It rained overnight and showers played with bouts of sunshine most of the day. The occasional muddy spot was replaced by omnipresent mud. Sticky mud. Gooey mud. Cement-like mud. Few of the refugees have boots as I do, wearing sandals or flip-flops instead. They had to figure out some way of getting the mud off their feet before entering their tents. It’s not much, but the tent is home and nobody wanted to foul their nest.
(Be sure to click on each photo to see a larger version.)
But the day brought a new surprise – I seem to have acquired my own guide and translator. The young man’s name is Ramadan, the same word used for the Muslim month-long time of fasting. With quite decent English skills, he also became helpful in finding stories and suggesting different ways for me to do things. Notice the camera on his shoulder. I asked him to hold it for me while I wiggled around to get some tight shots in a shelter. It was a bit brave (or foolish) of me as I didn’t know if he would run off with such a valuable item, but he has proved quite trustworthy. He is drinking clean water that had just been filtered as part of a demonstration to a family.
The camp has one section for young single men. There is no matching area for single women because females live with their families until married. The men are free to go elsewhere in the camp, but no one else is allowed into their area. As expected, the section fairly vibrates with testosterone, which is probably why these two young boys come in to sell cigarettes. We Americans might be prone to cluck our tongues and tell them how bad cigarette smoking is for their health, yet I would be inclined to look around the camp, shrug my shoulders and ask rhetorically “And this is what?”
With the average family in the camp having seven members, there are a lot of children. A Japanese NGO is setting up a school, and we saw a very few kids with backpacks for books, the school is not really operational yet. Kids are everywhere, and they are usually being kids, which means chasing each other and yelling. For all their masculine ruggedness, Kurdish men are very comfortable with their small children. If I see a male nearby, I always glance at the child and then at Dad, silently asking permission to photograph the child. I get approval, usually with a smile showing pride that their child would be selected.
As I interviewed more refugees, I noticed many of them were very willing to tell me their story, but they did not want their picture taken. They fear photos will get back to Syria where the police will see it and harm or kill family members still back home. One young man told me he had deserted from the Syrian army while a father of four said he had worked for the government at one time. Both wanted their story told, but politely refused my request for a photo.
Some have reached the age where they don’t care. This old man took a bus from his hometown to another town near the border, then walked the last ten kilometers (6.2 miles), carrying only the clothes on his back and his cane. He is one of the very few who said he would stay in Iraqi Kurdistan when the current Syrian government falls.
The work of distributing the filters to families has begun. Yes, the water in the camp has been purified, but after the water truck hoses have been dragged through the mud and the family supply contaminated by fecal matter coming from nearby latrines, the water is causing outbreaks of diarrhea, which can be very dangerous to children. Each head of household must be taught how to use the filters and keep them clean. Notice this man’s uniform indicating he is a member of the Kurdistan army. Remember – there is no such country but rather it is an autonomous region of Iraq, but there is a military force of the region.
Night falls at 5:30, and life moves indoors. There are a few “street lights” in the sprawling camp, but not enough light to allow people to negotiate the mud. A small child peers out into the darkness, and life goes on in the Domiz Camp.