Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo October 3, 2014

Letter from Hatay, Turkey


Media file: 1409342268.925233.img_1084.jpg

Boston University student fellow Selin Thomas documents people on the margins as she tells stories...


Of all the things I've seen here in eastern Turkey, among countless Syrian refugees, bearing witness to stories of incredible grief, horror, pain and luck, the most startling has been the smiles—hundreds of them—unsolicited, unapologetic.

What reason have these people to smile? Yet, in the darkened cement rooms of their derelict homes, once cow stables, in abandoned villages near crop fields (where they can sometimes find a day's work, sometimes not) and far from social consciousness, they smile. On a playground of a temporary school, traumatized to silence from seeing corpses limp in the streets of their ravaged homeland, they smile. Having fled their shelled neighborhoods with nothing but the clothes on their backs and sometimes each other, they smile. In an insecure semi-reality, they smile.

But asking the reason is naive for the answer is obvious: At its most absolute—when the distracting varnish of civilization is stripped (or violently torn) away—the calloused, contented wound of humanity is reopened, exposing a bloodied, raw human condition in which a smile is the highest currency.

You see, our nature is far more resilient, courageous, and inexplicably compassionate than we realize (or at least than we've become accustomed to) and far less pessimistic, selfish and ornate than we've come to expect. This realization is not to in any way diminish the strength of spirit each of these individuals has exhibited during such an extraordinary struggle, but to instead connect their unlikely joy. It is joy, in the wake of the ceaseless civil conflict which has displaced their very existence.

What reassurance! To see the most disadvantaged of us, the persecuted, the mournful and the lost, carry the leaden weight of hope on their backs. Not only to see them, no, that would not suffice, but to envy them.

The injustice of what has happened to them is nearly incalculable, far beyond the tempting pursuit of reason or rational interpretation many of us feel inclined toward. Compelling, indeed, enough to force us to question the progress we, the human race, have made. But then, a smile.

No amount of bloodshed, cruelty, darkness can quell this light, this nature of ours. So, we smile, unassured but hopeful that there will continue to be fuel behind it, that it may illuminate the human condition beyond our mere mortality for those who have neglected or forgotten it entirely. Then, they too can dutifully bear the burden on their backs, easing others, and we can go on.



Three women grouped together: an elderly woman smiling, a transwoman with her arms folded, and a woman holding her headscarf with a baby strapped to her back.


Gender Equality

Gender Equality
teal halftone illustration of a family carrying luggage and walking


Migration and Refugees

Migration and Refugees

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues