Ninth grade girls escape death, search for life

Here is the first of two entries from one of the most heart wrenching stories I've been involved with in a long time. I met the girls in their class room at a small school in Jordan. One of their teachers is the voice in this piece and also the translator for the girls in and I in the next piece. I was in Jordan and Lebanon in September for The Oregonian with colleague Rich Read. You can see your work here: http://topics.oregonlive.com/tag/syrian-refugees/posts.html

 

The Syrian girls in this ninth-grade class are coming of age during war. It is a mortifying journey. Roqaya lost both parents, her oldest sister and youngest brother in a massacre in Homs. Three of Batool's cousins were killed by snipers. They live as orphans, in camps and broken apartment buildings. Their school in Mafraq, Jordan is a mess, running double shifts, teaching Jordanian kids in the mornings and Syrian kids in the afternoon; all with no additional resources. Suhair Hayek, one of the girls teachers, says she can hardly keep her tears inside her eyes when she thinks about the girls. Some she says, have lost their dreams, some cling to hope. Hayek says what the girls need is a chance to forget their suffering and enjoy their youth. "They escape from death,'' she says. Now, they need to search for life.

 

Syrian Refugees: School Girls in Exile

I traveled to Jordan and Lebanon in September for The Oregonian for a series of stories about Syrian refugees. I was there with my Oregonian colleague, Rich Read. You can see our coverage here: http://topics.oregonlive.com/tag/syrian-refugees/posts.html 

Roqaya lost both parents and two siblings in a massacre in Homs. Three of Batool's cousins were killed by snipers. Julanar longs for the songbird that flew outside her bedroom window. She wants to go home to become an engineer or an architect so she can help rebuild her country. Noor wants to be a surgeon, because she says it seems like an important time to become something useful.

These Syrian girls, all in one ninth grade class at an overworked school in Mafraq, Jordan, are coming of age during war. It's a mortifying journey. Some live now as orphans, some in refugee camps, others in unfinished apartment buildings.

Besides the common bond of being a refugee the girls share something else and it's often the fuel that keeps them going. They  want to go home to Syria and begin to rebuild their country.

Their school is a mess. Administrators at Al Robaych Bent Al Moawath school are running double shifts, teaching Jordanian kids in the mornings and Syrian kids in the afternoon; all with no additional resources. The burden has left the school short on everything from water to paper.

Suhair Hayek, one of the girls teachers, says she can hardly keep her tears inside her eyes when she thinks about the girls. Some she says, have lost their dreams, some cling to hope. Hayek says what the girls need is a chance to forget their suffering and enjoy their youth. "They escape from death,'' she says. Now, they need to search for life.

Rich Read and I met the girls at their school and have remained in contact with them through their teacher, Suhair Hayek. Some of them wanted to write a few words about they experiences and dreams. Hayek translated their writing and emailed them to us.

 I am Azzari. I'm 14-years-old. I was born in Homs in Syria. We came to Jordan Jan. 3, 2013 because of the war in Syria. I'm very sad because a lot of people were killed in my country and because I miss my friends. I can't feel any kind of happiness here in Jordan because many of my relatives and friends have been killed. Life is so hard. 

I am Azzari. I'm 14-years-old. I was born in Homs in Syria. We came to Jordan Jan. 3, 2013 because of the war in Syria. I'm very sad because a lot of people were killed in my country and because I miss my friends. I can't feel any kind of happiness here in Jordan because many of my relatives and friends have been killed. Life is so hard. 

 I am Bushra from Damascus. I am so sad and a pessimist toward the life here in Jordan. But we do feel safe here and somehow, a comfort. I wish nothing happened to my hometown. I wish we had stayed there in our home, which we lost and I miss still. I believe that victory will be one day sooner or later and everything will be okay. I want to learn and I want to be a teacher because knowledge is power.  I love you my hometown, Syria! 

I am Bushra from Damascus. I am so sad and a pessimist toward the life here in Jordan. But we do feel safe here and somehow, a comfort. I wish nothing happened to my hometown. I wish we had stayed there in our home, which we lost and I miss still. I believe that victory will be one day sooner or later and everything will be okay. I want to learn and I want to be a teacher because knowledge is power.  I love you my hometown, Syria! 

