Dreaming Of Home - 3rd Winner in the European Solidarity Essay Prize

28th Oct 2020 | Greece By Asher Barral

A dry heat had begun to settle upon the camp, a thin early morning breeze doing little to cool the air, the dark sky above disguising the few dotted clouds that drifted off to the approaching sunrise. A familiar chorus of cicadas had begun, a tune that became somewhat muffled from inside the tent, yet still acted as a functional alarm for Fatima, who would have to journey to collect today’s breakfast. After forcing her eyes open, she sluggishly reached for her flower-patterned headdress, before glancing at her eleven-year-old son, packed firmly into one corner of the tent- having only his face visible over the blanket. He had inherited much from his father, his charcoal hair pushed messily to one side, light coco skin half shadowed. He had been named Samir, meaning ‘Charming Companion,’ a fitting name of Syrian origin. The space inside the tent was cramped, being more suited to one person, yet she tried to her best to quietly exit, wishing not to wake Samir.

Outside, her teal-shaded dress began to faintly glow in time with the golden sunrise, the same leather sandals she always wore quickly following suit. As her eyes adjusted, the familiar sight of hundreds of tents awaited her - the cheap nylon material shaking violently, even in the light breeze. She hastily made her way down the path to where they would be serving breakfast, wary that the queue would already be building. Scarred with the footfalls of thousands of refugees, the path had seen little care over the years - the sight of a large hole on its surface uncommon, among other damage. Upon passing the centre of the camp, she noticed that the Covid-19 testing facility - being a pale white tent larger than the standard living ones - had obviously been poorly supported, now slanted awkwardly to the side, almost scraping the floor. She also recognised the irony of a group huddled closely neighbouring it, partially hidden in shadow, throwing her apprehensive glances- before continuing hostile discourse.

Nailed precariously onto olive trees, worn posters begged for the regular use of soap, despite the lack of soap present in the camp, even in the toilets, which remained a pure breeding ground of disease, wholeheartedly supported by a chronic lack of funding. Reaching the queue, she miserably saw it stretch on, herself conforming to the palpable disdain on every face also waiting in line.


Outside the window, light pattering of rain promised adverse weather, the usual noise of chattering birds replaced with the sound of the downpour, and the sombre creaks of an aching tree branch waving to the window. Dan woke up promptly at 8 o’clock to these noises, proceeded to wash, change into comfortable, checked pyjamas, and eat breakfast by 8:40, then resumed position in his desk chair. He was fifteen, with muddy blonde hair and medium white skin spotted with freckles. His eyes were a rare difference in colour, one lapis blue and the other a soft royal blue, which made his disposition more noticeable among contemporaries. Since lockdown, his school had adopted online lessons - mainly comprising of lessons absent of the face of a teacher. As the time reached 8:45, he grabbed his English book and began the lesson.


Thank You “شكر”

After having waited three hours, being given a loaf of bread, grapes, and a two-litre bottle of water, she returned to the path back she had taken previously, now vastly overcrowded with thousands of people. Viewing the spectacle, she made the hasty decision to attempt a shortcut, hoping to sooner get back to Samir.

Turning left off to the side of the testing facility, she continued onwards, turned right, and onto the shortcut. This track was certainly more secluded, a pleasant salty smell offered by the bordering seaside, alongside the chirping of anonymous birds - hidden in the bright foliage, bathed in warm, unwavering sunlight. It was a paradisiacal landscape.

In spite of the beauty, nothing would change her feelings of disdain towards this place. It remained, seemingly hiding behind a masquerade of tropical shore, for it only to morph into a painful reminder of her lost husband, Saad, and the boat on which she had lost him. Fleeing from Syria had crushed her. A whole life seemed to of been taken away from her: an aspiring career, her husband, her home. Her family. Only her son remained, forced to be brought up by a single mother trapped in a refugee camp, uneducated, unsafe, and vulnerable.


It was now midday, the rain had lightened, and the prospects of daylight brought with it the opportunity for a walk, stray sunbeams streaming through Dan’s window. Choosing a secluded route, he predicted he would be back in time for evening, then got changed into a thick coat and charcoal boots, had a quick puff of his inhaler, and set off.


Even after being provided food and water, nothing could replace proper medical care and it was easy to see that Samir’s asthma symptoms had worsened considerably from the day before. Fatima gently stroked his hair, saying “We will find help soon, I’m sure. And tomorrow I’ll get you a mask, and we’ll be able to go out in the afternoons.”

She returned to her own blanket, silently praying that Samir would remain safe from Covid-19, and soon find help. Recently they had not left the tent after 12:00, other than for the toilet and food, to prevent risk.


The walk was pleasant, the midday sun brightening the damp air, the scenery calm and undisturbed. This daylight had now quickly passed however, slipping away to be replaced with a mundane evening and gloomy sky, Dan resorting to idle chores and TV, up to when he would eventually sleep - another school day ahead of him.


Fatima slept quickly, drifting off willingly in her everyday clothes, whilst Samir had a harder time - mostly restless, coughing on occasion, before also submitting into the embrace of rest, dreaming of home.

Winners announced for Action For Education’s 1st European Solidarity Essay Prize

Sign up to AFE News