Written by Harriet Paintin, illustrated by Hannah Kirmes-Daly.
Sitting in the transit camp one night (used as a bus stop to transfer refugees from the coast of Lesvos to the registration camps) surrounded by people wrapped in blankets sleeping on the dusty ground, Najmah and Mohammad sat wide awake while their family slept around them. We passed a couple of enjoyable hours with them, talking of journeys and hometowns, food and dreams for the future. As Hannah began sketching a portrait of the two of them they both struck a pose, excited and pleased to be the center of attention for a while.
We showed them the finished portrait and they both smiled and laughed. They were so pleased with it that Hannah tore the page out of her sketchbook and handed it to them. ‘We will remember you by this’, they said.
These two cousins from Iraq had such a light-hearted, loving relationship that became apparent even in the short time we spent together. They were constantly making jokes about each other, ‘she never cooks, she only watches TV! Although, she makes very good eggs’, Mustafa said, a mischievous glint in his eyes as Najmah responded by shrieking in indignation and punching him in the shoulder.
‘Today he is a hero!’ Najmah said, putting her arm around Mustafa. ‘He was the captain of our boat and he saved the lives of 50 people. Thanks to him, and God, we are here.’
Mustafa spoke in a quiet voice as he told us that their engine had broken 100m out to sea. Using oars, they paddled back to Turkey and demanded a new engine from the smugglers. Four hours later the same engine came back, hastily patched up. They complained further, and the smugglers told them they could either go out to sea or go to the police station (which would result in their arrest, deportation and a five year long travel ban). They had just spent four days hiding from the police in the forest without food, ‘we were so scared we did not even need to eat’.
‘The smugglers are bad men, they are playing a dirty game. With our lives!’ Najmah cried.
Somewhere out to sea, between Turkey and Greece, they saw a rescue helicopter flying above them.
‘They saw us. halfway across the ocean, they didn’t help us. Why didn’t they help us? Why don’t they want us to come? We’re adorable!’ She exclaimed, only half joking.
‘Do you miss your home?’ Najmah asked us, when we told her that we spend long periods of time away from home. ‘No!’ we both replied.
‘What?! I miss my home so much… so much! Iraqi food is so good… and tea! I want Iraqi tea now. In Turkey the food was so bad, KFC and McDonalds, for eight days now I have not eaten good Iraqi food! But you will go home for Christmas, no? I love Christmas, I will have such a nice Christmas in Europe… with a tree, and a turkey! In Paris, or London’.