Very busy day today, had my first double shift. It’s easy to tell when you’ve become the “veteran” volunteer here. Most of the volunteers hail from the Scandinavian countries and can take short holidays due to travel time. While my total trip was 72 hours, most of the volunteers have a 12 hour trip and are not restricted to losing a week of their two week holiday to travel. It is also holiday in general for the whole world, and since the younger generations are more attuned to the crisis, they come between semesters.
Early morning I worked with two other volunteers, both work with my NGO, A Drop in the Ocean. Marian is one of the girls who had witnessed the woman dying the day before, and Tobias is a prior coordinator for Drop. Tobias works some shifts with me, but is working on a grassroots NGO here. All three of us were working at The Watchtower, which is just a hotel room with a balcony overlooking most of the northern coast into Turkey. This makes it one of the most important positions for my NGO. If any boat is seen we must immediately input it into the “Boat App.” This notifies the Greek and Spanish Coast Guards as well as the head coordinators of my NPO. My coordinators then send a mass text to every group of volunteers on shift patrolling the shores. We then race to where the boat is going to land with boxes of emergency blankets, shoes, and socks. If the watchtower does not spot the boat, there is a chance the Turkish Coast Guard will intercept them and turn them back or sink them.
The Turkish Coast Guard is known for their atrocities toward the refugees. Partially because they are facists, but also because of money. The government gets money from the EU to keep the refugees, but they get paid off by the mob to let them smuggle the refugees over. The Turkish Coast Guard also gets paid off, so if they sink a boat or turn it back, the refugees have to repay and they get to double-dip.
There are horror stories of their coast guard boats circling the refugees, throwing knives at the inflatables. We’ve had some come in halfway deflated with holes. Tobias watched as the Turkish Coast Guard were using fire hoses to spray water into the inflatables to fill them up with water. This post has to see them before the Turks do. It’s a matter of litfe and death, especially now that it is winter.
We spotted at least 6 boats in an hour. They were 20 km out so it was hard to tell which ones we had already reported, and which one’s we hadn’t but we kept our lifeguards busy in that area so the Turks left them alone. It was close to 0 degrees and breezy, but we kept ourselves warm by telling stories and reminding ourselves that it is much colder for the drenched refugees. When you know that people’s lives are dependent on you, it doesn’t take much to assume our responsibility.
That afternoon I helped Tobias with his grass-roots operation. I cannot get too deep into details, but it's all for providing proper transition housing to allow families to change into dry, clean clothes in privacy. This also gives them a place to stay if they are sick, and is only 50m off of the beach, instead of the 15km walk up the mountain in wet clothes. I’ll just say that Tobias, Marian, Mari, myself, and 20 others spent the afternoon cleaning, sanitizing, white-walling, etc.
My last shift of the evening was beach patrol. I’m pretty sure I get put on this since I’m the only one that knows how to properly utilize both the thermal and night-vision scopes. Usually when people ask me where I’m from I feel like I have to hang my head and mumble “America,” but here they are so happy that the few Americans here are representing our nation and humanity. They don’t look at me as a monster that walked around with a weapon, but rather as someone with experience who can train medical, interpretive, and group work.
It was raining, very hard. We couldn’t see more than 10’ in front of us, it was raining sideways, and sometimes upside down, in reference to Forrest Gump. We were terrified to think that there may be people trying to cross. The worse the weather is, when there is smaller chances of making it, the cheaper it is to cross. It sickens me to know that the poor and the big families have to take the bigger risks. The roads themselves were almost impassable, mud-slides down the mountains (there’s no nets like in the states to prevent boulders from crashing down). Parts of the road/cliff had disappeared. There are no guard rails, and it’s all sharp turns. One could easily slide off the road and crash 500’ into the ground below. We risked it.
Every three hours we went to grab coffee to stay alert, and to check on the lifeguards and Doctors Without borders. We were cold and wet too, so we needed to warm our souls a little. My last hour was the worst. The road back had a river about 15 meters wide, a meter deep, fast enough for 30’ trees to be moved, as well as bowling ball boulders to move. We had to go back driving along the cliffs; we made it about a mile and we came across another river. There was no way we could go back so we floored it through. Even with adjusting with the river moving us, the car slid a good 5’ towards the cliff edge. I was staring at the side and was cringing as the edge became apparently close. We made it, but barely. That was the end of my shift, it took me a while to go to sleep. I couldn’t sleep knowing that there may be people trying to cross.