I Hopped on a Plane to Join Syrian Refugees–What Happened Next Still Blows My Mind [A 5-Part Photo Journey]
(*This is the first post in a five-part photo story with Syrian refugees. Follow the journey every day this week.)
“Alright man, I’m on it!” responded my friend, Brandon, who moments before received my text request to help me find a non-profit working with Syrian refugees.
Brandon’s the kind of guy who has strong convictions about every possible scenario and topic that has ever existed in this world. Or, at least, he thinks he does. I’m convinced he simply steers clear of the topics he knows nothing about.
But regardless, the Syrian refugee crisis… the guy knows him some Syrian refugee crisis. So much so that over the course of a one-hour lunch, that may or may not have involved sushi, Brandon changed my thoughts on a topic that, quite frankly, I didn’t think needed changing.
[This is my man, Brandon]
So here we are, six months later, flying through the sky at five hundred miles per hour, headed towards a story we somehow, simultaneously, know everything yet nothing about.
I sit, having just eaten a very questionable vegetarian curry meal, yet OK with it because the new Gungor album is playing in my headphones—and blanket number two has recently been granted for my cold legs. Why in the world is it always so drafty in planes? Don’t answer this. I know we picked the cheapest flight possible, which therefore coincides with the cheapest plane available. A plane that clearly has a leak… or 27.
I remember in high school… or maybe it was college… I know I was sitting at a desk… learning about the “6 degrees of separation” theory. The main idea is that any two people in the world are connected in some way by no more than six people. No more than six introductions.
Six, “Hey, I have a buddy that…” conversations.
Six Uncle Freds.
Six random writers that pop up on your Facebook feed.
Strip away geography, strip away culture, strip away religion; this world is a lot more connected than we think. A lot more human. And I don’t know about you, but that adds some personal responsibility to this equation.
That brings us to me: My name is Jon, and I am a father of two children, the husband of one wife, and the owner of a photography studio in Ohio. I make my living creating photo stories for people who want to remember who they are, and what they look like at the exact moment in life they hire me.
It’s a lot of fun, actually.
I’ve learned that everybody has a story, that everybody is unique WITH their said story, and that everybody has insecurities they don’t want me to know about. Photos are photos though, and sometimes that gets restricting in the storytelling process.
So about five years ago I talked a non-profit into letting me shoot a video story for them to raise some money. It went well. So I shot another, then another, another, and somehow I keep convincing people to let me tell their stories. It’s become a pretty regular gig—one that I’m still not entirely convinced I’m worthy of performing, but I won’t tell if you don’t.
[This is moi]
I think stories are truly the secret to understanding a person, place, or organization. Until the stories start we typically just have details, and I don’t know about you, but details don’t do a whole lot for me in the feels department.
Blanket Update: I stole another from an empty seat, that’s three for those keeping track.
The guy across the aisle from me is sprawled across three seats, shoes off, mouth breathing, sleeping as if this is his first nap in a week (actually, this might truly be his first nap in a week), yet my mind is in overdrive with scenarios of what the next 9 days may or may not look like. So many fears, curiosities, excitements, stereotypes, insecurities, and about a thousand other emotions that I’ve yet to put properly down on this computer screen.
The fact is, most of us don’t know a whole lot about Syrian refugees.
I know I didn’t.
Last time I checked we had an Arab country that got themselves tangled up in a civil war, we had a pretty overbearingly rough government—being stood up to by a pretty passionate group of rebels—all the while displacing a whole mess of men, women, and children from their previously “safe” homes.
Sure it sucks, and heck yeah I feel bad for these people, but what exactly am I supposed to do about it? They’re the Middle East, aren’t things always fragile and despondent over there?
Tell me that isn’t pretty much the only information YOU have as well?
Back to my friend Brandon. We were discussing this topic over sushi, remember?
He helped me better understand the depth of not only why this is all happening, but more importantly, what these tragic circumstances are doing to the people of Syria as a whole.
It’s dehumanizing. And it’s happening right before our desensitized eyes.
It’s unthinkable, but five years ago Syria was a country full of men and women with careers, families, retirement plans, savings accounts, birthday parties, iPhones, and favorite sports teams. This is a country of men, women, and children, who had career goals for the future, and family plans for the weekend.
We’re ultimately viewing our reflection—only without a mirror in sight.
So, why not us? Why not me? Why is this not happening to my family? To my friends? To my country? I could spout some naïve theories with shortsighted reasoning, but that wouldn’t be too helpful. Not at this point.
What I will do, however, is share some stories. Real. Human. Stories.
That’s what I promise to do over the next week as I share photos, profiles and intimate portraits of people like you and me—just in a different part of the world.
In a different place.
I hope you’ll join me.
*Keep a lookout for tomorrow’s photo essay–or subscribe to the FaithIt newsletter to get it sent to your inbox!