Thursday, March 24, 2016

1,000 Cigarettes

Though writing my blog entry yesterday felt final, there are stories yet to tell, and I can't resist telling this short one, even if I am one of the stars of it.

On Sunday, I think--the week's been a blur--when the Pakistanis had held their meeting to discuss what they would do, and decided that they would go in to Moria quietly with heads held high, small groups began heading down the hill to the Syrian gate where they knew they were going into detention. There were some tears, lots of hugs and handshakes, a few brave jokes.

Our lovely tea tent people who passed out thousands of cups of tea and biscuits, and fed we volunteers three meals a day on virtually nothing, made up bags of goodies for those going inside--a packet of biscuits, a bottle of water, an apple, some chocolate...

I was really touched by that simple gesture, and it sparked a eureka moment. For weeks, those in the camp had been saying "Mother, one smoking please,"  to me. They mostly called me mother. They started out calling me grandmother, but I wasn't down for that. It became a bit of a standing joke at times; if they wanted a laugh they called me grandmother just to watch my reaction. Ha ha.

And often, I said no to their requests. I gave out a lot of cigarettes, but it's impossible to fund the smoking habit of hundreds of other people.

On this day though, it felt like the refugees left in the camp were condemned men. And the only thing I could offer them that they wanted was a cigarette. So I went to the kiosk near the entrance to BDFM and bought five packs of the cheapest cigarettes they had. Not anyone's favorite, but I could get so many more and there were so many people.

I stood next to the tea tent folks with their goody bags and started handing out cigarettes. I was mobbed. Clearly, it was something they really wanted.

Other volunteers started chipping in to buy more, and all day I kept replenishing my stock. At one point--the second time I was mobbed--I realized my method wasn't working well, so drawing on our strategy of teaching about queuing by saying "Line, line," as we secured places in the food line, I yelled line. Lots of laughs, but it worked. People began lining up. Some of them asked for two, but I wouldn't give more than one per person. There were just too many people. Then some of them began getting in line a second time, using little tricks like adding a jacket or pulling up a hood in the hopes I wouldn't recognize them.

I'm sure some of them got away with it, but it was all pretty high spirited.

By the time I left camp at 1:30 am, I had given away at least 1,000 cigarettes. That's 50 packs.

The next morning I gave away my last two packs. For a minute, anyway, I was able to give them something they really wanted.

Thanks you all who donated for helping me do this, including the kiosk man who gave me a discount on the last packs, and donated a lighter. There are nice people everywhere.


photo by Emily Smith

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