The Luxury of ‘Normal’

Faris’ family is getting ready for the coming winter. When we visited today, the children were bundled up in socks and sweaters, and in their house, “winter carpets” were laid over the cold tile floors. Autumn doesn’t linger here—the nights are already cold.

This morning we talked about the recent earthquake, with voices loud enough to hear each other over the cartoons on tv. “We were so afraid,” Faris’ wife confessed.

There was tea—of course there was tea. And tickles for Faris’ son and time to catch up. We paid Faris for the previous batch of soap he made, now in the US and ready for gift shop sales.

We talked about how national politics—the continued fallout from September’s Kurdistan independence referendum—is still playing havoc with local airports, making it much more difficult to get his soap out of the country.

There was a second round of tea, and jokes and laughter—of course there was laughter.

It was a perfectly normal visit.

Perfectly normal is such a sweet luxury.

It’s been quite a year for Faris. He and his wife welcomed a new son to this world, and he lost his beloved mom. Faris returned near his home town to make something of a pilgrimage to most the sacred place for his faith—the Yazidi town of Lalish in northern Iraq.

Faris has pushed his soapmaking skills this year. (Hello Marbled Charcoal soap!) Somewhere along the way, Faris’ community stopped thinking of himself as “the refugee” and started regarding their neighbour as “the soap maker.” Even Faris himself left the limiting label “refugee” behind.

Birth. Death. Growth. Creative work that supports his family.

Perfectly normal.

Normal is one of the first things Faris lost when he had to flee home because of ISIS. It’s a luxury that comes with stability. Normal is something most of us take for granted.

Faris and his family have regained normal one bar of soap at a time. Because of this soap, he’s had the resources he needed to face this year—the good and bad. He could afford to bring home their new baby without worrying where the money for diapers would come from. He could afford the traditional funeral feast that allowed family, friends and neighbours to remember his mother well. The usual milestones of life were a crippling burden for Faris before he began his soap business.

And now? They’re perfectly normal.

Normal is what you make possible when you invest in refugee soapmakers, knitters, and business owners. And let me tell you, after three years of war and displacement…

Normal is extraordinary.