Before heading to Greece to work on refugee camps, certainly, there was the primary goal of helping.  Doing whatever was needed. But I admit to adding a secondary, selfish goal for myself: retelling the refugee story. I deluded that this story would make the most bigoted conservative cry and compel the most apathetic burnout to get off the couch.

Retelling the refugee story in a responsible way is not to be taken lightly. I have not been back home in the States a week, but the rawness of life on a refugee camp washes out of my hair, skin, and mind with every privileged decision I make.  How do you keep the story intact when it's not your reality?

My reality is privileged. Before writing a word of this, I’ve indulged in my favourite cold brew coffee, set up a doctor’s appointment with a few clicks, blatantly abused shower privileges, and enjoyed the immense pleasure of using my home toilet.

It’s possible the opportunity to truly articulate the story of a refugee has passed or was never truly mine in the first place.  It was incredibly presumptuous to assume 10 days working there gives me any credibility. After all, I left the camp when my privilege told me I should.

With that disclaimer,

The story of a refugee is not defined by waiting in line 10 times as long as that new beer garden's happy hour on a Thursday.  

It is not defined by what you're waiting for, maybe a disappointing, bitter “chai tea” or ill-fitting, second hand shoes. Nor is it defined by the squalid sleeping arrangements in rat-infested warehouses, under the trailers of 18-wheel trucks, or on rain-soaked mud fields.

A refugee's story cannot be isolated to the present situation.

The story starts way before arriving in a camp. It starts with a decision. Your decision may have been years in the making: carefully saving the 6000 euro to reach Greece and plotting each stop in the refugee underground railroad.

Your decision may have been made suddenly when ISIS planted a bomb outside your home because you worked with Americans.  However your life as a refugee comes to be - you make a decision to put your and your family’s lives entirely in the hands of others.

But you can't help but second-guess the decision to head west. Donald Trumps and Marine Le Pens receive ovations and donations for publicly promising to banish you to the hell you came from. If you do make it, arsonists will crash your welcoming party, and governments fearfully track your move until the day you die.

The story of a refugee has a blank future. You grind out another day, week, and month until a decision breaks through the haze of bureaucracy. Or doesn’t. Rumours circulate among fellow refugees that drag you from the peaks of optimism to the depths of despair and everywhere in between.  The volunteers respond to the rumours with a shrug, and say, “I'm sorry, I don't know.”

You ask, “when will we know?” “who do I talk to?” and “what do I do?”

The volunteers just shrug and say “I'm sorry, I don’t know.” It's okay for them not to know.  

But as a father, you have to know. So when your daughter asks why you’re sleeping in a warehouse, you have to look her in the eye and say, “This is how everyone gets to Germany, dear.”

The story of a refugee is one of resilience and hope.

Despite the odds, you maintain hope for a lucky introduction to a “reputable” smuggler that charges another 3000 euro to bring you across the border.

Or a fortuitous interaction with a well-connected UN asylum officer, if one of them ever actually showed up.

Or a divine intervention from Allah, if he chooses your prayer out of the millions of others arriving from refugees.

Some of us are bigoted, some are skeptical, and many are apathetic.  To empathize with a refugee's plight, you first must honestly evaluate where you land on that spectrum. Once you've landed, challenge yourself to explore personal stories of human beings who are depending on you, your votes, and your empathy (whether you know it or not).