We stop at the curb and prepare to cross Trakoscanska, not always a simple proposition. Zagreb drivers take no prisoners, though they will stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, unlike Istanbul drivers. No traffic. No problem.
We progress to the nearby DM store, a pharmacy offering a wide range of beauty, health and home products. I carry an empty backpack that we intend to fill.
Karin moves with brisk purpose down the brightly lit aisles, studying the colorful organized shelves. Her Ph.D. from Cambridge, her extensive work in higher education as both a teacher and administrator, her government work – all reveal a highly intelligent mind tempered by experience. I’m interested to see what she will choose to buy for the Syrian refugees pouring into Croatia.
As opposed to Hungary, Croatia has stepped up to help. I know Karin is deeply proud of her nation’s response. She and Jeremy want to enhance that response, to add their personal support to the official effort. Nappies, toilet tissue, lotions, ointments – things mothers need go into the pack. Biscuits, dried fruit, bottles of juice – things to energize and sustain go in as well. Karin pays the bill and I heft the pack onto my back. It is full and reassuringly heavy.
We exit the store, cross Grada Vukovara, walk past the farmers’ market – orange, red, gold and green with late summer’s peppers, apples, tomatoes and figs - and swing onto Yuri Gagarin way, a footpath between apartment blocks. Yuri Gagarin – a proud name for Russia, for humanity. I can’t help but think that it’s been a long time since Russia did anything to inspire pride – Ukraine, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, Syria. The thought crosses my mind that I’d like to slap Putin around a bit, though I realize I’m probably not up to it.
We turn right on Stavska Cesta and pass the old soldiers protesting their lack of benefits after the not-so-recent war. We walk the working class street for a kilometer or so and finally reach the refugee relief collection center. Ben sleeps with his left cheek pressed to his mother’s chest. He had a restless night and nothing eases him more than a walk in his sling.
We reach the collection center. Young women are there to take what we’ve brought. Karin asks them how things are going. They say that things are going well enough, though they’ve received too many old clothes and not enough water or blankets.
We head for a market across Savaska Cesta to purchase water, blankets and some canned food, though I have to caution Karin to avoid the stew with pork in it. We would purchase more, but the old gray mule ain’t what he used to be. Six liters of water is all I can hump. We take our purchases back to the collection center and turn for home.
The journey was farther than we’d thought. Both Karin and I are tired and our conversation lapses. Ben slumbers on. As we walk – now unburdened in my case – my gaze lingers on Ben’s round face. I think of other babies, of all the uncertain futures they face. I think of Turkey – I love and respect the Turkish people – and of the two million refugees for whom Turkey is a refuge. Only those who can afford to pay thousands to a trafficker for a boat ride reach Croatia’s borders. I have no solutions to this mess, but I hope somebody helps Turkey deal with the burden it’s assumed.
I hope some great captain shouts, “All hands on deck! All human hands pitch in!” Pope Francis, though not a captain for all, has it right: Offer help to those in need, offer it with no conditions. Looking at sleeping Ben, sweet Ben, I understand even more deeply that we must live for each other or we will cease to live at all.