A desperate family tableau


I’m a self-confessed travel addict but no matter how much one enjoys the experience of visiting new places (or revisiting “old” ones), travel does come with its ups and downs…in the case of the Paris metro, there’s lots of ups and downs in the ubiquitous stairs, especially when carrying luggage.

However some experiences reach deep into our hearts and minds.

As we walked up the hill from our wonderful hotel in Istanbul, we were confronted by a 2014 “holy family” tableau which has seared itself into my mind. “Syria, Syria, food, food” he said, waving a pre-printed sign in a plastic sleeve. His face was gaunt and his eyes desperate. Beside him his wife sat with a blank gaze, traumatised by lack of food or the things she’s seen in their country’s conflict. Their daughter, a toddler, sat docilely on her mother’s lap. Everything about them spoke of hunger, trauma and desperation.

Inured to rounds of importuning beggars we initially walked past them but this little family group was different. Their hopelessness spoke volumes and the next thing I was sobbing in tears. We turned back, giving them a donation with the universal sign of food and eating.

On our return a few hours later, they were in the same place, but now the toddler sat on the footpath, looking more animated and nibbling on a simit, a kind of Turkish roll available from mobile stalls for about 1 Turkish lira or 50 cents. Once again we turned back and gave them another donation.

We’re great believers in Kiva and have been part of Genealogists for Families since it was set up by Judy Webster. It makes a difference to those who’ve made steps towards independence and helps them protect the most valuable thing in all our lives – our families.

But how does a family like this one of Syrian refugees ever get to that stage of semi-independence? They are probably among those sleeping rough under the bushes and trees near the waterfront. Most likely they were in the only clothes they owned. You can’t fake the desperation in their eyes and faces…I have no doubt in my mind their circumstances were drastic. How will they ever break loose from this cycle of homelessness and despair? Even a basic job like collecting recyclables from the rubbish bins requires a large bag and trolley in which to carry them. And there we were, having spent what to them was a life’s fortune on a five week trip, buying gifts for our own family and complaining about the amount of luggage we had.

That tableau will remain in my memory for a very long time to come: the impact of war and conflict on the ordinary person.

This post is dedicated to my blogging friend Catherine Crout-Habel from the Seeing Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family blog. Catherine passed on to the land of her ancestors around the time we returned home. I’d never met her in person but felt I knew her from her intelligent and humorous posts. She was a woman who cared deeply for the underprivileged and I’m confident this experience of ours would have resonated with her.

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15 thoughts on “A desperate family tableau

  1. Pauleen, a beautiful way to honour Catherine; and a very moving post.

    I do not know how we, the ordinary people can stop the war, the despair, anguish, suffering and starvation. Food is basic fundamental of life.

    But, I do know that we MUST do something. Kiva absolutely means we can contribute to making someone’s life better. We at least know then, that we played our small part in the big wheel of life, where we are a small, yet important spoke.

    We are very fortunate that we live in a Democracy. We have the right to vote and for our vote to count. We do not live in fear of our Country, nor do we know that our own people are doing these dreadful things.

    The way we can justify to ourselves that we have done some good is to focus on the good and what we can change. Whilst that is a small contribution, it is the foundation of success, even if that success is minuscule against the bigger and wider picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Julie – wise words. As you say how do we have any control over war etc…as evidenced by the current events on a global scale….sadly so much is embedded in centuries of conflict/prejudice and hatred of “other”.

      Kiva GFF is our way of reaching out to those less fortunate to try to help their families and hopefully it does have a ripple effect of hope and humanity.

      A FB “image” this week commented on “look behind the events for the helpers” or the words to that effect. Perhaps that’s the focus we need to have. I just know that this event really struck me to the core.

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  2. I’m sure Catherine would be honoured and proud Pauleen and she would have been touched by your very moving post. It brought tears to my eyes reading it so I can imagine how you felt at the time. Kiva is one way we can help.

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  3. Thanks Pauleen for sharing. At least through Kiva we know we are helping some families and that is far better than not doing anything.

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  4. You brought me to tears, Pauleen… thank you for caring. We can’t help everyone, but we can help some… Yes, we do our best through Kiva, but you gave this family so much more than funds to provide food… you showed them respect and caring. You noticed their plight and helped without question. Bless you and Catherine would be standing and cheering… a lovely tribute to our friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautiful, Pauleen. Thank you for your dedication to my Mum. You are right that your experience would have touched her deeply. Her response to your experience is one of the many thoughts/views/experiences that I would love to hear right now.

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  6. A beautifully written post, Pauleen. Thank you, too, for sharing the sad news about Catherine’s death. We had exchanged some e-mails and I always enjoyed reading her posts.

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