Faithwriters.com Challenge – entry 25th August 2016 – Topic: Joie de vivre – Intermediate: 3rd place
The small, dirty grey figure contrasts to its spotless surroundings and the vivid orange upholstery of the chair it occupies. The deep crimson stain of dried blood on the left cheek hides one eye, while the other stares blankly at the camera. The pose is listless, shoulders sagging, hands motionless on the knees, as if a life-size doll had been brought in from a dusty yard and carefully posed in the chair. At first sight, it could a publicity shot for new horror movie.
But young Omran’s trauma was not dreamed up in a back room in Hollywood; only moments earlier he was lying buried in the rubble of his bombed out home, from which he and his family barely escaped before the structure collapsed completely behind them. Once a bustling and prosperous city, regarded as a cultural jewel, Aleppo is now a maze of empty, bombed out shells, it streets made impassable by rubble from the artillery fire and barrel bombs of government and rebel forces.
The situation in Aleppo reminds me of some lines from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Famine has struck the land of Canaan; and Joseph’s father and brothers reminisce over the endless golden summers and wonderful parties of the good years. “Now the fields are dead and bare, no joie de vivre anywhere, et maintenant we drink a bitter wine.” But again, Omran’s story is no West End extravaganza with a happy ending; it’s a terrifying, seemingly uncontrollable reality in the same region of Canaan where Jacob and his sons lived. When the cameramen leave, this shell-shocked little boy and his traumatised family will have to make a new life amid the ruins of their once proud city, victims of a conflict they didn’t create.
These refugees, made homeless and destitute by their own people, share the unalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, as enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence; they would espouse the values of Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité of the République Française. But the conflict that seeks to decide who protects these rights (or indeed restricts them) has left millions homeless and destitute; wanderers in their own land. Whoever succeeds in wresting control of Syria will inherit a desolate wasteland that is barely more hospitable than the surface of the moon.
Will the nations of Europe breathe a collective sigh of relief that the millions seeking refuge across the continent can return home? Will the superpowers who have encouraged one side or the other come together to rebuild the shattered infrastructure: to provide safe homes, clean water, efficient power and the beginnings of an economic recovery? If the grand slogans that we proudly recite mean anything, we must make them true for everyone. If “global community” is to become more than a glib phrase, nations must learn to work together for mutual benefit. And if a dusty, blood-stained, frightened little boy is to rediscover the joie de vivre and have a chance of the prosperity many of us take for granted, we all need to begin treating our neighbours as we wish to be treated ourselves.