(written 1 November 2016)

After a long time without any outside helpers, it was all coming together.  

Four Americans; big, burly, strong Americans came for a visit – in spite of all the fearful hype about our part of the country.  They timed their visit to be able to help on both the preparation day – assembling the food-stuffs into sacks and for the distribution.

As our goal was to prepare 180 sacks, the assistance of our American guests would be both timely and greatly appreciated.

The Preparation:

To facilitate the packing, when the bulk goods arrived the day before, we opened all the sacks or boxes so that on the day, the loaders only have to deal with putting in the sacks and not opening the large sacks or boxes.  That is very helpful and  ensures smooth loading on the preparation day.

On the actual preparation day, when we assemble the sacks, we have various individuals stationed by each of the bulk goods.  Others will pick up an empty sack and walk by the bulk goods where the food stuffs are deposited in the sacks.  Those carrying the sacks walk in a large circle.  At the end of the circle one person binds the top of the bag with a cable-tie and finally another takes the finished bag and places it on the pile that will be loaded on the lorry on the following day.  We have one other person in charge of breaking down the used boxes and managing the discarded bags and recycling the larger sacks to be reused and filled with food stuffs to take out.  Everyone so labouring ensures that things keep moving efficiently.

The division of labour is basically based on strength: the stronger ones lug the sacks around, twirl them before the cable tie is applied, and then recommence the cycle.  The, uh, ‘not so strong ones’, stand by the bulk food stuffs, ready to place their food stuff in the passing sacks.

As we had 180 to do, that meant those lugging the sacks had a continuous, never-ending trip around the circle.  Those sacks are only ten kilos, but after a number of trips around, they can begin to feel like more.

It is a diverse group of people who stand by the bulk goods and deposit the items in the sacks as they come by.  They includes many of the children.  It is inspiring to see the children helping in this way and to see some of the very small children ‘doing their bit’ throughout the process.  The youngest helper is just 4 years old.  

Placing things in the sacks sounds easy, and it is, but it is relentless.  You deposit one item, and another sack has arrived and you do another… a continuous process of ‘turn-grab-swivel back-release’ then repeat.  Sometimes it can be intense for an adult, but the children, well, they just seem to flow with it all.

Our visiting group had arranged to go with us on distribution.  This was a double blessing as one of them is a ‘mother-tongue’ fluent Arabic speaker.

Therefore, on the following morning, there were three, local, able bodied loaders and the four, brawny, strong and fit gentlemen from the States to heft the 180 sacks up and onto the back of the lorry.  Prior to loading, the sacks had already been moved out of the courtyard and placed in the street in preparation for the loading.  One of our guest climbed up into the lorry to aid the lorry driver in loading the sacks.

Everything was coming together.  

We had all the assistance we needed.  

Then I heard the unmistakeable, inescapable, distinctive sound, reverberating across the valley…

It was a sound I did not want to hear, but, there is was, the foreboding clap and rattle of thunder…

Rain, that vital blessing from heaven, that which waters and nurtures the earth and cleanses the dust and detritus of human activity from the air and land, is, at the very same time, rather unhelpful when you are planning to go out and do a distribution in the fields northeast of the city.

“Er, maybe it will pass… maybe it is ‘just’ thunder’… maybe it is going the ‘other’ way…” 

These vain hopes flitted though my mind.

We gathered in the courtyard and prayed together, committing the day and its’ activities ot the Lord.

As the lorry, the VW Transporter that we normally use, and the elder’ vehicle were all loaded, we headed out.

Before we had driven three kilometres from our home, the thunder delivered its augured bequest and the skies opened up and the rain came pelting down with intense vigour.

I immediately regretted putting the milk in the lorry.  My thought was we would, as we normally do, distribute the nappies, wet wipes and pads from back of the Transporter, and then we would tell the driver of the lorry how many sacks and how many milk to unload from the back of the lorry.  Efficient I thought.

The milk is intended for the children, and so not everyone will be getting milk – hence we could not simply put it in all the sacks.

Now, the lorry, like us, was plodding on through the onslaught of the pelting rain.  The milk would be okay, the boxes of UHT milk are sealed after all, but the boxes holding the cartons of milk would become water logged and disintegrate.  Not ideal, but no biggie.

I started the windscreen wipers on intermittent and as the rain intensified, advanced to more frequently, then full and finally graduated to its frantic, frenetic setting.  It was really, honestly, fervently raining.

We drove on.

After thirty odd minutes of driving, the rain let up and slowly diminished and finally ceased.  

At last, the windscreen wipers were laid to rest.

We carried on.

On arrival at our first encampment, it was sunny with scattered clouds – the sky was absent of the dark, foreboding, menacing clouds that had stalked us in Antakya.

