We crowded into the shade of a tree in the courtyard of a Syriac Orthodox church, seeking some relief from the intense sun and mid-day heat in Mardin, in southeastern Turkey.
Jemial didn’t seem to notice it was warm. He sat in the sun and talked of leaving his home in Syria after 84 years, and waiting now in Mardin for permission to join some part of his family around the globe, part of the Syriac diaspora. The Syriac have been leaving this part of the world for the past hundred years, and Jemial has relatives in Europe, Canada and the U.S.
Jemial was gentle and joyful, willing to make the transition to places he could barely imagine. He’s luckier than most, under the circumstances. He has reached a place of relative safety. He’s being cared for by members of the Syriac Orthodox church, living in a home rather than a refugee tent. He has family who will welcome him at his final destination. Still, what is it like at 84 years of age to leave your home, to leave your land and your people, to leave what you have known, and to hope for something better?
He made me think of my grandparents, of how they might have reacted at that age to being plucked from Washington State and dropped into a village in the Syrian desert. That would have been an enormous and arduous journey for them, and an overwhelming transition. I don’t think they would have fared well.
My prayer for Jemial is that his fortune holds, and that his spirit endures.
This is the third 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.