The Wish List
by Johanna Mitscherlich
When I was a child I used to write a wish list before Christmas. A few days before Christmas Eve I put it on the table of our terrace and shouted “Santa Claus, Santa Claus”, wildly flapped my arms up and down like a bird. I thought that this might draw more attention to me and my wishes. Christmas with my three siblings and my parents is always an important holiday. We eat together, listen to music, take long walks through the forest, play “Ludo” until someone really gets mad and the advent wreath burns down unnoticed next to us because we are so concentrated. At Christmas, we laugh together, care for each other, get in fights and make up with each other.
This year, I will not spend Christmas with my family, but instead in Jordan where I have been supporting our emergency team to help Syrian refugees for the past three months. Jordan is also in a Christmas mood although the majority of people here are Muslims. Fir trees are decorated with colourful ornaments and strings of lights and you can hear “Jingle Bells” in the shops.
A few days ago it snowed here more than it has in decades. The snow piled up meter-high, snowmen are standing next to palm trees, with carrots for noses and children are making snow angels. For more than 560,000 Syrian refugees living here in Jordan, the snow is not fun: They are living in run-down apartments, in empty garages or makeshift tents constructed from cardboard and tarps. They are freezing. Mothers are sewing together what little clothes they were able to take with them when they fled Syria to use as blankets to protect their children from the cold. They stay awake at night because they are afraid their children could freeze to death while they sleep.
In the past weeks and months, I talked to many Syrian refugees and asked them what they wish for. Their faces darken with a heavy veil of sadness when I ask them this question. Sometimes they reply quickly, as if the answer has been on the tip of their tongues for days just waiting to be heard, to be spoken aloud in hopes that in doing so it might actually be granted.
They wish to go back home. They wish to smell the air and the soil of Syria, to hold the metal of their door handles in their hands, to drink a cup of Turkish coffee on their way to work. Children wish for socks and warm clothes against the cold, they want to go back to school and long to see their friends or fathers again. They want their own lives back.
But sometimes they get lost in a labyrinth of memories, absorbed by the pain over what has been lost. Refugees hold their wishes and dreams painstakingly and carefully clasped as if they will disappear forever at the slightest easing of their grip. Their dreams remain counterbalance to their fears. They fear for the ones who are still at home, grief for family members who have been killed and the knowledge that their homes have been destroyed.
After three years of war and more than 120,000 casualties, many of the 2.3 million Syrians who were able to cross the borders no longer make wishes. Wishing makes them sad and weak; it numbs their daily routine of survival. One mother told me that wishing for something feels like having one of those dreams where you must run from something really fast, where you know that you have legs that can carry you, but you can still not move.
I believe there is nothing that connects people all over the world more than our wishes. On the world’s wish lists you might find pullovers, books or pictures painted by a child. But that which does not fit under any Christmas tree is what bonds us all. We wish for health, luck, peace, security and love for our friends and families.
I will spend this Christmas miles away from my family, but they will still be very close to me. More than anything Christmas is a feeling to me. A feeling of gratitude, of belonging, of pausing for a moment. This Christmas my wish is that we remind ourselves of these feelings and of the bond of humanity which connects us all and remains the strongest medicine against desperation and powerlessness.
I wish for us, the world, to give our attention to Syrian refugees, and perhaps even small donations, so they do not feel so alone. The sad truth must be plainly stated: Support for more than 10 million people who are affected by this conflict is massively and terribly underfunded.
Around me a silent, stealthy catastrophe is happening, and I really wish I had a megaphone that could sound my message throughout the world. This year, I might once more write a list, put it on my balcony here in Amman and will flap my arms wildly. The list will not be long, but I will shout louder and longer than when I was a child.