 I'm Julanar, from Syria. The thing I miss most since I've left Syria is my bird. I used to see and listen to it singing when it flew by my room. It was an amazing sound. I long for my friends and the time we spent playing and laughing. I am very say. I'd like to be an engineer or an architect when I grow up. I want to help in the building of our believed country. I am 14-years-old.

I'm Julanar, from Syria. The thing I miss most since I've left Syria is my bird. I used to see and listen to it singing when it flew by my room. It was an amazing sound. I long for my friends and the time we spent playing and laughing. I am very say. I'd like to be an engineer or an architect when I grow up. I want to help in the building of our believed country. I am 14-years-old.

 My name is Noor. I'm 14-years-old. I want to be a surgeon because I think it would be useful to my country and it seems important now to do something useful. We came to Jordan in February, 2013.

My name is Noor. I'm 14-years-old. I want to be a surgeon because I think it would be useful to my country and it seems important now to do something useful. We came to Jordan in February, 2013.

 I am Daiana. Iam 15-years-old from the besieged city of Homs. I long for my hometown, my street, my friends, my school. I used to spend most of my time with my friends, studying, playing and laughing. Foreignness is very difficult and no one can feel it except those who try it. My wish is that the war ends fast and we can return to Syria. I believe that we must learn to rebuild Syria and make it more developed, more fearless and more powerful. I like teaching so that's how I will help Syria to rebuild. I came here in the middle of 2012.

I am Daiana. Iam 15-years-old from the besieged city of Homs. I long for my hometown, my street, my friends, my school. I used to spend most of my time with my friends, studying, playing and laughing. Foreignness is very difficult and no one can feel it except those who try it. My wish is that the war ends fast and we can return to Syria. I believe that we must learn to rebuild Syria and make it more developed, more fearless and more powerful. I like teaching so that's how I will help Syria to rebuild. I came here in the middle of 2012.

 I am Roqaya and I am 14-years-old. I will be a surgeon to help my people in Syria. I'm here with my brother and sisters only. We are from Homs but there is nothing there for us now. Roqaya's older sister Safyed, did not want to have her picture made but she did want to share this: I'm Safyed and I'm 15-years-old. I am extremely sad and sometimes breathless.  I remember how I lost my father, my mum, my sister and my little baby brother. I lost my hometown, my sweet home, my school, my relatives. All of them. I lost and miss them greatly. Sometimes I can't imagine that we are here without them. Kids have lost their childhood in this war. People have become homeless. Foreignness is strange. Life has become so hard and miserable. There is no happiness, only nostalgia in our hearts for our family and our hometown and what was before now.

I am Roqaya and I am 14-years-old. I will be a surgeon to help my people in Syria. I'm here with my brother and sisters only. We are from Homs but there is nothing there for us now. Roqaya's older sister Safyed, did not want to have her picture made but she did want to share this: I'm Safyed and I'm 15-years-old. I am extremely sad and sometimes breathless.  I remember how I lost my father, my mum, my sister and my little baby brother. I lost my hometown, my sweet home, my school, my relatives. All of them. I lost and miss them greatly. Sometimes I can't imagine that we are here without them. Kids have lost their childhood in this war. People have become homeless. Foreignness is strange. Life has become so hard and miserable. There is no happiness, only nostalgia in our hearts for our family and our hometown and what was before now.

 I'm Reham. I'm 14-years-old. I am from Damascus. I love my hometown and I love Syria. I wish I could go back at this moment. I miss my country so much. I miss my friends, my school, my class, my books and my teachers. But I miss most of all my home where I lost my father who became a martyr. May Allah be with Syria.

I'm Reham. I'm 14-years-old. I am from Damascus. I love my hometown and I love Syria. I wish I could go back at this moment. I miss my country so much. I miss my friends, my school, my class, my books and my teachers. But I miss most of all my home where I lost my father who became a martyr. May Allah be with Syria.

Lightning on Oregon's Alvord Desert

Some folks respect lightning.

I fear it.

For as long as I remember,  just the threat of an electrical charge has sent me scurrying for the nearest shelter. So I can't explain why I walked toward this storm out along Oregon's Alvord Desert.

