Each day of our teaching in the refugee camp, we play a variation of Susan Kaiser Greenland’s mindfulness game for children called “Mind, Body — Go.”* Our Little Ripples preschool teachers are young and they love to play! We sit and take turns rolling a ball across the circle. Each time the ball rolls to a new person, she notices how she feels in her body and her mind. Ahmed translates the answers:
“My mind is happy, my body has good energy.”
”My mind is happy, my body has fever.”
”My mind is happy, I have a headache.”
Occasionally, a teacher with bloodshot eyes says, “My mind is tired…malaria.”
As I learn more about life in the camp, I marvel at the dedication and grit of these teachers. Quite a few are also nursing little ones, and every day at home they haul heavy jugs of water on their heads, wash clothes, grind flour…Although they may have a headache or body ache or a fever, they are so committed to the children’s education that they show up to greet them at 7 a.m., no matter what.
Well fed and healthy, I know how I feel sitting in that same circle—sweating in 100+ degrees, thirsty flies landing by my eyes and nostrils, perspiration evaporating instantly in the psychedelic heat. When I tell Ahmed how impressed I am by their devotion to their work, he says, there’s no choice: “Here, we never have seven days in a row of feeling healthy.”
Oumda Tarbosh is a leader. He tries to stay cheerful and optimistic for his family and for his community. But he readily acknowledges that people are traumatized, malnourished, and often feel hopeless. In a quiet voice, he describes how hard it is to survive. “Here are destroyed lives,” he declares flatly, sitting heavily back in his plastic chair.
Feeling Oumda’s moment of deep sadness, I, too, feel sad—overwhelmed by the interminable exile and ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan. I wonder, what difference can I possibly make here? We don’t even know if America will keep funding essential UN food and refugee programs under the new administration. Can you imagine running for your life, hiding, camping out, and then being forced to stay at your campsite for 13 years? And yet—the welcome, warmth, and appreciation we feel from Oumda, Ahmed, and the teachers, the excitement and happiness of the children, fill our hearts to the brim. Like a sunflower to the sun, we can all turn our hearts towards one another. We can choose to love and care. With a little bit of mindfulness, we can create and cherish moments of peace and joy, and find ways to serve our world.