Author’s Note: I was volunteering, mostly translating and helping with the distribution of materials, at manmade refugee camps on the streets of Paris, most notably Stalingrad and Jaures.
At this point, there were over 2,000 migrants living on these streets in tents and sleeping bags. I am not writing to showcase this migrant crisis alone, yet I also want to point out that the crisis may be diluted on our television screens, but it stands to be a reality that persists and has dragged on with no end.
I am writing about a particular person who has shaken my very consciousness.
On the evening of Oct. 19, 2016, I was on the streets of Jaures surveying people’s needs. Around 7 p.m., the rest of the volunteer group had parted and went home while I was finishing a conversation with a migrant. The conversation broke off as I turned around to a woman collapsing to the ground in front of me, bleeding from her lower torso. I had just arrived in Paris, with little knowledge of French and carrying a student visa. I immediately opened my phone to call an ambulance.
A panicked man grabbed me and informed me that it was his wife on the ground, and that she had been two months pregnant. My first peek at our lack of humanity began in this moment – as I had noticed the fragility of the woman in front of me. She was malnourished, extremely thin, and forgotten; she had been living on the streets for the past 10 days since her arrival in France.
This woman was from Ethiopia, she had fled the conflict and insecurity that plagued her home. She travelled by foot through many countries, and by boat through the Mediterranean Sea until she arrived onto the continent of so-called appraised democracy, liberty and freedom.
The paramedics arrived and took the woman into the ambulance. I turned to explain to one of the paramedics that the woman spoke no French, no English and little Arabic. Her native tongue was an Ethiopian dialogue of Amharic. Her husband spoke enough English to be able to communicate, and I pleaded with them to allow him to accompany his wife to the hospital. The paramedics refused to allow her husband to enter the ambulance. They told me I could accompany them on the ride, but he was not allowed. He must meet her at the hospital.
All while this was occurring, with every glance I gave back to the woman, I saw agony, pain and a suffering I could do nothing about. I became more unable to comprehend my own helplessness, while her husband standing to me was in complete dismay and confusion. Two young French church women were also giving their aid at the camp that night. They offered to take the husband to the hospital to reunite with his ailing wife. I got into the ambulance and went to the emergency gynecologist at Lariboisière Hospital.
I was filling out her paperwork for the hospital admission. Because she spoke no English or French, we communicated in the little Arabic she knew. I asked for her information, and when I asked her age, my throat dried up at her response, and I felt a sickening rift in my heart.
She was 20 years old. I was 20 years old.
I continued to fill out her information and her husband soon arrived. She was admitted, checked and the doctor explained to me that she had had a miscarriage. I had to explain to her that her baby was gone. She looked at me with deep brown eyes that seemed to have lost their vibrant colour. She neither cried, panicked nor showed any sign of disarray. I realized that this must have been just another tragedy in what seemed to be her fight for existence.
It was 6 a.m. when we were discharged from the hospital. I called myself an Uber – I recall justifying the Uber call by the idea that I was uncomfortable and tired in going home by public transit. As we exited the doors of the emergency centre, she gave me a tight hug and thanked me.
I never understood what she was thanking me for. I could not prevent her miscarriage, nor could I have eased any of her suffering.
I was just there.
I remember her frail back as she walked away with her husband as I got into my Uber. It dawned on me on the ride back to my dormitory, where she was going, and where I was going. I was going back home to my four-by-four residence dorm, my bed and the haven that it provides. She was returning to the streets of uncertainty, cruelty and a place where it seems as though humanity has evanesced.
She was 20 years old. I was 20 years old. Yet the circumstances of our lives were vindictively different. I questioned every day thereafter, why my life was what it was, while hers was what it was. What had I done in the short span of my existence that deserved the privilege that I was in? What had she done in the short span of her existence to deserve the calamity that she was living?
The answer to both is nothing.
A sickening nothing.
The feebleness of my existence continues to haunt me as I look around me and realize the security, privilege, and the heaven I preside in is at the cost of another. Another innocent, another being that bleeds as I do, another 20-year-old woman who has sinned no more than me; yet hell seems to have imprinted a shadow behind her as she searches for my heaven.
We could never be given a clearer perception of our privilege until we are confronted with the devil that is our mankind. I have yet to understand why we have abandoned each other, why we stand divided and refute our human unity.
We have lost our mortality searching to justify our man-made civilizations. We have built walls that divide us, chuckled rhetoric of odium, and have given in to the fear of the unknown. We have stared into the mirror and disregarded our own consciousness as we paint our value of humanity by the skin colour of another. We have chosen to make enemies out of friends, and we have selfishly chosen domination of our privilege – a privilege that we have done nothing to deserve.
I returned to the same street, week after week, trying to find the young couple.
I never did.
By Sara Fallaha
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.