Solidarity, (For)ever by Becky Thompson, Feminist Formations

In Eftalou, surreal life jackets strewn like a painting, Syrian students
show me a video of a poetry slam
in Damascus. One man from Qamishli asks about Tupac Shakur.
That night I call my mother, her voice
a low viola, who tells me about ancient Arabic etched into pottery
she studied in Qamishli, whispers, they’re
gassing children, bombing the mosques. I’m too embarrassed
to ask, where’s Syria on a map?
It’s two countries west of Afghanistan, on rafts with young
guys from Pakistan. Find a map.
We scribble map routes from Eftalou to Mytilini, on paper
napkins. They’re walking across the island.
Young yogis raise money on Facebook so we can buy baby
bottles, tuna, maxi pads, sim cards. But don’t buy
dates. If people have anything it’s that delectable fruit mothers
pull from their bags after the last disaster.
Each family a chosen date.

It’s an honor to be offered a date, to witness the birth of new life
when jubilation circles the beach
but a father reaches for a diaper from his bag and pulls out
a key for a house that is obliterated.
The door gone, the key remains, a diaper for his child but—
he shows me photos.
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I retrace my mother’s steps, her only true love, a Lebanese man
who taught Dostoyevsky.
He called her habibti, a word that breathes now on this island.
When someone asks you to choose
one spelling for habibti —habeebi, babibi, habibni—
what can you do? Keep them all.

How come I keep coming back something about safety
something about home in second grade I paste a slave ship
on blood red paper I’m on that ship a little girl tied down
the one who flees her body knows it’s not home for years
in dreams the Gestapo smash my front door strap me
down in a forsaken place I feel myself in Anne Frank
Alan Kurdi so what to do with this intimacy this over-identifying
funnel money from friends to buy baby bottles live for dates.

My friend Gabriel tells me, there’s been 12,000 volunteers
in Lesvos since 2015,
only 50 in Yemen.
Why? Idyllic views, the finest olive oil, romantic coves,
quick flights from Athens.
Racism that refuses to sink.
There’s still raw sewage in Moria. Gabriel said head honchos make
$5000 each month, Greek workers $300.
He says, ship bosses
back to Brussels. Give the money to the locals and newcomers.
Meanwhile the Greek system moves
like a tortoise in the sun,
years in limbo. In 2015 everyone fleeing to Greece
walked north.
Now Greece is their only hope.
Today Arabic and French bounce down cobblestone streets.
An old woman stands on tiptoes
squinting into the ATM
as she searches for her pension. A Pakistani teen tilts
with his tall body
to shade the screen from the sun.

There are (at least) three ways to connect with people across borders.
Feminist as tourist. Terrible.
Feminist as explorer. Not good.
Feminist in solidarity. Not easy.

An English tourist tells a shopkeeper she wants to welcome people
to Lesvos. He asks,
why not greet them in your home country?
An American volunteer picks up a family whose baby is sick
then cranks the Christian music
so loud the mother can’t hear
the doctor’s voice on the phone. In Athens I pass out a packet
of poems just before class,
discover the Farsi script runs
left to right. Before I apologize a woman points to the poem
with Aleppo in the title, says,
Let’s start here. I’m from Aleppo.
The class admires the poem even though the poet
a seventh generation Palestinian
has never lived in Aleppo.

On days turned upside down with injuries, a certain elder yogini
her hair like Medusa
and a spine she can roll up
and down a Lesvos volcano—she who feeds forty cats, swims
in the Aegean winter—
shows up with her jeep
for a shivering man in a wheelchair, three children and their mother
who can’t stop shaking.
One morning two sea-soggy girls
run up hills searching for a fishing boat to rescue a raft. They tell
me they’re seventeen years old.
When I see them later, they say nineteen.