Thursday, November 12, 2015

Beydagi-extraordinarily ordinary
NEAR MALATYA, TURKEY—In this small town called Beydagi, population 8,000, there are lots of signs of what appears to be a normal life.

There’s a small graveyard here. Officials perform about 60-70 weddings every year. The local clothing shop has a good selection of satiny, fashionable wedding dresses. In fact, there’s a good selection of everything in the clothes store, especially children’s wear. 57% of Beydagi’s population is under 17, so this makes perfect sense. There are, of course, modern schools that employ more than 200 teachers at every grade level from pre-K to 12th grade.
With new friends at Beydagi Camp

During our tour of the town, we spend probably 30 minutes poking around the Esenlik (“Health”) store. Again, the adjectives normal and typical spring to mind. The shelves are lined with everything a cook could need, from oils to dry goods to spices to fresh meat and produce, including the world’s most massive cabbages (2-3x as large as their puny American counterparts). Teenage boys scurried about cleaning every surface—floors, countertops, dairy cases.

Beydagi has a professional police and fire department, several Laundromats, a community  center with a computer lab and art studio. I didn’t see a street sweeper, but they must have one, since the paved roads are nearly spotless.

The residents go about their business just like their counterparts elsewhere.  The difference is that these everyday acts like shopping and sweeping and going to school are a form of defiance—a way of asserting control, in some small way, of a situation that long ago spun out of their control.

You see, Beydagi’s residents are Syrian refugees. And thus, their performance of these usually mundane acts, so far from home and in the midst of such hopelessness, is nothing short of remarkable. As a visitor, surrounded by this seeming normalcy, one might be forgiven if, for just a minute, you forget what these refugees have gone through, the losses they’ve incurred.

After seven hours at Beydagi, as our group of peace journalism workshop participants was preparing to leave, an elderly women in a burqa came up to our van and began chatting with us. As we were about to pull away, the woman said something that will probably always stick with me—a reminder, if one was needed, that all the good intentions that built and maintain this camp can’t change the awful truth of what has happened to these people. The woman said, “Inshallah (God willing), you will never see the things that we (Syrians) have seen.”

Inshallah indeed.

--COMING SOON--Photo albums and slideshows from Beydagi.--

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