The difference between a tent in the sweltering heat of Damascus and a cosy apartment in Central London became quite apparent to Harry, that and the fact he had not eaten for nearly a day and was starting to get a headache from the heat and his hunger combined. There was a gentle tap on the tent, “who is it?” groaned Harry, “Its me, Wes, you hungry mate? Can I come In?” Harry unzipped the opening and Wes came in with a plate of ‘Kibbeh’ a spinach and mincemeat dish loaded up with fresh salad along with bottled water and a very sugary fruit flavoured soft drink. After devouring the meal, Harry lay back on his makeshift bed of blankets and a travel pillow, “So, when do I get started?” he asked, “As soon as you feel well enough, no rush” said Wes reassuringly. Wes was Harry’s confidante, they had an instant rapport after a Facebook chat last June, Wes had seen one of Harry’s videos, one of many where he could be seen receiving heavy handed treatment from the police at peace demos, these videos were in fact men dressed like police officers who were ‘arresting’ Harry purely for the sake of illusion. The image he had carefully crafted with assistance from his colleagues was that of an impassioned peace activist, a Pro Palestinian, a man who cared deeply about those innocent children all over the many areas of conflict in the Arab world. It was this caring brave persona that had convinced Wes to ask him to join their team, it didn’t matter so much that Harry or Simon as Wes knew him had the experience, he had the heart and could learn the ropes. “So how are you feeling?” he asked, “Much better mate, I feel like getting out of this tent for a while, any chance of having a look around the camp?” Harry asked, “When you’re ready, just make sure to keep your valuables and documents with you at all times” Wes advised. Harry rolled up his blankets and slung his rucksack over his shoulders “I’m good mate, lets take a look” he said, smiling.
Dust flew in all directions over the camp, not just dust but rubble, there was a lot of rubble, the area surrounding the camp had been heavily bombed, there really was nothing left, no hospitals, no vital services, wealthy families were now living in these tents, their homes now nothing but demolished ruins, their jobs and livelihood gone, their loved ones lost in the brutal blasts, from affluence to poverty in a day. Harry pondered over what it must be like to be in their shoes, how it would feel to see your hopes and dreams dashed, your hard work destroyed in front of you, how must the children feel? He felt that sense of self doubt again, it was a feeling he confronted daily, it felt particularly overpowering at this time. He sat down with a few of the families and to his surprise they were all fluent speakers of English, several insisted that he join them for a meal to which he agreed he would fix a time, despite of everything, the people Harry encountered were dignified, hospitable, they smiled and laughed, it was truly remarkable how strong their spirits were. Of all the people Harry met, one person really struck him, her name was 8 year old Halimah with her mousey brown hair and deep piercing hazel eyes, Halimah had lost both her parents in the blast and was left with the task of taking care of her crippled Grandfather and 5 year old brother Hasan. She spent her days sourcing whatever food she could find and preparing it for her two remaining family members, looking for water and taking her brother to the mock up school in the camp where they both studied. The pain in this young girls face was indescribable, the aid workers helped as much as they could with their limited resources but who could replace her Mum and Dad? This little girl was living the life of a young woman with all its responsibilities, its like she had been robbed of her childhood.
It was evening time now and Harry returned to his tent, physically and emotionally drained. “You OK Simon?” Wes enquired, the words slipped uncontrollably out of Harry’s mouth “I’ve never seen anything like this”, “But you were in Gaza Simon?” Wes replied sounding astonished as if to say ‘you’ve really never seen anything like this?’ Harry quickly glossed over this slip, “I guess I’m just shaken up a bit, you never quite get used to this”, “Yeah, that’s true” Wes agreed and added ‘We’ll be meeting Polly soon”
Polly was the Chief Executive of ‘Syrian Hands’, a fiery lady from Falkirk who stood at 4ft 9in tall with short dark brown hair ,who still spoke in her gentle Scots accent despite her travels, Polly was devoted to her work and clearly cared a great deal about the people whose lives she was trying to make easier, she certainly didn’t suffer fools and you did not want to get on the wrong side of her. It was evening time and the temperature had dropped from 31 degrees to a more bearable 18, Harry and Wes were waiting to meet Polly at their designated meeting place, the sound of the call to prayer drifted through the air gradually reaching a crescendo before fading away into the twilight. Earlier on, Harry saw the unnerving sight of militia men circling the camp, he noted their expensive trainers and designer shades and the almost brand new Toyota trucks they were driving around on. “Don’t worry” said Wes “They won’t harm us or anyone here”, “They like to think they are ‘protecting’ us” he continued “Personally I think they are a bit deluded, no formal training, limited resources, what can they do against a drone strike? Nothing, that’s what, they come over here wanting to play heroes and yet the locals can’t stand them”. Harry wondered if Muhsin was in any way connected to these unwanted ‘protectors’.
As men flocked to a ‘Musalla’ to perform their prayers, Polly emerged from the crowd of worshippers with a warm smile, before there was time to speak, Harry felt his eardrums almost burst, the ground shook and Wes quickly shoved him to the floor. For a good minute Harry couldn’t make out any other sound except a shrill ringing in the ears, he rolled over onto his back to see thick clouds of dust billowing across the camp, as his hearing returned, he could hear the sobbing of small terrified children. Without a word, Wes lifted Harry up off the ground and wrapped a Keffiyeh tightly round his face just covering the mouth and bridge of the nose, everyone was wearing these scarves and now the men resembled the ladies who would cover their face in this fashion. They met Polly for a second time who was besides herself with rage “Facebook took our video down again, they don’t want people to know the truth” she fumed. As the chaos ensued around him, Harry lay back on the ground and did his mindfulness exercises, the thoughts were really racing now, he fought back tears and began to wonder if he should have even come here.