Listen: Sally Bathgate talks to Emma Mullings about her work in the Middle East. Above: A Syrian boy sips his sweet tea. All pictures: Facebook
Stories of loss, heartache, generosity and resilience lie buried in the hearts of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees.
And Sally Bathgate is on a mission to make their voices heard.
The Sydney woman has been living in the Middle East with her husband Ben and three children, working primarily among women displaced by conflict and war in the Middle East. So impacted has she been by their hospitality, that she’s decided to put together a book about these women, to share with her friends back home in Australia.
Titled Tea and Thread, the crowd-funded book, administered by Anglican Aid and still in the making, will compile the stories of women, the food they love, and their hopes and dreams.
Tea and Thread, Hopes and Dreams
In a chat with Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings, Sally said her dream to make the book was a way of giving a voice to the survivors of war, and sharing their values, customs, generosity and experiences.
“We receive Arab hospitality almost daily as we go about learning language and interacting with people,” Sally said. “I love Arab food, it’s delicious, and the way it’s served here is just so heartfelt and beautiful. We really wanted to capture the heart of Arabic hospitality.
“We also wanted to share the stories of these people as they tell us about what they’ve gone through, what their hopes for the future are, what their life was like before these wars and conflicts—and introduce readers to these real, living, beautiful, amazing women.”
From Sydney to the Middle East, With Love
While the area Sally and her family are living in isn’t dangerous, it is under an extreme amount of pressure because it’s receiving so many refugees from Syria and Iraq. They hope to make a difference to the lives they touch, and it’s work that began when they were living in Sydney.
“We love these people, we love this culture,” Sally said. “When we were living in Sydney we were working amongst Arabic speaking people in Western Sydney. And really what we’re doing here is an extension of that. We want to learn the language of the people that we were serving in Sydney and understand their culture better. Because of the situation here we find ourselves with plenty of opportunity to help and get alongside people who are really in huge amounts of crisis at this time.”
A Glimpse of the Middle Eastern Crisis
One of the woman featured in the book is ‘Linda’ from Syria, who fled her homeland with her family in March, 2012. She describes her escape from Syria.
“There were around 1000 adults and just as many children. We were surrounded on all sides by mountains. It was cold, and the night was pitch black. My body shook with adrenaline. I was not doing well. It felt like the ground beneath me was moving. I could not carry my children, so I used an extra headscarf to tie together their hands to try and keep them together. As I did this, I told them, ‘No matter what, you must keep walking. Do not go looking for me and do not stop.’ I was terrified of losing my children in the blackness. At one point in the journey I realised I had fallen behind. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me or behind me. I was trembling. All kinds of scenarios raced through my mind.
Suddenly the voice of a man spoke to me and asked ‘Why have you stopped?’ I couldn’t see anything.
‘I’m from the Syrian army,’ the man said. ‘I’m here to help you. Keep walking, there are other people ahead.’ I was so tired, the man took my struggling child with the promise he would take care of her and bring her to safety, to my husband. Once he took her I heard two women behind me saying, in hushed voices, ‘We’re here too’. It comforted me.”
Support the Work of Sally and Ben Bathgate
To support the work the Bathgates are doing in the Middle East, and to help get Tea and Thread, published at the same time, visit their crowdfunding site , or follow the progress of the book on the teaandthread Facebook page.