A day in the field with INARA

Kavita Sharma

Journalist and Volunteer with INARA​

Posted: 21 March 2023

We are setting off in the morning. I am joining Joudy Habash and Zara, INARAs assessment team as a volunteer for the aid organization.

Their aim is to visit informal tent settlements that are dotted around the region. In the course of the day we will see people living in tents on a football pitch and often next to their destroyed homes, a constant reminder of all is lost, of how perilous their existence has become.

At our first stop the grandmother Shukria tells me how her heart still races every time night falls, how scared she is of the darkness setting in. The trauma of that terrible night of the earthquake overshadows Shukria’s every day. The family has lost eight members in the earthquake.

Shukria’s husband Zaki shows us copies of death certificates of his loved ones, papers, that are tatty because the 63-year old has opened them so many times. Somehow it feels like Zaki needs this physical proof to really belief all his painful loss.

Zara and Joudy have a calm and focused demeanor, they work quickly writing down what each family needs, handing out numbers so people will get their aid bag at tomorrow’s delivery.

We drive on. Earlier Ali joined us. He is a 28-year-old hairdresser and usually works in Istanbul. He is another volunteer. Ali says full of pride „I know everyone here“. This is where he grew up. So Ali decided to put that knowledge to use: he helps Zara and Joudy find the more remote makeshift tent clusters hidden away in hillsides and down dusty roads.

Our next spot is what once was a breathtakingly beautiful part of the village. Rolling green hills, spring is starting but the malign power of the earthquake has ripped through this picture: there are ruins of houses dotted around.

Joudy, Zara and Ali get out again, quickly assessing the number of people who live here and what they need. INARA sends out bags with hygiene articles, sanitary pads, diapers, kids toys, cough drops among other things and they can dispatch a doctor and psychologist as well.

I walk into a tent with Ali. A women with a kind face starts telling us what has become one of the first things that you tell strangers now: how many people she has lost in the earthquake, 12 it is. Ayse’s face begins to twitch as she is fighting back the tears. She is bedridden and in pain.

Ayse’s daughter has to wash her mother and keep her clean. I can’t imagine how tough it must be for both of them: for Ayse, to be so dependent in a situation like that, for her daughter to be confronted with the huge logistical challenge of adequate care for her mother.

Ayse says she wishes no one else will ever have to live through this kind of tragedy. In the end she wants to kiss me good-bye. Not because I have given her anything other than a little bit of my time. In this moment it feels strange not to be here as a journalist, not to have the role of an observer. I wonder how Joudy and Zara are taking it.

Joudy explains how important it is to keep a professional distance just the same as a journalist does, to stay focused to be able to do the job well. Zara says it is a mix of emotions. There is the happiness of being able to help and then the crushing realization that there never can be enough.

Zara tells me there are two sides of her now: the strong side when she helps, acts and achieves and the other side when the 27-year-old feels raw and all the sadness just burns through her.

Zara says she tries not too ask too many questions these days so all those stories of the dead and the loss do not haunt her at night -„I can’t bring their loved ones back,“ she says „I just try to focus on what i can do.“

But it is the small and unexpected encounters that still send even the strongest spinning, sucked into a maelstrom of pain. For Zara it was an old man who showed her a small wound. The earthquake survivor kept saying to Zara „it hurts so much“ because he couldn’t find the words to describe the real pain haunting him. That helplessness hit Zara hard, she tells me, it was one of only three times she cried since the earthquake.

Our next stop: a football pitch in the village – now full of tents. Zara, Joudy and Ali get to work. Zara sits down with a woman, they beckon me over, tea is being served.
Gönül tells us how she rushed out of her house during the earthquake with no shoes trying to help people trapped under the rubble. Some could be saved with bare hands Gönül tells us, others remained trapped.

Gönül says these days she can’t remember names but she still hears the voices of the people calling out for help under the rubble who died. She is revolted by soup because it reminds her of the first days after the quake – when this was all the food there was. Gönül asks her daughter not to turn in the bed they share cause every movement sends shockwaves through her body. Zara listens intently. I wonder if she will feel like her strong or her raw self tonight when all has gone quiet around her.

We drive on. One tent cluster after the next.
Joudy tells me that they could easily use 900 aid bags each day to distribute. 2 volunteers and myself packed 150 bags yesterday – this was all we could assemble, in the evening we were dead on our feet. Joudy says so much more man/woman power is needed. Over 300 people were singled out alone today by Zara and Joudy for the delivery tomorrow.

Zara tells me that she asks herself everyday when the people, her colleagues, everyone gets back to some sort of normality. She says she is never able to answer that question.

* Kavita Sharma is a Journalist and Volunteer with INARA​