This blog is about digital disruption. A disruption is a major disturbance, something that changes your plans or interrupts some event or process.
Right now, our comfortable reality is being disrupted – brutally, dramatically. This blog entry is not what I normally write about, but it is important. Here are some destinies from Stockholm Central Station.
My respect for the personal integrity of these refugees arriving to train stations across Europe, struggling to find a way to continue their journey, stopped me from bringing out the camera despite those countless moments that would have been powerful images.
They say, a picture can say more than a thousand words.
I have no pictures for this story, so I will paint them with my words.
Picture No. 1
Remarkably, hundreds of refugees pass us during our day at the station, but nearly the only littering/garbage left behind are some cigarette stubs, probably from the local people as they light up leaving the station rushing towards their lives.
The transport coordinators (and I, one of the drivers) are standing with our fluorescent vests next to a lamp pole outside Stockholm Central Station. There is a box behind us with some notes and pens. A little girl – 5-6 years old – points at the box. We smile. She walks up to it and looks to us for confirmation, then drops the peel of the pineapple slice she had received in the food tent into the box. She has been brought up to understand that she is our guest, and she does not want to litter.
Picture No. 2
A determined red haired volunteer muscles her way through the crowds to our lamp post. She wants help for her group, the people she had welcomed on the platform as she could speak their native tongue. There is a boy, with one eye blinded, protruding slightly. A father, 2 more children, a mother, an uncle. The boy’s eye hurts terribly, the redhead wants to find a doctor. We ask her to go to the Red Cross station.
– “No, they said they don’t have a doctor – they said I should ask you, the people with the vests”. We, the volunteers, can organize a car to the hospital but the redhead throws her arms in the air: “They have no time, they finally got train tickets to the North and the train leaves in 3 hours”.
So I take off my vest and go into action mode: “I will take them, I will explain the urgency and get him back in time. I have had my 1-on-1’s with hospitals before.” She explains, they discuss, the mother cries, and the father and uncle take my hand. Please. Yes. The boy looks at me and smiles with his good eye.
This is Sweden. At the hospital we get speeded through. The receptionist calls a friend who works in administration, he speaks Arabic. Their story unfolds as he explains to the doctor what has happened:
Abu Bakr – 10 years old, from Bagdad. His home was bombed, his eye damaged by splintering glass. In Irak, they had tried to treat him, but the medicine they carried had been contaminated. On the fragile rubber boat – in the Mediterranean – when they tried to start the outboard engine, he got an elbow thrust into the eye, and gasoline as well. That’s when it got really bad. Only in Sweden did they find the courage to ask for help. During their exodus they were afraid they might be detained.
The doctor investigates, prepares the prescriptions to take on their onwards journey and sends us to the local pharmacy. I had not really donated money yet, and I do not mind paying for the medication to last the boy for 2 months. With my credit card ready, the pharmacist says: “He is a refugee with no home and no formal identity papers. Regardless of the real price, all the medication is 50 Kroner.” That’s less than 10 Dollars. This is Sweden – and I will pay my taxes with enthusiasm now and in the future.
Abu Bakr is smiling with his good eye. And he takes 1 Kroner (1.2 cents) out of his pocket and puts it on the desk for the doctor. He wants to pay for himself.
Picture No. 3
The Red Cross teams inside the train station are overwhelmed. A group of people with crying/screaming children crowd the interpreter and a few RC volunteers. They have no onwards ticket, they have no place to stay, their children are hungry. And a little boy runs around with his pacifier in his mouth, and one arm hanging limply in an odd angle from his petite frame. The transport coordinator asks me – You are good with hospitals, can you take the boy to the ER?
Zain is 3 years old. His sister Rawan is 4. Their father is alone, there is no mother and I do not know what happened to her. I also do not ask. Upon boarding the train in Vienna the little boy tripped and fractured his shoulder. He is so small, I would have taken him for 8-10 months, had it not been for his knowing eyes. They asked for help in Vienna, but they said not to worry, no need for X-ray, just board the train.
The local café offers the children food – the father insists on paying. He wants them to eat before we leave, because who knows when they will next get some food. I cannot explain, I am helpless without speaking Arabic. He pulls out a 5 EURO note to give the café, they refuse. He points at the Money Exchange office, wants me to watch the children. He wants to pay. I offer to exchange his money – and he gets a good rate. I give him 500 Swedish Kroner, t’s the only banknote in my purse, and he ceremoniously hands over his 5 EURO note.
At the Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital in Stockholm, we wait. The nurse is certain it is broken, but timing is bad – it’s shift change hour and the doctors are in conference. The father had traveled with a group, but he is now afraid that his little family will be left behind. It will be hard for him with two very small children, and nobody to help him watch them. He already looks like he has not slept in a week. And he is badly malnourished. While we wait, the waiting room fills with other children – a small 2 year old waddles over and starts to play with little Zain. Zain is confused, then smiles and responds. They exchange books, move furniture and show each other the little box of juice they were given. Look what I have – I have one too.
The transport coordinator calls me from the station – the other group will leave on the train at 5 pm without Zain, Rawan and their father. They finally secured tickets and they have to look out for themselves. But I feel safe – this is Sweden. The father will not have to stand guard tonight over his few posessions and his little children with no mother. The volunteers at the Red Cross shelter will make sure he gets a good night’s sleep.
Before I hand them back to the Red Cross, I buy pacifiers for each of the children. They only had one each, and each time they dropped it the father had panicked. The little girl – Rawan – chooses two pretty little pink ones, and proudly shows them to all the Red Cross volunteers. As I leave, Zain has fallen asleep on his father’s shoulder wrapped in my jacket. I leave it. I ask the interpreter to say these words to him for good bye: “Thank you – it was an honour for me to be allowed to help you today.” The father nods, he holds my hand, but his grip is weak. He has no response. His too tired to form any words. And he is alone.