Column: ‘I don’t know why’: Syrian refugee baby

This article is a composite of many refugee stories and personal experiences of Peter Nix and his wife, Margaret Woodfall

Peter Nix guest columnist

This article is a composite of many refugee stories and personal experiences of Peter Nix and his wife, Margaret Woodfall, while working in 2016 as independent Canadian volunteers in Greek refugee camps.

My Canadian grandmother injected mom in a shoddy park in Athens. As for me, I lay limp in a nearby hospital incubator. I don’t know why.

The drug was prescribed to heal the wound from mom’s cesarean section — done without discussion. So early on, I learn that choices for refugees are few, or none.

The doctor said to get the injection at a distant clinic; yet did not explain bus routes to a wounded 16-year-old Syrian girl, alone in a huge Greek city, with little money. So mom called grandma Margaret for help, and met her in that park.

I had not thrived in mom’s womb while living in our refugee camp. Perhaps my developing body needed better nutrition than provided by mouldy packaged food. Perhaps I felt mom’s stress after eight pregnant months in a tent with no electricity or running water, snakes coming through cracks, and cramped, unsanitary conditions.

And now that I am born, I am still not thriving. Maybe my life is a mistake. A baby in the camp just died of diarrhoea — certainly a mistake.

During her pregnancy, the Red Cross said mom was anaemic and should eat more iron, forgetting that macaroni army food does not include those items. I am too young to know, but does forgetting mean not caring?

Even my baby eyes see that regulations used by international charities may prevent real caring. The Red Cross will not provide birth control or vitamins, saying, “it’s not our job”.

So as independent volunteers, grandma hands out vitamins while grandpa hands out condoms.

My honorary grandparents take me to the hospital in Athens for blood tests and transfusions.

Grandpa Peter drives the narrow smash-your-car’s-side-mirror streets. Refugees call him “rambo” driver.

When grandma’s GPS told him twice in succession to make a U-turn, I heard shouting. I don’t know why.

Perhaps I will grow up here — the average stay in a refugee camp worldwide is 17 years. Perhaps volunteers will take us Syrian kids to swim at isolated beaches, away from disapproving Greeks. Or perhaps we will get smuggled further into Europe, using fake passports stolen from tourists.

As a student in Damascus, mom’s tardiness going to school one day was rewarded. Because on arriving she waded, traumatized, through bloody pieces of dead friends, blown to bits by barrel bombs.

Desperate to escape brutal stone-age fighters, mom’s family sewed money into their clothes and paid smugglers to escape the city, paid again to enter Turkey, and paid yet again to take a rubber boat to a Greek island.

Smugglers are wealthy. In Athens, some rich people have artificial turf covering their swimming pools to avoid paying a tax.

Meanwhile, impoverished Greeks live in unheated cargo containers, hidden away in slums; and Muslim refugees live in dusty tents, hidden away from populated areas, out of sight. I don’t know why.

Mom’s young friends in camp watch, helpless and frustrated, as their lives dry up and decay like unwanted fish caught and discarded on shore. I see writing on our tent wall saying “we are not animals”.

Between naps, I hear them talk about going back to Syria because “dying quickly is better than slow death in a refugee camp”.

My child-mom has lost her home, her country, and most of her family and friends. Grandpa says there will be many more climate change refugees in the future.

He says mom is a cultural pebble skipping from unimaginably cruel Syrian shores onto turbulent European waves. I wish grandpa would speak more simply.

I think he is saying that I am not loved by many people, in many countries.

I don’t know why.