When I got to the Karamanlis refugee camp, outside of Thessaloniki, I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. I can say for sure, however, that I wasn't planning to watch any music videos.
And yet: behold.
That is, in fact, a music video. Like thousands of other homemade videos on YouTube, it features a bunch of people who mostly can't dance hopping around and lip-syncing with unabashed glee. The main difference, of course, is that it was filmed in unheated warehouses and featured a bunch of performers who had fled their homes and were living out of tents. But everything else, you'll have to admit, is a pretty close match.
Today seemed like a good day to share this, given the news that's coming out of Aleppo. What's happening is so horrific, and yet countries around the world - my own not least among them - remain terrified of taking in the people who are fleeing. And I wonder, if we realized how similar we are and how easily these lives could have been our own, we'd feel the same way.
The person who introduced me to the video above was the guy in the white cap, the one who does a lot of the dancing; his name is Azziz.* I was there for work about a month ago - one of our clients is an NGO that operates clinics in the camps - and he was one of our translators. His university studies, in chemistry, had been interrupted. He spoke four languages, and his favorite musician was Ed Sheeran. While I was there, I also met a neurosurgeon, a student of Arabic literature, and an agricultural vet (he specialized in chickens). I met a telecom engineer and a former five-star chef who made the best falafel I've ever tasted. These were people who had lived middle-class lives. They did not have any problems when I handed them an iPad. And then, all of a sudden, they went from houses and grocery stores and nice cars to living in tents and worrying about lice.
I'm not sharing this story, and this video, right now because I think that you should be well-off or a pop song fan in order to be an Acceptable Refugee. (I don't. I really can't emphasize that enough.) I'm sharing it for two reasons. One, because the fear that drives anti-immigrant sentiment, of the kind that has become so disturbingly common in America, thrives when you're looking at a faceless Other - but it's a lot harder to sustain when we identify something we have in common with the other side. Even if that something in common is just a mutual love of Justin Timberlake.
And two, I'm sharing it because even if you're not particularly opposed to supporting refugees, in the massive tsunami of tragedy, it's often hard to make out the shapes of individual stories. And like it or not, those are the stories that often move us to action. They're the stories that cause us to reconsider just how bad it would be to have an influx of newcomers arrive, or how active we should be in advocating for safer spaces, for more resources, for a better welcome. Marketing has been a big part of my career. I know how this works.
So here is your proof - not from me, but straight from them - that we're not that different. That, despite the almost unimaginable atrocities that are happening, there are real people involved, not just numbers, and they need all the support they can get. And, as John Darnielle puts it:
They came in by the dozens
Walking or crawling
Some were bright-eyed, some were dead on their feet
And they came from Zimbabwe, or from Soviet Georgia
East Saint Louis, or from Paris, or they lived across the street
But they came, and when they finally made it here
It was the least that we could do to make our welcome clear...
(PS. Just to be clear, there are lots of actual things you can do. Refugees Are Welcome has some advocacy tips if you're so inclined; refugees.org has resources for donation and volunteer opportunities.)
*He gave me permission to use his first name. Also, he said he would like this video shared as widely as possible.