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Pictures

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“I want to talk about pictures because I love photography.”

Removed from the Swarthmore bubble, I am in London going over the work Ahmed, a Syrian immigrant, needs to do for his class. He tells me that he needs to present in English, and the strain is evident in his face.

Ahmed arrived nine months ago from Syria with his father. His mother, younger sister, and brother are still in Syria. In slow, stumbling, and accented English he proceeds to give me his presentation:

“I was hanging out with my friends near a checkpoint. We were exploring and having a lot fun, but suddenly an armed soldier pointed to me and told me to come over. He saw my camera. He told me that he was going to break it, that I wasn’t supposed to be taking pictures [even though I hadn’t].”

This made me ask, “Why is an armed soldier afraid of a schoolboy with a camera?”

Ahmed pulls up two photos. One is laden with flowers white at the bottom, fuchsia at the tip, vibrantly blooming from the ground. Another is a photo of a brown, gnarled, lone leaf in the middle of melting snow.

“Where do you think I took these? Which one is from Damascus and which one is from London?” he asks.

I don’t tell him, but he sees through my assumptions.

“The outside world probably thinks that this [the winter photo] is of Damascus and this [the spring photo] is of London.”

I nod.

“But this photo, the one with spring, is one from Damascus. It was taken minutes before a bombing. And this photo, the one with winter, is from London. This is the first photo I took in London.”

I ask him, “The ugly photo is from London?”

He shakes his head and says, “Not ugly. Just sad.” He then proceeds to answer my initial question.

“So why is the armed solider afraid of a schoolboy with a camera? It is because pictures have the power to change the narrative; it is because pictures have the power to capture a truth, no matter how sad or how beautiful.”

I wish to share this story with those in the U.S. who are the brightest, most driven, yet most removed from the current status of migrants. I hope this reaches Swarthmore (and beyond) so that we do not become desensitized to the exclusion of others and so we will remove ourselves from our bubble when we can to be dismantled in order to rebuild ourselves.

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