Dina Nayeri has written extraordinary books for adults about the experiences of refugees, and her new nonfiction picture book for children, The Waiting Place, is equally haunting and beautiful. Nayeri went to the Katsikas refugee camp, along with photographer Anna Bosch Miralpeix, to interview and document the experiences of children living there. The cover of the book is a perfect representation of what one finds between the pages. We see a little girl halfway through a cartwheel, playing and having fun like the covers of so many children’s books. What makes this cartwheel different is that it is being performed over a grate in the middle of a gravel road, behind barbed wire, and surrounded by shipping-crates transformed into housing. Children in “the waiting place” are still children, but they exist in a world that is frozen, somewhere between home and whatever comes next.
The children and their families come from Iran and Afghanistan. The newcomers at the refugee camp live in B camp and those who have been waiting for longer live in A camp. Those in A camp rarely come out, they have been waiting too long. The children in camp B play with toys, make up stories, and argue with each other, just like all children do. Some of them remember how they came to the camp and many of them are traumatized by that experience. Even five-year-olds know what it means to get “papers” and that this is something they must do to get out of the waiting place.
Nayeri writes about the refugee camp as if it is another character in the stories of the children and their families. A vicious character that wants to keep the families, stuck in this in-between space where nothing every changes. When aid workers come to visit the camp, they encourage the children to keep playing, learning, and creating. In other words, they want the children to live so that those in power cannot make them wait for everything.
The photos in The Waiting Place are just as powerful as Nayeri’s breathtaking words. Some show the children being active and silly, while others are still. As if the children are constantly being pulled in different directions, between the joys of living and the despair of waiting.
Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 8: I am curious and want to know more about other people’s histories and lived experiences, and I ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
Justice 12: I can recognize and describe unfairness and injustice in many forms including attitudes, speech, behaviors, practices and laws.
Justice 14: I know that all people (including myself) have certain advantages and disadvantages in society based on who they are and where they were born.