STORY 1: Malik, finally a guy who does not smoke
How do I even describe the last 24 hours? I have no title for this because it was more of a non-day. I took a 9:30pm bus ride from Istanbul to Gazientep. Gazientep is approximately 16 hours from Istanbul. IT was a smooth ride through the darkness.. Ziad sat next to me and we had many discussions about the war, how the people in Istanbul have way more than what we are about to see. I told him, still, if a person needs it really badly, and I went to their house, they are no less of a case than another that needs it. Once you delve into the world of desperation, it feels like an abyss.
After the bus ride, which arrived at noon to Gazientep today, Ziad's friend Sefwan picked us up. I sat in the back of his champagne colored some brand or another car observing them and their dynamics. Malik is a pious young man who's family was well off. He was working on his Masters in Biology when the war began. He took off from everything so that he can be the middle man of getting medicine in and out of Aleppo as well as helping in the hospitals in Aleppo.
To be honest, I was quite impressed with their age and how 95% of their entire conversation with each other for the entire day was about Syria and who's helping who and which families still need help. I was entering the realm of where all the helpers are.
"How do you want to help?" Malik asked me.
"What do you need most of?" I asked.
He said that we arrive at the University in Gazientep (Ziad had to go beg the Dean to not kick him out of college, since he had taken a year off to help the refugees.) Malik and I sat outside, drinking coffee, and discussing the details of what needs to be done. Malik will be delivering the medicine with Mohammad directly into Aleppo.
"They need the most help in Aleppo. Thats where hardly any help is getting in because everyone is too afraid to go there. People are dying from hunger. The other day, a father almost threw his son off the balcony because he was starving to death and lost it. COme and see for yourself." He told me. "Come take pictures. I can get you in. I just came back from there last night."
"I wish, but I promised my family I wouldn't enter Syria. And I'm sure there is much help to be done around here as well. ALthough I really want to send some stuff in."
Just then, Ziad walked up. Smoking a ciggarete as usual.
"Listen, we can buy things here and take it to the EHH, which is an orgination that is taking lots of things in."
"Where are they going exactly? How do you find the people who need it most?" I asked. I want to be extra careful of how I'm spending this money. I defenitely trust the two of them and that they have no gains in this but to help their people.
"Okay," He began describing. "We have districts set up in Aleppo and all the donations get distributed throughout the city. The situation there is so bad now that we have families registered with every district and we ration to them the donations that come through. We know exactly how many people live in each household and what we already gave them and what they need. We also have volunteer Doctors and Mechanics for each district but we sometimes don't have enough medicine for the Doctors to use. So, one thing we always need a lot of is milk and basic nutrional baskets that we hand out each week to each family that is registered with the ration-out districts."
"Okay so would if we do this then?" I offered. "You told me earlier they need blankets, right? How about I buy you 120 blankets here (Each blanket will cost about $7 US dollars) for you to take in... and I will give you $1000 Turkish to take into Syria so that you can buy milk there. We want to be sure to still support the shops that are trying to make it in this broken city. ($1000 Turkish is approximately $560 US)
This is the plan. Tomorrow we buy blankets and deliver them to the EHH which is basically a convoy truck that carries in goods into Syria from Turkey. This way I will make sure that medicine, blankets, and milk are getting in at least to where they need it most."
"Perfect. Now to see where we can get those blankets from."
This is my task tomorrow.
IMPORTANT NOTE: WHEN I WROTE THIS ENTRY, I THOUGHT $7 WERE FOR BLANKETS.. THATS HOW MUCH ONE PACK OF DIAPERS AT A STORE COSTS.. WE LATER GOT THEM WHOLESALE.. (YAH I THOUGHT THE WORD HFOOTHA MEANT BLANKET! OOPS)
HISHAM AND HIS FAMILY
"You know, you can always help here in Antep. I know a guy who has a list of all the families here that are very poor." Ziad suggested.
Just then, I got a phone call from a guy in Rehanliyeh who is waiting for me to arrive there so that he can give me pictures of the 10 year old boy who had 3rd degree burns and I have something for him. I told the man I won't be down there for another few days.
Ziad called Hisham, a 27 year old who looks 38, and asked him when I could, 1, use his empty studio to sleep in, and 2, to help us find blankets. We met with Hisham, and he gave us a lot of info and said tomorrow he will take me to buy them. He then invited me to his families house for dinner, Syrian style.
I walked into a small space, crowded with about 15 people. There was a lovely spread of Syrian style food on the table, with stuffed zuchinni, lentils soup, rice, and tabbouli. They kept trying to force me to eat more. They were fascinated by what I was wearing, what I was doing here and the places I had been. The other thing that I realized happened is that when I did that first live painting on stage with Samih Choucair, many people had seen that youtube video and seen me on it but when they realized I was the one who was painting that, they were floored!! Never thought that would come back around to be useful.
So, The 74 year old in the family used to be a judge in Syria. 28 days ago, his son was driving home and there was a surprise checkpoint. THe men stole his car, his money, and then killed him.
"My life has been very good. I have always had a good life, until now. I lost my son." His eyes swelled, as he tried holding his tears back.
"Wait, Ibrahim, is this your brother?" I asked.
"Yes" He said sadly.
The 74 year old man, Ibrahim's father, continued, "I couldn't live in Aleppo anymore. I can't be reminded of it every day there."
Now, my daughter's husband works here to distribute all the goods to the 400 poor Syrian families that are here in Gazantiep.
"WHAT?" I said in excitement. "Can I come with you to meet these families?"
"Yes! PLease do. In fact, if you stay till aftermorrow, thats when we will be making all the rounds with a huge amount of donations we have bought for them. The basics. Come."
"What do they need now?" I asked
"Space heaters, the kind that run on gas, since electricity here is so expensive."
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
I NEED 150 Space heaters.. Each one costs about $65 US.
I have a feeling my money that I raised will be gone soon. IF you would like to sponsor this, I will buy them all. My journey will end here if I buy them all. But if you can please sponsor this, then I can keep going and meeting more families and still have something to offer them.
I will take pictures and mail them to you of what you bought.
We also need more:
Foam cushions (makeshift mattresses by night)
If you are interested in sponsoring any of these, please email me and I will put your request into action. IM on the ground here. Your money will ALL go there. IM delivering it personally. NOw's your chance for it not to get lost in the non-profit abyss.
I sound like a salesperson. Sorry.
hugs to you all!