I am not exactly sure what it’s called. I am not even sure how to spell it. My wife calls it a shmuta. In our family, it is the satin-like edge to a childhood blanket, worn from years of being twisted by and run between the fingers of one of my sons.
I remember once vacuuming my son’s room, sucking up a piece of cloth from under his bed. It was one of his shmutas. I unwound it from the vacuum head, and put the dirty thing in the barrel, later that night telling my son what had happened. He said he knew one was missing, and went to retrieve it from the barrel. I told him it was filthy, and he should leave it in the trash. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. I thought he was being childish, told him so, and suggested maybe it was time to get rid of his shmutas. He just walked away.
I did a little research, and learned that a shmuta is a “transition object”, just like a childhood blanket or teddy bear. They help kids, and even adults, as they transition from dependence to independence. I felt terrible that I had so easily dismissed the loss of my son’s shmuta.
In January, I was on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in the “Olive Grove”, unofficially part of the Moria Refugee Camp, described as the world’s worst. Olive Grove was once what its name suggests, a compact hilly area filled with olive trees. It’s now filled with nearly 10,000 refugees, living in tents, just outside the Moria Camp, where nearly another 10,000 refugees are jammed into an area designed to house 3,000.
I was volunteering with Movement on the Ground, a group committed to improving conditions in the Olive Grove. I had just helped erect a UNHCR tent on a site that had been cleared of older tents and debris, and was preparing the ground inside the tent for wooden pallets, used to help protect the four families who will live in the tent from the mud that comes with the rain, from the cold that comes with winter. The families will spread cardboard and blankets over the pallets, and they will live and sleep atop them likely for the next year.
As I raked the ground, prepping the site, separating garbage from gravel, I uncovered a shmuta. It was yellow, like my son’s. It was tied in a knot at one end, like my son’s.
At that moment, several thousand miles away, seven time zones behind, my son was in our comfortable home, in his warm bed, his shmuta at his side.
That night, somewhere on the side of a hill in the Olive Grove, in the corner of a cold tent whipped by a seemingly constant wind, struggling terribly to transition from one home to another, from one life to another, some little girl or boy slept without a shmuta.
The group I volunteered with is Movement on the Ground. It is doing incredible work in improving the conditions in the Olive Grove outside Moria Camp, and in recognizing the dignity of all. You can learn about them by following this link. Now, more than ever, the residents of Moria Refugee Camp need help. If you wish to help, you may do so here.
If you are willing to watch, read, and listen some more, I am willing to share, and then perhaps together we can make a difference. Thanks!