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Civil March For Aleppo: Bridge made out of our feet

On the peace march learned a lot about the conflict. It’s an important and very sad lesson.

Hanna and Mila came back from the weekend with grandparents. From sailing. With new kids life-jackets. They put them for fun, I’ve seen it and I’ve frozen.
I’ve seen in my mind a mountain of those kind of life-jackets, we have visited on the Greek island Lesbos. On our way with Civil March For Aleppo. On the way from Berlin to Syria.
“What has been seen, cannot be unseen”, say people on Lesbos. Cannot be unseen, untouched, forgot.

With the group of the marchers we started walking last December. We have walked through 12 different countries, and in each of those we faced something similar: in Berlin, in Slovenia, in Macedonia, on the Greek islands or in Lebanon, at the very border with Syria.
Facing something Very Important. Something, which in our safe and comfy European world doesn’t exist. Something we haven’t had since 70 years. Facing the life and the death. Facing helping or turning your head away. Taking the consequences of our life-styles, which lead to the world, which we have right now. Taking the consequences at least by the feeling of solidarity.

On Lesbos we met people, who 3 years ago came just for a week and they stayed for good. Because after facing the Important, it’s hard to go back to the company life or lifting face cream.
And this is just the beginning of our experience, here in Europe. We still have a little bit of time to reflect on it, think about it and get ready. And help our families and friends to get ready. We still have a little bit of time to decide which direction we wanna go. If we want to close our eyes or not. If we want to try to do something or not.

Autumn

Last November I felt that I have to try. While watching online the videos from Syria, which was for the 6th year on an awful war, I couldn’t stand feeling hopeless. Out of this hopeless I wrote on facebook: “What if we go there? Would it help? If we go altogether? The so-called refugee route just other way round? If this helps, would you join? A crowd of Europeans on the way to Aleppo. Would you join me?”.
In few weeks it turned out that those, who wanted to try, were hundreds.

“Children Crusade”, “Leftish idiots on holidays”, “Ego trip to feel better” – we heard. From those, who didn’t want to try.

most of the pictures by Janusz Ratecki or Thomas Alboth

Winter

We have started after 3 weeks. Almost half a thousand of people, on the second day of Christmas, from Tempelhof, the biggest refugee camp in Berlin. To show our solidarity, to share the hope, not to let the war be forgotten.

We realised fast that the war in Syria means also the war in information. “Everybody would like the peace in Syria, no?” – we thought in our naive way.
All started with the political challenges: the march was joined by Syrian revolutionists or by right-wing German youtuber. Every day the talks with Syrians walking with us, were opening our heads for more.
But also somewhere, on the streets of Saxony, someone gave us a little heart-shaped stone. Or a group of activists from Madagascar send us a video with solidarity. From Madagascar! And we were walking in -16 degrees.

In Czech schools, where we were sleeping, we met kids, growing up in anti-migrants feeling. For some of them, it was a first meeting with a Syrian person ever.
In Austria some Syrians met for the very first time such Europeans. Those, who have walked, step by step, just to show to the world that they disagree. That they don’t have in their hearts “yes” for the bad things. That they want to walk, they can, so they do.

Because walking is easy: everyone can join. Everyone, who believes that his presence might have sense. “Would it change anything if I walk with you for one hour?” – people asked us and gave 100 euros instead of their presence. We gave away this 100 euros to NGO, helping the refugees surviving cold winter on Balkans and gave the answer: “What if every European would join just for one hour? We would be millions!”. But we were not becoming millions. Rather the opposite. The group was getting smaller and smaller.
But so much was going on in this group!

One day, for example, two Austrian ladies were walking in front of me. They were talking about the weather and about the peace and suddenly they hugged each other: – Oh God, it’s youuuu! – it turned out that some 20 years ago they have done some project together and now they are meeting on the march, even if none of them joined for long.
Or another day, when we had a group of disable boys with us. They gave their best but still the group was slightly slower than usual. Denis, our teddy-bear sweetheart and Fredy, our dear junky, took the boys on their shoulders and carried until the end. That was the day when we have crossed 100 km. 1000Km is something like 467 988 steps.

most of the pictures by Janusz Ratecki or Thomas Alboth

Spring

When it became warmer, we have reached Slovenia. Green hills and cars were stopping to give us wine or local sausages as the gifts.

When we arrived to Croatian border, we stopped at the wire, which was build a year earlier to better control the border. Each of us wrote something on his piece of paper, to express our feelings. “This fence saddens me”, “This fence annoys me”, “hurts me”, “pisses me off”. Ahmad from Syria wrote: “This fence was built for me”.

