On my way home from work yesterday, an elderly gentleman asked me for directions. Pointing at the metro map we realized that we were going to the same stop. I asked where he was from and he said Afghanistan. He came to the USA as a refugee after losing most of his family in the war. “Peace and health,” were most important in life, he said.
Strangest thing is that I was refugee from Afghanistan just two days prior, as part of the Doctors Without Borders Forced From Home interactive exhibit on the national mall. The exhibit immerses you in the experience of a refugee. First you are handed a card with a nationality and then your journey begins. There was an amazing 360 video that sets you right in the middle of refugee camps in Lebanon, Tanzania, Mexico, and Greece. You can see some of them on their website, such a powerful exhibit.
Then you line up at your given country, learn a bit about the history, and are asked to pick 5 items you would take with you on a treacherous journey if forced to leave your home as an army is approaching. I picked a motorbike, water, blankets, clothes, and cell phone, realizing only afterwards that a motorbike was not going to fit on the boat piled full of others also fleeing. “Over 100 people were found on a boat slightly larger than this one,” our guide, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders said, to our group of roughly 20 people who were not even able to find a seat in tiny boat we were looking at wide-eyed.
Once making it through your journey you learn what it is like to live in a camp. How heavy a jug of water is to carry for even a short distance, how small a tent can be, how a short time turns into a long time for many refugees, how the sick receive medical attention in these challenging settings, and how common it is to fall sick when your are forced from home.
The traveling exhibit will be in Boston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia over the next month. I highly recommend registering for a tour. Learn more about Doctors Without Borders and their traveling interactive exhibit Forced From Home.