Each carries a few heavy plastic bags, the contents of which are identical — cooking oil, tins of food, salt, sugar, and other super-basic food items. In a clearing is a collection of tents and tarpaulins, battered from awful weather. No sanitation, no standpipe. Nothing. The volunteers distribute the food bags, which the men who live here will attempt to cook on tiny inadequate camping stoves. When they run out of gas, they can’t cook at all.
The men smile and say thank you in English. They are Iraqi Kurds. “From Isis,” one of them says, deadpan. That this man can joke about being a terrorist while living in a pit of sodden gale-blown filth, forced from his home by these very same terrorists, says much about his enduring sense of humour. That the region to which he has run for safety has provided him with nothing more than walls of barbed wire says much about our enduring inhumanity.
You don’t have to be a doom monger to conclude that 2015 has not been humanity’s finest moment. From Daesh to Donald Trump, this is a year when humanity sucked as the planet boiled. This is the year where the bad guys got all the headlines, as our elected administrators sat on their hands, or voted to drop more bombs and build more fences.
But the good guys are out there too. You just don’t hear much about them. There are loads, swimming valiantly against the tide of awful. The Irish grassroots organisations who send lorry-loads of vital aid to the refugee camps; the Irish medics and dentists who pitch in to provide desperately needed medical help; the Médecins Sans Frontières guys in their white boiler suits, cleaning the uncleanable.
And so many ordinary individuals. The busy working mother who funded a convoy of food packages by cooking a charity dinner for her friends; the two schoolgirls who raised over a grand doing a school cake sale. The shopkeepers who donate vans of bread, the man too unwell to get there himself who provided a car load of fresh fruit and vegetables.
There are many, many good guys. The two office workers who used their annual leave not to go on holiday in the sun, but to slog in the mud of a refugee camp; the airport baggage handler who spends all his spare time organising drivers and aid convoys. The Galway man who co-ordinates the volunteers who turn up to help, but don’t know where to begin. The young people who live in their vans for weeks at a time, working tirelessly without pay or acknowledgement. The old ladies who stand in a cold dusty warehouse all day sorting donated jackets and jumpers; the volunteers who cook hot food for hundreds of refugees every day in conditions beyond primitive.
This is where the humanity lives. The flickering light that will never go out. That will never give up.