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Zahra reminds me to be thankful

Zahra Mahmoud

“One sometimes needs perspective to realize how good you actually have it. I see Zahra, and all I see is innocence.”

It had been a full day of work, followed by a couple of hours of frenzied grocery shopping with hundreds of other harried shoppers ahead of the long Christmas weekend.

Here in Germany, a weekend followed by gazetted public holidays means closed shops or restaurants, which in turn means utter madness in the preceding days.

So although tired, I felt pretty chuffed with myself, because I’d managed to buy everything that would be required to feed three people over the course of … three days. Yes, the irony is now not lost on me.

I settled down on my couch with my dinner, irritated that I’d missed the first five minutes of the 8 pm prime time news. There was the usual coverage of the as-yet-to-be-formed German government, a foiled terror attempt, and then Zahra’s face came onscreen.

Declared the winner of UNICEF’s Photo of the Year 2017, Zahra is a five-year-old Syrian girl who has been living in a tent at a refugee camp in Jordan since 2015 when her parents fled the war in Syria with her and seven other children.

Zahra’s father who previously worked as a taxi driver and farmer only managed to find work on the fields of the Jordan Valley this past November. However his meagre earnings aren’t sufficient to send Zahra and her siblings to school. Zahra’s mother has reportedly said, “We are desperate, hopeless and powerless, all our dreams are just dreams.”

Zahra’s stark portrait was shot by Muhammed Muheisin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist who works for the Associated Press. Having covered humanitarian tragedies in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Zahra was by no means his first subject featuring children displaced by war and strife.

However Muheisin said that he focuses his photography on children because he believes that children are the real victims of conflicts, not getting to choose where they are born or under what circumstances they grow up.

“All children around the world seek one thing in common: fun, joy and happiness and for me it is not just a picture of a child. It is a message from a child from that part of the world to a child in the other part of the world!”

Photographer Muhammed Muheisen poses near his award winning photo of the five year-old Syrian refugee girl Zahra at the UNICEF Photos Of The Year exhibition in Berlin, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017.

If you ask me, this message could just as well be a message to each and every one of us (regardless of age) who is far removed from the reality of not just war and strife but also starvation, slavery, drought, war crimes. I could go on but you get the picture.

I see Zahra, and all I see is innocence. And it pains me that this five-year-old has probably witnessed or even experienced hardships that I never have in my 45 years traversing this earth. The resignation in her eyes humbles me and reminds me that much of what I consider “problems” pale in comparison to everything that she’s been denied in her five short years thus far.

I do not want to be dismissive of the fact that it is all relative. Each of us in our given social environment reacts to stress and hardships differently. And it is unfair to dismiss anybody’s sadness or helplessness by drawing comparisons and saying, “Yeah, it could be far worse.”

However, one sometimes needs perspective to realize how good you actually have it. Like the evening when I saw Zahra’s innocent face. Until then, I’d thought I’d had a bad day.

But as I sat there in the comfort of my home, my Christmas tree lights twinkling merrily, my cats purring beside me and even the luxury of technology informing me of Zahra’s plight, I got the perspective I needed.

To be thankful. To be thankful for dirty plates in the sink, which means I’ve had a meal. To be thankful for the piles of laundry, which means I have clothes on my back. And yes, to be thankful whenever I have to take the vacuum cleaner out of the cellar, because that means I have a place to call home. This may seem mundane to some us, but mundane may indeed be a luxury and dream for others.

While I know that I cannot in any way change Zahra’s station myself, I pray that she and her family (and anyone else who is involuntarily displaced for whatever given reason) will soon find respite. I hope Zahra’s mother’s dreams will indeed turn into reality. And that those who sow the seeds of hatred, war and terror will someday see the folly of their ways.

Meanwhile, I’ll have Zahra’s gaze on my mind reminding me of how good I have it. And to always be thankful.


Author: Brenda Haas

Editor: Marjory Linardy




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30.12.2017 | 12:12