I used to think that French women were strong and that as a French woman I was myself strong. I used to think that Muslim women were weak, they had to cover their heads and were submitted to their husbands and I felt sorry for them. I spent a week in Athens helping the refugees and it all shifted.
My friend Esther has met two women in a camp we visited. They walked from Syria to Turquey for 81 days with their whole family and crossed on a dinghy boat to Greece. They are now living in one the camps in Athens and they invited Esther for tea in their tent. Their ‘neighbours’, the people in the next tent, told us very seriously : “They are strong women, powerful strong women.” They are Muslim women who wear the veil, but 81 days I almost three months and never again will I think Muslim women are weak.
We met a Syrian family of 8 children that invited us over for dinner. They used to very rich in Syria before the war. Syria used to be a rich country and this family had their own transportation business. But during the war Daesh demanded their money to finance their acts of terror, they were threatened and blackmailed and they fled to Turkey. In Turkey the corrupt Turkish government saw how much money they had on their bank account and were demanding it too. Refugees have no rights in Turkey. After two years there and two more children born, they crossed the sea to Greece. They lived in a refugee camp for a while and there their eldest son was killed. They will never get justice, millions of people go through the camps and who cares what happens there? Now they live in a small flat in Athens, with a few mattresses and an ikea table and they invited us there for dinner. As the husband was explaining their story I was looking at the mother and the eldest daughter, women that lost everything and most importantly women that lost a brother and a son. They know what happened and what is happening and they were looking at us with infinite kindness and with wise eyes that said ‘remember ou story.’ These women are a lot stronger than me or any woman I know.
We helped at a center for refugee families where they can use showers, a play room, tables to hang out and eat, and have language lessons. I met little girls that are fighting really hard to learn both Greek and English. The children see different volunteers every day, volunteers come and go and the children have to repeat their names again and again and create new relationships. One of the little girls came to me with a notebook determined that I would teach her the English alphabet. At the same time she was repeating to her younger sister what she was learning. These girls are only a few years old and are already a lot stronger than me.
I used to think of myself as a strong woman. I was raised by a strong feminist mum who was the first of her family to go to University, she taught me not to believe in fairy tales and that if ever I was locked up in a tower, not to wait for a man to rescue me but to get out. One of my earliest memories is my mum teaching me how to breathe when I feel like crying. Not as to say ‘you annoy me when you cry’ but as to say ‘You’re going to need to know that.’
On day four of the trip in Greece we went to a refugee camp for the second time. We went to see Nassir that we had met before and his sister-in-law offered me tea. I said yes. She went to one side of the camp to get clean water then she washed the kettle and filled it up. She went to the other side of the camp to plug the kettle. Ten minutes later she came back with delicious tea as we were talking to our friend and her brother-in-law Nassir about the love of Jesus. I felt the Spirit of God coming down and I felt my heart breaking. I felt a pain in my chest and I wanted to cry. The whole day I felt the same and I tried really hard to smile and laugh but I just wanted to weep. Before going to bed I found a place where I could cry and pray for an hour, I thought I’d be better in the morning. The next day I was again low and ready to cry, with the same pain in my chest. My friend Esther and I went to the beach in the afternoon and there we prayed. We prayed for quite a long time and didn’t stop as we felt God’s presence. Right after that I felt the pain in my chest had lifted up and I said to her with a smile “I could do anther week of mission now.” She answered : “Bring it on, me too!”
God never grows tired or weary, He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. (Isaiah 40) I am a weak woman and I only want to be weaker because my strength is in the Lord. It is when I am weak that God is strong and I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Phil 4:13)
I don’t know who used to be my female models, maybe the Suffragettes, Rosa Park, maybe Hilary Clinton or Simone de Beauvoir, maybe my mum.
We have a lot a female icons in the West but from now on Syrian women are my heroes.