Traveling with as light a load as possible is something I long for during long stretches away from home. I routinely discard paperwork and periodicals, “recycle” gifts and give away clothing. But, here in
The camera consists of two pieces of drawing paper, cleverly folded so that the parts slide past each other, opening up a tiny square “shutter.” I think of Nauras peering through the shutter and pretending to snap my picture, then gleefully posing for imaginary snapshots as I take my turn as photographer. I remember her fetching her only other toy, a bedraggled baby doll with long white hair and eyes of aqua blue, and placing it in my arms.
Fortunately, Nauras is playful and inventive; for the time being, she seems somewhat oblivious to the desperate insecurity she and her family face. But Nauras, though she seems to register it but little, is no stranger to tragedy. Growing up she daily saw her father’s fingerless right hand, a brutal message from Saddam Hussein’s government which left Nauras’ mother the family’s sole breadwinner, and for which, following the U.S. invasion, Nauras’ parents had hoped to obtain overseas medical care, traveling here to Jordan seeking a German visa. But a series of catastrophes have ensured that, barring a miracle, they will never complete this journey.
First their travel money, kept in their
Since 2004, Nauras’s mother has tried to manage in
Already in debt to someone who is charging 15% interest, she wondered how she could manage to procure a heater and fuel for the cold months ahead. She showed me the inside of her empty refrigerator, shut off to save costly power and infested with large bugs. The smell of sewage fills the second of their two rented rooms as paint peels from the drab and dismally bare walls.
When I said goodbye to Nauras’s mother, I urged her to try to stay strong. With her face turned from little Nauras, her eyes filled with tears. She must somehow hide her misery and fear from Nauras, who still delights in make believe snapshots of friendly faces.
Nauras’s camera is a keeper. It will join three other items so important to me I try to carry them with me wherever I go. The first is a picture of an old Russian man, beggared and homeless, stooped in a street in
The third item is a printed speech by Muriel Lester, delivered at one of the many nonviolence trainings she pioneered in her decades of tireless activism at the start of the twentieth century. Though I’m keeping these items to travel with, along with Nauras’ camera, I’d nevertheless like to "re-gift" Ms. Lester’s words to you here; a paper gift like Nauras’, but maybe one which offers an imaginary picture of ourselves "traveling light:"
“Remember that the possession of a healthy, free and unoppressed mind can be ours if we are willing to observe the necessary discipline… The golden rule to keep unswervingly, unflinchingly, is to never grow slack. Whatever the form of discipline you adopt as your own, let it be as beautifully balanced, as poised, as the supple body of a ballerina…
To disarm — not only our bodies by refusing to kill, or make killing instruments in munitions factories — but also to disarm our minds of anger, pride, envy, hate and malice…
Sometime in the cold light before dawn, in an unexpected moment of solitude, we suddenly find ourselves facing stark reality — our future, the world’s future, war, pain, hunger.
We feel almost intimidated as we consider the condition of men and things. ‘One half the world is sick, fat with excess. The other half, like that poor beggar past us even now, who thanked us for a crust with tears.’ The issue becomes clear and urgent:
Are we going to spend our lives struggling and fighting for a place in the fat half? Or shall we tilt against the old spectres of war and inequality, unmasking them, stripping them of their glamour, revealing them as old fashioned imposters and tyrants we can no longer tolerate in a world that might be full of common sense, plenty and goodwill?"
Just up the street from where I’m staying in
Do they with their certificates have as little chance of producing a happy picture in
(Kathy Kelly, [email protected], co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence, www.vcnv.org)