Hiding in Plain Sight
Today I met an 11-year-old whose beautiful face won't leave my thoughts. He wore a hat and kept looking down at his feet. I tried several times to catch his attention, but each time he looked away.
I noticed a small cloth was draped under his hat so that it covered much of his face. I hadn't seen that before. He was with his mother and four siblings who talked and laughed as they waited to get their vaccines. He sat quietly to one side.
I approached his mother to find out which part of Syria they were from. Qusayr, she said, a city that had recently come under a fierce assault. I had many questions, and she told me of her family's ordeal – of the pain and loss and heartbreak. She told me how the children had lost their father a year ago while he was out looking for food. And how their house had been bombed, severely injuring one of the brothers.
As we spoke, I could see the quiet one peeking at me from under his hat. Still curious, I asked him what his name was. I expected him to ignore me again, but this time he replied. Breakthrough. He was responding. I was intrigued by this little boy – I'll call him Bilal – and I wanted to know his story. Then his mother told me.
Bilal had gone to the barbershop for a haircut. Without warning, an explosion tore through the neighbourhood, shattering the shop windows. Flying glass struck Bilal in the face, instantly blinding his left eye.
He wears a hat these days to avoid drawing attention to his injury. His mother told me he has lost all his confidence. He is too embarrassed to face people because he worries that they will think he looks weird and laugh at him.
Tears began streaming down my face. This boy is only 11, I thought. He shouldn't have to go through this. His life is only just beginning. This is so unfair.
Bilal had gone to the barbershop for a haircut. Without warning, an explosion tore through the neighbourhood, shattering the shop windows.
I struggled to pull myself together, then turned to Bilal and said, "I really like your hat. It looks cool." He peered up at me and smiled.
Moments later Bilal took off his hat. I couldn't believe it. The boy had the face of an angel.
Almost instinctively, I reached for the camera on my desk and asked if I could take his picture. Bilal asked me why. "Because when I see beautiful things, I like to take a picture so I can always remember them." He looked to his mother, who nodded. Then he smiled back at me.
It was difficult. I didn't want him to think that I thought he was different. But I desperately wanted to show others just what this savage war is doing to innocent people – people like this 11-year-old boy.
For the rest of the day I couldn't get his face out of my head. It breaks me when I see children lose their spark, their playful character, their childhood. I just hope and pray that Bilal will find his confidence again. I hope that he will realise just how strong he is for waking up every day, getting out of bed and going outside, even if he hides under a hat.
I wonder if I could ever be that strong.