In Bosnia we jumped to the river for the first time. And for the first time my hands hurt from waving to the drivers. But in Sarajevo my heart hurt. We crossed the old town barefoot, doing a performance. We put our feet into the red paint and we were marching, drawing a parabola between besieged Aleppo and besieged Sarajevo.

Sometimes we crossed the meadow with daisies. Sometimes we crossed national park in the spring flood. Sometimes it was still snowing. But every day we were checking the news from Syria. Sometimes the tragic ones, like the fact that there was an air strike with chemical weapon in Khan Shaykhun. And we were just in the half of our way…

Every day each of us learned something new. Because we had to. Even if more than 3500 people joined the march, we were still a group of amateurs, who wanted good. We had to learn to make a breakfast for 50 people, to park the car with a trailer, and to ask strangers for place to sleep: in the church, in the mosque or in the stable.

But again: maybe amateurs, but what kind of! In Macedonia 77-year-old Inge from Germany has joined us. She said she felt guilty all life long because of her father’s activities during the WWII. Inge put all her courage together, drove her red van, crossed alone thousands kilometres to join us for 2 weeks of the march.
Or Cassandra, the mother of 4 kids, from Australia. When she read about the march, she told her husband she had to join us. He gave her few months to fix the family things and they bought a ticket for her, to spend few days with us.

most of the pictures by Janusz Ratecki or Thomas Alboth

Summer

The summer came, when we were in Greece. Together with summer storms. Once, completely wet, we got to some petrol station in the eastern Greece. The owner of the petrol station gave us dry clothes. From the basket “for the refugees”. Because that roads were and are crossed by thousands of the refugees. And not far away from there there is 182-meters wall on the Turkish border.
We arrived to Lesbos island quite late and we had no place to sleep. But in the refugee camp Pikpa they made an exception for us and invited us to the refugees’ tent. Only on that night another 150 people came on the boats from Turkey. Their wet life-jackets were still hanging on the fence. And even if we know that last year at that time, there was 4000 people coming every day, each of those 150 is this facing life and dead.

On the Greek islands, thousands of people are stuck. They cannot go further, going back is not an option either. We, for many weeks, were fighting to get a permission to cross to Turkey as a group. We couldn’t do it, without taking too high risks.

most of the pictures by Janusz Ratecki or Thomas Alboth

We decided for plan B: to get as close to Syria as possible, from the other side, from Lebanon.

One of the first words we have learned in Beirut was “sidfeh” – such a coincidence, which is not a coincidence. In such a way we have met politicians, journalists, UNHCR workers and great friends, who helped us to meet another and another group of Syrians.

Sometimes it was 40 degrees, the air was sticky and it stinked of the mixture of garbage, dead animals and strong jasmine. Marching through Lebanon was not a pleasure. “Come on, everybody in Lebanon knows about Syria, don’t pretend you are not on holidays”, we were getting a lot of comments. But, for example, Maria, well situated student from Damascus, who left Syria with parents still before the war, together with us entered the refugee camp for the very first time. In Lebanon, where 1/3 of people are the refugees! “Goshhh, I know the language, I have free time, I could be so useful…”, she said. She could. Will she? Whatever she will decide for, the seed was planted. She has something to think about.

We spend our last weeks on thinking, if we should cross the border with Syria or not. If trying to get to Aleppo itself has even sense. We decided not to apply for the visa from the regime. We didn’t want to destroy all what we have build for almost 8 months of marching. We didn’t want to be used for propaganda of peace in not-peaceful Syria. We met too many Syrians, who told us too much about the regime and about the propaganda.

Against the will of Lebanese army, we have reached the Syrian border. We stood at the river and were looking on the other side. Green fields looked so peaceful. We were standing and tried to feel it: how is it to, with your own feet, build a bridge between your home and the border. How different we have felt, than those 3000km before?
We touched, by our meetings on the way, few thousands people. All this time, we were asked: are you paid in dollars, rubbles, rials or just with fame? All this time, somebody tried to provoke us, not believing in our honest try to make something good.

most of the pictures by Janusz Ratecki or Thomas Alboth

It was superdifficult. Those 3500 people were all strong individuals. Maybe people are even not made for spending 24/7 in a group of strangers? On one hand, we had so much in common: mostly we were from Europe, mostly we were young, after studies, speaking foreign languages. We shared similar values: peace in the world, human rights, democracy. We were trying to be fair to each other and to talk with respect. And still, it was so damn easy to have a conflict. Somebody wished to march faster, somebody slower, somebody preferred that one, somebody would like to risk more, somebody would like to sleep next to this person or that.

On the peaceful march I learned a lot about the conflict. And this is very important and very sad lesson.

 

You can see a LOT of pictures made by Janusz Ratecki in his Civil March For Aleppo seen by Janusz Ratecki.

This text was published in Polish in “Wysokie Obcasy” magazine.


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