By Gabriela Andreevska.
I remember meeting an activist who once told me ”the best way to monitor the abuses the refugees undergo is by pretending to be one of them.” On a rainy day in Gevgelija, Macedonia, not having any umbrella with me, I put my scarf on my head so as not to get wet. I came across a Syrian family looking for a bank to withdraw money.
We tried to go to a cafe or a restaurant to find shelter from the rain. No restaurant or cafe accepted us. We were treated as shit, insulted, and shouted at. When a waiter realized that I am Macedonian, he told the restaurant owner, who apologized to me and said, ”You, as a Macedonian can come in, but not the Syrian refugees.” He kindly elaborated: ”It’s not me, if the locals see them here, they will stop coming to my restaurant, they are afraid of them.”
When I went to a shop with my Syrian friends, I was followed everywhere and closely monitored by the shop attendant. When I asked her in the Macedonian why she is following me, she smiled politely and said ”Oh so sorry dear, I thought you are one of THEM.”
Then, I was approached by ordinary taxi drivers, ”Syria? Syria?” he shouted at me. I just went along and pretended I can’t speak Macedonian. ”No document? No problem,”, he explained graciously, trying to cajole us into taking his taxi at a higher rate.
I am, as civilian, not allowed [by Macedonian Law] to take any refugee to my home, I ended up sitting on wet, cold, concrete in front of a Western Union. Aa’ida, my Syrian friend covered her kid in a blanket, clasping her to her chest. When it stopped raining, the blanket was still wet. My shoes were soaking wet and I myself was shivering, cursing life and existence for not being able to take them to my home. But Ai’da’s brother was happy, he even started taking photos of us, he said, ”I managed to reach the land after escaping death in the dreadful sea, of course I am happy. I am happy to be alive.”
I have learnt is that by being one of them, I better understand their perspective and their inner turmoil, their joy and their pain. I sat in the cold with them, I waited in the rain with them, regardless of our religion or lack thereof, we prayed and ate in the muddy streets and thus I shared their happiness and sorrow, their pain and hardships…and every ounce of suffering in their heart becomes mine, and every smile on their faces becomes mine and every single teardrop in their eyes becomes a bitter teardrop in my eyes.
”We” are ”Them” and ”They” are ”Us”. We are all people, we are one. In a universal sisterhood and brotherhood, we are one.
* Gabriela Andreevska, is a volunteer from Macedonia who is helping the refugees in Gevgelija, Macedonia, near the border with Greece.