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Dear Aylan and Galip, drowned Syrian children, what’s become of us?

Dear Aylan and Galip

Was the world ever not a frightening place for you? Did you ever see your mom and dad smile? Or was it all just terror and hell, nothing worth living for? Here I am, past the age of 50 and I am the one with all the questions for both of you. So here’s a lot.

Did you ever get to know that it is small children who usually ask all the questions? Oh, those endless questions about anything and everything that help us grown-ups see the wonder of the world. To believe that there might be a “God” and everything can be great and neat … and that things happen for a good reason? You know, reasons for wearing dry, warm socks, a reason for drinking milk, because it makes your bones strong and ready for a life you guys will never know.

Hell, did you boys ever get to drink milk? When was the last time? Did your mom wipe the white smear off the top of your mouths?

Did you know the questions “other” children ask, because they got to feel the wonder of life? Other kids ask questions like, “Dad, why is the sky blue, how do the stars stay up in the sky, why do dogs have tails, and why is mommy crying?” I bet Galip sometimes asked that last question. Bet you he watched his mommy bravely shove the tears away and try again to find food and water, find a safe place for the night for her children. And I bet you eventually learned to stop asking why she was crying. Salt water came down mom’s face and that’s just how it was.

A Turkish police officer carries a young boy who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos. (Pictures: Reuters)
A Turkish police officer carries a young boy who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos. (Pictures: Reuters)

Aylan and Galip, is this what it comes to? That perhaps only now we will sit up and listen to the monstrosity that has become of the human race? That as a collective organism we have been an atrocity for a very, very long time? But we probably won’t really really sit up and listen, hey?


* * *

I close my eyes. I sit still with hands folded here in my nice lounge on a sunny day in New Zealand. It is in that silence that I now know I am closely related to both of you. If only I could hold you both to my chest and hear you breathe.

I’ll tell you a secret. Promise not to tell anyone. Sometimes I look at my partner Marion when she is sleeping on the couch and smile. Then, because she is so still, for a chilly moment I have to wonder if she is okay. So I lean over to make sure she is breathing. Sometimes I kneel next to her and listen to that sacred sound. It is the most lovely purring and sighing. It is not unlike leaves stirring in a tree, and so reassuring. I have spent 12 years of my life with her. Can you imagine 12 years of being with someone? Not even Galip can.

But my point is this boys. I only got to know that the two of you are really, really closely related to all of us, that you’re our children, because you got taken away from us in a horrible way. In a manner that will be used for political gain. That is a term, in a very small way, you are lucky you will never get to know.

Galip, what was it like, going under the water again and again, trying to kick up to the surface for air? That you were all alone, stuck in all that endless cold water, and not even your brother was there anymore, the one I bet you promised to protect as best you could? To share all your food with?

Galip and Aylan, the only gift you can give me is a very great one: when I think those scary thoughts of the last moments of your little lives, I draw even closer to you.


* * *

I don’t know how it works in the next realm. If you boys have gone that far into the next place, by now you may know I lost my family. Yep, mom, dad, and the one death that always hurts the most, my sister. Do you know the way I deal with it, the way some other people in this world still do? (But not so much the people chasing heaps of money and buying endless stuff.) I kind of pretend, in my quiet times in the woods, or when I meditate in the stillness at five in the morning, that all three are still here. In that deep, soft place, Aylan and Galip, I realise they are still here. Of late I have learned to let them be with me more often because my time is getting closer. But I am still too scared to ask them for their wisdom. To listen to their ancestral counsel on how to conduct, or properly hold up, the flickering life that was given me for a time.

You boys are already telling us your wisdom. You are giving us good advice. You’re shouting it. But let’s face it, are we ready to listen to you guys? Will we ever be?

I’m going to sign off. This is not goodbye.

Aylan and Galip, I can stand on the beach here in Brown’s Bay, New Zealand and kind of bid you farewell. I can gaze at the sea and at the souls of birds floating up from waves. I can toss pebbles into the surf and watch them disappear. You know, those symbolic gestures we humans are so fond of. But when I turn away and walk off, I know I will hear behind me, ever so faintly, the pitter-patter of little feet on the sand.

Follow Rod on Twitter @rod_in_china


  • CRACKING CHINA was previously the title of this blog. That title was used as the name for Rod MacKenzie's second book, Cracking China: a memoir of our first three years in China. From a review in the Johannesburg Star: " Mackenzie's writing is shot through with humour and there are many laugh-out-loud scenes". Cracking China is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle or get a hard copy from His previous book is a collection of poetry,Gathering Light. A born and bred South African, Rod now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, after a number of years working in southern mainland China and a stint in England. Under the editorship of David Bullard and Michael Trapido he had a column called "The Mocking Truth" on NewsTime until the newszine folded. He has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. if you are a big, BIG publisher you should ask to see one of his many manuscript novels. Follow Rod on Twitter @