Trauma squared

“Back when we lived in Homs, the kids would do art activities at school. They drew trees, birds, and pictures of other kids playing. Now, the kids I know still draw, but they draw guns, bombs and fighter jets.”

Today I came across a video posted on the Huffington Post which interviewed children in Syria. One little girl said that her brother makes the sound of bombing in his sleep now: “BDOOH BDOOH BDOOH!” A boy just entering adolescence showed of his newest toy: a collection bullet casings he picks up as he walks through the neighbourhood, where he also checks out the mangled corpses. Where are your schoolfriends now, the interviewer asks? They’re all dead. In this video, children describe these scenes as if they were drawing a picture for their teacher at school: as if it were totally normal. To be sure, not all children have seen such horrors, but a few is already too many.

So their families flee. Whenever possible, or when it becomes utterly impossible to stay at home, mothers pack up their kids, pay a smuggler their life savings, and make their way to neighbouring Jordan, or perhaps Iraq or Lebanon or Turkey. But they find that they fled the fighting to face a new trauma: an agonising journey where they have no rights and no protection whatsoever. What happens to those women and their children on the journey? Then, they finally make it to safety. Praise be to God, they shout! But they have no home, no money, no friends, and no idea what to do next, so mothers work hard and get creative just so that their children can sleep with a roof over their heads. Trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma.

Trauma squared. Or is it trauma to the third power?

I’ve worked in several countries struggling to rebuild themselves after conflict, and the thing that most breaks my heart is the effect of trauma. People suffer from depression, psychosis, schizophrenia or other such ailments (I read today that many Iraqi refugees suffer from trauma-induced incontinence), but they have to get on with their lives. So they join the workforce, they fall in love and get married and have kids. And they do not treat the psychological damage that was done.

So every single person they encounter is affected by their trauma. If you work with someone who is struggling with mental illness, you know it can be complicated. If almost everyone in your workplace is struggling with mental illness, it inevitably alters the entire office. And children who are raised by parents who have seen the unspeakable, who have experienced things that they wish ever so much they could forget… those children’s entire lives are affected by that. In general, it seems that the trauma of war lasts about two generations beyond the generation that saw the war, even if the war itself was short: for example, the Rwandan genocide was 4 months long, two decades ago, and Rwanda is still struggling to rebuild itself.

And so I see the entire fabric of Syrian society being redesigned. A new culture, a new heritage, a new set of dreams will emerge out of the ashes of trauma… an entire nation who rarely knew anything other than peace now knows everything but peace. I fear that this new fabric is going to be ugly, and that we will always mourn the lovely, sheltered, fabric of the past.

linking today with Emily and the lovely Imperfect Prose community

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