Bulgarian photographer Dobrin Kashavelov has documented refugees’ hardships with incredible sensitivity and poignance. You can view his series at, “Border of Hope.”
One of his photos inspired me to create the painting shown below. It is of a Syrian mother who at the time was in a refugee transit camp in Bulgaria. I don’t know what happened to her. But I do know that his photo forever captured her serene beauty and sincere dignity in spite of her circumstances and surroundings.
She looks off into the distance, at some source of light. I could hardly imagine what she had been through. And what her thoughts might be of her future. But I focused on the light. I imagined her thoughts. And I wrote this poem, which winds its way through the painting:
she leaves the darkness behind her,
and the bullets.
only the ringing in the ears remains,
a constant reminder,
like a cricket atop her shoulder,
just another refugee fleeing the violence.
So she sets her sights on the butterfly within,
that out of this cramped cocoon
of pain and tears,
she will emerge whole,
Again, as in my painting, “Their Ghosts Will Judge Us…”, flowers still bloom amid the destruction. As a refugee of war, this young woman tries to turn her back to the horrible things she has witnessed, to put them behind her and to focus on the promise of her future life.
In Syria, she was huddled in basements during bomb attacks, then squeezed into an airless truck driven by smugglers, and now, in the transit camp, she is again hemmed in, surrounded by walls, waiting for who knows how long, to have a sense of her fate.
She is like a butterfly that has been confined to a cocoon, unable to stretch, unable to see the light, unable to take wing. In a cocoon, accompanied by the painful memories and the ringing in the ears, the unseen scars of surviving the barbarism of war.
But my hope is that, like a butterfly, she will soon break free, and be drawn to the flowers that bloom around her: the kindness of strangers, the basic normalcy of being just a young woman again, and the possibilities that will be opened up to her in her new life.