I suppose it was pure spectacle. The lightning was amazing as it bounced along the Pueblo Mountains, and the storm packed a howling wind so fierce that setting a tent was nearly impossible. Being in the wind and weather felt like what I ought to be doing.

I had two cameras going before this bolt sent me belly-flopping onto the sage covered ground and back to my normal behavior around such storms. The hundred yards back to the car were covered in a near terror state, as I imagined mother nature taking her revenge for my disrespect.

From the front seat of the car, I watched the storm pick up steam, turning night into day for seconds at a time. Eventually, rain came to one of Oregon's driest places.

 Lightning on Oregon's Alvord Desert

Lightning on Oregon's Alvord Desert

Lost Lake: Heart of The Mountains

A friend told me recently that his dog could make a good picture of Lost Lake. I pretty much agree but it sure was fun being there, trying to out work the canine's. The small lake in the Mount Hood National Forest might be the most photographed natural spot in The Pacific Northwest. In 2010 the US Mint shared their love by issuing a ceremonial Mount Hood National Forest quarter with Lost Lake in the foreground. 

Allison Milligan and I were there recently to produce a multi media piece for The Oregonian. Here are a few of my favorite pictures of the mountain during our visit. And all without dogs.

 

The West - An Appreciation of Place

Oregon is an easy place for me to love. So much space, empty and wild. These pairings are from an ongoing series for The Oregonian. In the paper we introduce them like this.....

Since my first glimpse of Oregon, I have been fascinated with the diversity and power of this landscape. Here, there is a wealth to our natural world that is unmatched. For the past eight years I've kept a file on my computer named, "Western Landscape''. It's filled with nearly 4,000 photographs from travels through Oregon and neighboring states. When I scroll through the pictures as a body of work, all sorts of parallels are evident. Some of the images are connected through story, some through place and some simply share a visual texture. So we begin today to share these photographs, two-by-two, sure that they revel more together than they ever could alone. We hope these tiny nuggets inspire you to discovery.

 

Jersey cows and Grandma

This Jersey cow reminds me of grandparents in the best kind of way. They had Jersey cows and on the nights I slept at their house growing up, we'd wake before daylight to gather the cows for milking. That adventure endures almost as strong as the gravy and biscuits we'd eat when the job was done. My cousins and I loved the herding, but we really loved the eating. We kept track of each small delicate biscuit, trying to out eat each other. 

I remembered those days when I met this girl over in Prineville, Oregon while on assignment for The Oregonian. The connection cemented because this family owned farm of Sullivan's share the same last name as my grandma's people.  The Prineville Sullivan's use the rich Jersey milk for their handmade cheese operation, Cada Dia.  I didn’t get any gravy and biscuits on my visit to Cada Dia, as I used to in the hills of North Carolina, but I sure sampled some great cheese and so can you, by dropping in for one of their (seasonal) weekly tours.

http://www.cadadiacheese.com

Cada Dia070.JPG

Dalai Lama answers call from tiny Portland college

Meditation is not a personal strength, must be something about focus. Given time, my mind skitters from one incomplete thought to the next. I told this to the fabulous folks over at Maitripa College where they meditate daily. They laughed, told me I'd be surprised at what the average Buddhist student sometimes thinks about during meditation, then welcomed me into their campus with open arms. They are the only Buddhist college in the Pacific Northwest and, at the time, were about to host the Dalai Lama to town for an environmental summit. I wanted to accomplish two things with a piece for The Oregonian about the Dalai Lama's pending visit.  First, celebrate this very special Oregon environment and second, introduce the tiny Buddhist college tucked away near the Burgerville in SE Portland. Link to the video is at the bottom of these stills.

Oregonians talk guns

Here are some of the folks I've had a chance to meet over the past several weeks while working on a series for The Oregonian. These gun stories have inspired more reader reaction than about any story I've ever worked on. Here's how we introduced the series.

Recent events have spurred a national conversation about guns, particularly in Oregon, where half of adults own firearms. Shortly after the Clackamas Town Center shooting on Dec. 11, we began talking to Oregonians about why guns are — or are not — a part of their lives.