From the perspective of Harriet Jacobs:
I recently had the opportunity to fly to the region around the Mediterranean Sea. I first travelled to Greece and, after two flights, landed on the Greek island of Lesbos. After a day of rest, I decided to visit the eastern coast of the island, an emblem of freedom in the eyes of many, because this is where many refugees have been turning up as a result of the conflicts in the Middle East. Here, I found groups of exhausted men, women, and children struggling to get out of their lifeboats. Their clothing was faded by the harsh Mediterranean sun and salty air and tattered by the strong winds. Some looked extremely malnourished, weak, and miserable. Many were ill. Pneumonia was common due to the cold they endured and cholera from the lack of sanitation. Yet, surprising to me, all those that had just arrived wore a look of relief on their face. I knew they had a long journey ahead of them, and the conditions they faced at this new land were anything but celebration worthy.
From Lesbos, I travelled to Lebanon, a country closer to the fighting taking place in Syria. The contrast between these refugees and the newly arrived refugees in Greece was drastic to say the least. These poor, pitiable people were living in established refugee camps and the hope of freedom seemed drained from them, and their eyes seemed to question their freedom in this new land. The living conditions were horrible, thirteen people crammed into a room built for two or three. Everywhere I looked there was poverty and suffering. There were multiple times when children ran up to me asking to buy their belongings because they needed money to feed their families. I also met a woman, Samira, who openly stated, “I want my final days to come” (Christian). This woman, in her suffering, did not understand that death would not fix anything; in death, she would selfishly leave her burdens to her children.
When asked if I’d like the opportunity to visit the Syrian refugees, I gladly accepted because people of my race were once refugees fleeing the oppressive south. I am very thankful to all those who willingly helped the contrabands of the civil war and worked to improve their conditions at the camps where they stayed, and I feel as though I need to shed some light into the conditions of the Syrian refugees as I once did for my fellow African Americans. During my travels, I met many kids eager to learn and show off the skills they had once learned in school, some speaking to me in both Arabic and English. The desire of these children to learn was very evident in their demeanor and attitude. However, most of the children spent their time working to feed their family, rather focusing on education. If this continues to be the case, an entire generation of Syrians will be lost and left in the dark. Their lack of education will lead to the continuance of their oppression and will allow for the exploitation of their race. While you may not be able to directly help, consider supporting the movement to take in refugees and working toward their education. Education may be the difference between surviving in a new country and dying on the streets.
Reflecting on My Experience Writing from Jacobs’ Perspective:
Writing about the Syrian refugee crisis from Jacobs’ perspective was eye opening. In her writing, Jacobs takes an approach opposite of sentimentalism focusing on the cold, hard realities of the situation. In her work, “Life Among the Contrabands,” Jacobs focuses on the horrible conditions of contraband slaves, and sometimes even acts unsympathetic towards them despite being of the same oppressed race. For me, it was a challenge to take something as devastating as the Syrian refugee crisis and find ways to be critical of the crisis’ victims. However, in doing this, I have realized that just because someone is victimized does not mean they cannot work to change the reality of their situation. During Jacobs’ time, slaves could be oppressed and exploited due to their ignorance, and as a result, Jacobs seemingly scolds them in her work. While the circumstances of the Syrian refugees are different, and education may not fix the immediate problems they face, their status as refugees prevents their children from getting the education they need and deserve. I feel that if their children are not educated, the poor status of Syrians may be allowed to continue for generations to come, even after the refugee crisis ends.
Djurica, Marko. Smartphones are Cheap. Reuters. Web. 9 March 2016.
“Interview with a Syrian Refugee.” Oxfam. Oxfam, 25 January 2013. Web. 9 March 2016.
Jacobs, Harriet. “Life Among the Contrabands.”Humanities Core Course Guide and Reader. Ed. Carol Burke. Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2013. 63-68. Print.
Muheisen, Muhammed. Syrian refugees on the Greek Island of Lesbos. 2015. The Guardian. Web. 9 March 2016.
“Syrian Refugees: Desperate just to go to school.”CNN. CNN, 2 March 2016. Web. 9 March 2016.