Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Human Face of Fruit

With all the talk about a world food crisis, and the sudden scrambling of world leaders to find a way out of the bureaucratic maze they have been living in for a while, I found it quite pathetic that the plight of people who can no longer buy rice by the bag, but rather by the cup, should have such a profound impact on the new head of the UN that he has to incorporate this ‘personal observation’ into a speech …. more empty words that do nothing for the masses struggling for survival because of political mismanagement in some office somewhere.

And what about the people of Gaza, who are being systematically starved and deprived of a livelihood by the ruthless government policies of Israel? Where is the political will to do something about that? We get so tired of words that are empty, hollow and harrowing as they no longer hold any semblance of dignity or meaning. And yet, we keep up with the words in the slim hope that one day we will listen to our conscience and the world will awaken from its deep slumber.

And so today I shall post a story about people and that wonderful gift of nature - fruit; a staple you would think. But no; not for many people.

This story was told to me by a lady who volunteers at a mental health facility in Zarka, a large industrial city to the north of Amman, home to many refugees from all the wars of the Middle East of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. She works with Iraqi and Palestinian children and their families traumatized by the impact of war on their lives and their homelands. And this is her dispatch:

“ I'm making a request, which may seem a bit odd, but it is something that came up in the clinic today: Fresh fruit. It struck me when one mother today told me how it has been three months since she has had enough money to buy fruit for her family……

Since there is now so much fruit in my own garden, e.g. cherries and ripening apricots, I am starting to bring these in to the clinic for anyone to take home. If, like me, you are awash with fruit and have had enough of pickling them or sun drying them on your roof - please get in touch …. the children we meet will especially enjoy your kindness!”

Later that week:

“Kind thanks for the donations of fruit last week! We were able to bring ten very full bags of various fruit to those who passed through our clinic on Thursday. I would love to share a few 'thumbnail' sketches of the families/individuals who received your support, as they were all really, really, delighted.

'Hajia' (we call her this out of respect) is an old poet from Najaf in the south of Iraq. She frequently stops by to recite a few lines to us and then, eventually, to share something of the burden that wears on her life. She came to Jordan from Iraq with her daughter after her son was murdered. On Thursday, she had only had milk and bread for the day. She was very happy to take a bag of apricots and cherries home with her.

'Ahmad' is a teenager and head of his household after the execution of his father. He's insulin dependent. He came to sit with us for an ‘ideas sharing session’ because the charitable source where he usually finds insulin has 'temporarily' closed its doors due to budget constraints. It is expected to open again soon, but he is running from one place to another to find medication. He is sad because he feels his diabetes prevents him from managing jobs very well - hard labour is usually on offer, but he is not a strong fellow. He took the fruit home to his mother and little brother and the other family with whom they share an open plan flat for 60 JD per month. His heart was no longer heavy that day.

'Shireen' is very little. She has witnessed too much already in her life. At 4, she managed to peer through the shielding hands of her mother to see her neighbour being slaughtered like a goat in the street. A few months later, she witnessed the surprise assault of her uncle - executed before her eyes at point blank. The family finally decided to leave their country Iraq, after they were detained by insurgents in their home for three days. Shireen and her siblings (younger) were allowed to roam the house. Their parents were bound and gagged. It is difficult for me to imagine how much Shireen understood about the things her mother suffered at the hands of these men. When I play with her - no matter what I give her - paints, pencils, crayons, toys - she always selects the colour red. Her mother, fortunately, uses this play time session when her daughter is not around to talk to my colleague, an Iraqi psychiatrist. Shireen is now five years old. Last week, she stabbed her baby brother in the arm to watch the blood run. She is a gentle, silent child.

Kind thanks for apricots, cherries, berries... whatever is ripening on your tree this week that you don't want!!! It is a kindness that is deeply appreciated.”

End of dispatch.


The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. ~ Albert Einstein



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