Several times during our trip we heard some version of this: “The Americans have come and nothing has happened.” It wasn’t always the Americans; it sometimes was the U.N., or the Germans, or major NGO’s. All these people were greeted with promise, with hope that they could improve the lives of those greeting them. The ultimate results were generally disappointment, even bitterness.
We heard about the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey who visited the Bishop Samuel of Tur Abdin, arriving in a fleet of vehicles, asking for information and leaving promises in his wake. Nothing happened. We heard of promised food, shelter, jobs, papers, good governance. Nothing happened. These were political events and photo ops. (This is not to denigrate the NGO’s working hard to provide for basic needs of refugees.)
One of the most difficult parts of the trip was to recognize that we were the latest people to come, to possibly raise hopes, and to represent “The Americans have come and nothing has happened.” I scrambled around taking photographs like others before me. We listened to people’s struggles and needs, like the woman above who expressed her frustration in trying to obtain a U.S. visa. She wanted us to intervene, to make a call and use our connections. There was nothing we could do, but there was also no way to tell her in any way that would satisfy.
I think even more about this as I listen to our election rhetoric. If each experience of “The Americans have come…” engenders frustration and despair, the anti-Muslim cries echoing from America across the world are those micro events writ large. I am confident these political statements foster much greater frustration and despair, and foster it more widely. And I am left with my own frustration and despair on behalf of those who need America to represent something greater for them. How do we become a symbol of hope?
This is the seventh in a series about my trip to southeastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, along with four others from the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. The trip was led by Fr. Dale Johnson, who grew up in northern Washington but has lived much of the past 25 years in southeastern Turkey as a Syriac Orthodox priest. The earlier posts are available on my blog, unflinchinglife.com.