Yesterday was good… my eye check partner, Tim, and I checked a dozen or so eyes yesterday of children ranging in age from 5 to 18. 2 failed. We had hoped to see a lot more kids but Mohamed said it may take a bit for this new program to catch on. He tried to drum up some “business” for us by going into the living quarters and knocking on doors. Many of the mothers simply said their kids eyes were fine. I’m sure vision problems are not first and foremost on their minds right now. But word eventually got out and we had a bit of a rush at the end of the day. I’m sure as the days go on and more and more find out about it, we’ll get the numbers of 30 screenings a day, which is our goal. Shae and Lynette are next door to us, doing the same thing, also seeing about 12 kids. There are over 300 in Ritsona and the hope is to get most of them screened in the next few weeks then the process will move on to the 18 and older crew.
The kids caught on quickly to the process, and we were surprised by how many of them had a grasp of English, though limited, enough to understand the directions the antimatter bear gave them on the computer software (the Arabic language didn’t seem to work so we were stuck with the English, which was just as well as we did have a handful that didn’t speak Arabic either. Only Kurdish, with limited English.
I think my biggest takeaway from the day came from watching the behavior of the boys, especially the 8, 9, 10 age group. They were extremely aggressive with one another – throwing rocks, fighting and circling each other in real animal stances to show dominance. I had tested two of them, who Mohamed referred to as the “baddest boys in the camp” and to say they were a handful would be quite an understatement. While I tested one, the other was running around the room, grabbing things, throwing them, taunting me with threats to push different computer buttons etc. I know boys will be boys, I had two at those ages so know the score, but this felt very different to me. They would go from charming, adorable boys to aggression so quickly. Eventually, they left to go join up others in their age group (where volunteers from our group would have the opportunity to corral them…) and two younger (five or six?) boys became the show for us. They would circle one another in acts of dominance then the rock throwing began (much of the ground is rock, much larger than gravel and just the right size it seemed for throwing). They would pick up a rock and reel their arm back as if to throw it at the other boy then slam it onto the ground, almost as if they had gotten caught once and were told never to throw rocks AT someone. When I mentioned it to Mohamed, he pointed to one of the little boys and said, “Him?” When I answered, “Yes,” he told me that only moments earlier he had seen that boy’s mom throw a rock at him out of desperation because he wouldn[t come when she called him. Kids learn.
So often throughout the day I had to circle my thought pattern back to the understanding of where these kids, and their parents, have come from and what they have been witness to. These are clearly acts of PTSD . The kids have few boundaries in the type of living situation they are in and seem to wander around the camp without any supervision (I watched two toddlers, pacifiers attached to their clothing, who were climbing on chairs with absolutely no one watching them). It is so hard not to place my own value system on their behavior, which keeps me in constant check of remembering the horrific violence these families have been through, especially the innocent children. They can’t unsee what they have seen or unfeel what they have felt and so such emotions are played out in the aggression I witnessed yesterday.
I skipped the group dinner in our “assigned” restaurant last night and had dinner with Lynette and Michelle, two sisters who I’ve really come to enjoy, and we talked about the aggression over dinner (while watching the sun set over the Aegean Sea – had to throw that in…). Michelle works with 5 to 8 year olds and said she saw a 5 or 6 year old boy constantly bullying one of the girls. This isn’t easy. I’ve got to remember the history of where these people have come from and don’t want to paint with too large of a brush here as this kind of behavior and those “baddest boys of camp” were definite the exception, and not the rule. The kids overall were a delight. They are beautiful with their big brown eyes, olive skin and black hair. In addition to our vision screening, we also did BMI scores (height and weight ratios) and many were underweight or very over weight, which no doubt could be attributed to poor nutrition.
I have found a nearby coffee shop and my morning routine is to walk there, get a latte, then walk along the boardwalk and watch the sunrise while I relax and contemplate the new day’s arrival. Although not quite the exercise I was getting before with my hour walk around the horseshoe-shaped sea walk, it comes much closer to giving me the gentle start to the day that I need.
I feel very safe here in Chalkida and really enjoy the pace of life here. It’s a nice oasis to return to every day.