As the first encampment was not very large, we were finished quite quickly.  This is the encampment where we were introduced to the child with the horrific injuries inflicted by a treatable and yet, due to the war,  untreated skin disease.  He and his family were not there… we were informed that the Health Professionals had moved the family to the city of Antalya (a considerable distance from the border) and were treating him there.  No more tents, no more field living for them.  We were greatly heartened to hear this. 

Back at the encampment, it was evident that it had rained and I found I had gained about two inches in height due to the accumulation of mud and muck to my shoes.  It is one thing for me, standing there for a short period of time to deal with a bit of mud and muck, but for the residents of this encampment, there is no escape from the mire and grunge.

Sometimes when we go forth on the distribution we have had either no Arabic speaker (really difficult) or an Arabic speaker who does not speak either Turkish or English (difficult).  However, on this  distribution day, we had three Arabic speakers with us – truly a super blessing.  

Our visiting Arabic speaking guest was taking this opportunity to clearly proclaim who we are and why we are engaged in this work – he, clearly and boldly naming the Lord of lords, gave clear testimony – and all in wonderful, fluid, and passionate Arabic.  This he continued to do at all the various encampments we visited – and was always well received.

We then travelled on to the next encampment.  The last time we were there, we were surprised at the number of shelters there.  The encampment had literally doubled in size and we were a bit overwhelmed.  

But, on this visit, we were again shocked to see that it had reverted to its former size.  About half the people and hence, half the shelters had departed for pastures green elsewhere.

This meant we had more provisions than were necessary for the new state of this encampment.  This was both good news, trusting their new location would be an improvement on this encampment – a rather low bar to pass – and whilst not ‘bad’ news, it also meant we had more provisions on the lorry than we needed for the encampments we had planned to visit on this day…

We completed the distribution at that encampment and before we went on to the next encampment, we stopped for lunch.  After our brief break, we then pressed on to the next encampment.  

Here we found that many families had relocated from this encampment to the encampment where the ‘Haven of Love and Compassion’ tent is pitched.  We have been expecting this relocation/return for some time, so it was not a surprise.

We distributed the goods to those who were still there.  

We know these people fairly well – the ministry to the ‘Haven of Love and Compassion’ (when we are able to provide it) takes us to that encampment at least seven times a month.  Hence, with relationships established, some of our number had tea and others a special Arabic coffee that is shared in an amazingly small, minute amount – more a hint, a soupçon of coffee – enough to wet the tip of your tongue.  And yet it was surprisingly good.

As a result of the movement of people, we had an unexpected number of provisions still on the lorry.  Since we knew where the people had relocated to (the encampment where the tent of the ‘Haven of Love and Compassion’ is pitched), we promptly went there and continued the distribution.  In one sense it was still ‘planned’ as it was primarily to those who were at the planned encampment, but had moved.

So we distributed to the newly returned, and then to those who were already there – the distribution to the ‘already there ones’ was not planned, but it was done – which means that this encampment, has been done for this month and so it comes off the list of encampments yet to visit.

However, we still had 34 sacks on the lorry.  So the database was consulted and an encampment estimated to require an amount nearest to that still on the lorry was selected and we retraced our steps and went there – there seemed to be no value in carting the sacks back to Antakya only to turn around in a weeks’ time to tote them back.

This is the encampment we have named ‘White House’ because, er, well, because there is a white-washed house standing nearby.  Actually, we have named all the encampments for our distribution purposes – names unique to us, and intended to differentiate one encampment in one barren field from another situated in an equally desolate field.  “Olive Grove” is named because it is near an olive grove; “Incirli” so termed because it is on the road to Incirli; “Before Gültepe” is so identified because, well, it is on the road and you come to it ‘before’ you come to the village of Gültepe.

At ‘White House’, and still in the rather pleasant autumnal weather, we completed our distribution.  

It was here, at the White House, where we were all treated to proper Turkish coffee – not a tantalising tip of the tongue tasting, but a proper, demitasse of strong, rich Turkish coffee – all made without sugar in deference to the diabetics in our midst… for those who needed the sweetness, sugar was added after preparation, but, it still isn’t the same when you add it after the fact.  “Sorry, folks…” what else can I say…

Weary, and yet feeling the effects of the Turkish coffee we said goodbye to the lorry driver (he had another job to attend to) and we headed back to Antakya.

It was as we entered the outskirts of the city, that, once again I needed to engage the widescreen wipers to clear the intermittent rain that was still damping the city down.  It seems, in the city, it had rained on and off all day.  

But for us, in the fields up the valley, not that far away, not once during the distribution were we required to contend with the inconvenience of even a smattering of rain.

Indeed, today, everything had come together – the assistance in packaging, loading and distribution, Arabic speakers in abundance and weather conducive for the distribution and the full bodied sharing in Arabic.