or two. An older American couple is the exception. The Kara Tepe family are expecting volunteers who have made friends to walk through the five sections ISOboxes.
We stop and see Guy and his family, Tony's friends, and together their French is more rapid than I can follow. They exchange numbers, best wishes, promises of prayers for one another. Guy promises to show up on our doorstep one day. Who could doubt such a promise?
We pass the homes, the hearts of the women who taught me about connection and love. So many nights when they opened their doors to receive, we would look at one another, and in the looking, in that split second of acknowledgement, came a knowing, a surety that we are sisters, of the same DNA, of the same Heavenly Parents who for reasons not understood, have placed us in such differing circumstances. Yet, our human circumstances are more common than we may have first realized. Our houses may be different but we share hopes, disappointments, we love our children, we want peace.
With soft hearts, we make our way to the food truck and food prep area. We begin to assemble suhur for our last night. It is more than likely we will never again participate in such an activity. We work hard and fast to complete this monumental task.
After the food distribution, after I scrub the 80 liter rice pudding pots, it's time to go. I look into the eyes of each of our helpers. The Syrians, the Iraqis, the Kurds, the Afghans. To most of them I haven't spoken more than a sentence, but I stood side by side, I walked with crates in the dark, I cared. We embrace each one. Each one matters.
Amir insists on walking us out to the car, and before we leave we must stop and see Hoda. They want us to come in, but Hoda's children are sleeping and her husband has risen to say good-bye. It's is almost 1:00 a.m, so we insist it is late. But first they must feed us--Arabic version of grape leaves.
Hoda and I embrace. She kisses my cheek, my neck; I kiss each of her cheeks. I know my future, I am uncertain of hers. If I could, I would trade that uncertainty with her--yet I know I am telling myself a lie. I can think of few things worse--without a country, a home, separated from family and certainty.
As we climb into the car, Amir calls out to Mama and Papa. We start to drive away, but I have to unroll the window and call out to him one more time.
I can only hope there is a profound reason for this Muslim diaspora--I can only hope it will bring peace to our world.