By Nour Hamed
Two years ago, I started my current job. To get there I have to cross the same bridge every day. That bridge is always crowded. Sometimes, it can take me up two hours to get across. During the long wait, my eyes are always drawn to the beautiful, tall, strong palms proudly adorning one side of the bridge. These palms have always reminded me of the beauty and charm of my beloved Baghdad. However, if I turn to look to the other side, I see another scene; one that is representative of the sadness that has resided in Baghdad for as long as I can remember. On that side of the bridge, my eyes and soul are remorselessly drawn to a young boy selling tea to the passengers of the cars eagerly waiting for the traffic to move.
That boy is different to the other street children I see in Baghdad. He is quiet and polite. He has beautiful eyes set in an angelic face, albeit one full of sadness. He never talks to the other children. Every day I see him running from one car to the other, hoping that someone will ask him for a cup of tea. Once, he got called by a guy in a car that was a little further from him that usual. He ran as fast as he could to catch him, but unfortunately the cars started moving and he was not able to make the sale. That broke my heart.
Today, although it has only been two years, he looks strangely grown up. Over the last twenty four months I have seen him change from an innocent child to a young person with a world-weary face that the sun that burns mercilessly. I watch him watching the cars move away and hear the whisper of his voice in my head,
“Everyone moves away from this bridge except me…”
The Bridge Children
Six months ago, a new child showed up; a beautiful little girl. She is even younger than the boy was when I started crossing the bridge. I also see her running every morning from one car to the other trying to sell her boxes of tissues. I know that she will change from this bright, sweet creature. The same thing will happen to her as happened to the boy. I will have to watch her selling on that bridge until her face gets burned by the sun and loses its innocent expression also.
Every morning, I ask myself why? Why do they have to suffer? Why them and not someone else? In my heart of hearts I think how easily roles could have been reversed. How would I feel if it were me selling the boxes of tissues with some girl looking on in pity from the safe environs of her air-conditioned car?
My pain comes from having to watch them on that bridge. If their fate hurts me enough to make me want to write about it, how much more painful is it to live out this daily, grinding existence? It seems as though their life is one of punishment, but what crime could they have possibly committed to deserve it? It is certainly not their fault – instead, we as a society have have failed our duty of care and should shoulder the burden of guilt. Maybe it is just sheer bad luck to be born in a country where merely being alive is sometimes considered a privilege. A country in which, often, an education and a stable life, have moved from being rights to being luxuries.
I am writing today to share this burden with you. I cannot see their harsh lives without trying to do something, even if it is just building awareness. If we understand why they were forced to leave school and work, it may be possible to avoid others living out similar fates. I can’t do this alone though. To achieve real change in these children’s lives we need to mobilize and organize our efforts. It is the responsibility of everyone: the government, civil society, NGOs and us individuals. Maybe we could even start a movement called #theBridgeChildren?
I know this task is not easy. And I know that the country has other priorities to focus on, the war against terrorism that we are currently fighting is obviously one of them; however these children represent our future. They could be engineers, doctors or lawyers – nation building hand in hand alongside us. If we continue doing the same thing though; or rather not doing anything, they will instead turn into our future terrorists, gangsters and the fathers and mothers of new children selling tea and tissues on the bridge.
My request to you all is that the next time you cross a bridge or stop by a traffic light, please watch these children, see them with your eyes and hearts. Be gentle, and consider if there is any way in which you can help them. A cold bottle of water on a hot summer’s day might just be enough to give them a sense of future and hope, simply because someone has cared enough to reach out.
Ed comment: If you would like to share your stories of similar children, please get in touch. We might find a way of creating change together. Tell us about it and also use the twitter handle #theBridgeChildren to build wider awareness.