1.15.2016

1.15.16
 
              Last night we spent the night in Athens at the flat of one of the Hellenic life guards we had worked with in Lesvos at Lighthouse Beach. It was so nice to wake up in a legitimate flat/apartment. The nursing home at Samos smelled like a nursing home, and one of the pipes had broke so it smelled a little ripe. I am thankful for the free accomodations, but it was nice to wake up in a proper bed.
 
              Mari and I took the metro to the airport in Athens to meet Kristina. Kristina is our Lesvos mom, and she flew down for the two/three days to literally be here for us. Being on the islands is emotionally draining. I had messaged her a few days after she had returned to Norway that I needed a hug. She came back here for us. I know that my family in the States would have done the same, but travel from the US vs. travel from Norway is cheaper and faster.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              We flew from Athens back to Lesvos together. Kristina paid for our flights, car rental, and hotel. I cannot thank her enough. At the airport we took a bus to our island-hopping plane. As we were driving on the tarmac we were nearing a twin-prop airplane that was a good 30+ years old.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
             Our jaws dropped, and then we had a moment of relief as we passed it. We then stopped at an even older twin-prop plane. Everyone stopped as they were boarding the plane to take pictures. I was very unsure if we were going to survive.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              I’ve flown a good 50+ times, but never in a propeller plane, and nothing that looked like it could have been used in the 70’s. Every time the plane made a different noise I just gripped my seat tighter. Of course we made it, but it was definitely a different experience.

At Lesvos we stayed at the same hotel, Hotel Marilena.

Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
 
             When we got there the gang was already there to meet us. Todar, Joakim, Charly, all of the familiar faces, our Lesvos family. We all went to supper at the Captains Table where a few more of our friends showed up. It was so great to see everyone again, we had been separated on different missions throughout the islands or back in their home countries. It was such a great reunion. Even the restaurant owner was happy to see us. We were back where it all began.
 
              That evening was another difficult night. Mari and I informed the group of our plan. Though all of us have friends and family back home who love us and we love them, we were a family here on Lesvos. All of us are terrified at the thought of returning back to our home countries. This is where we had found ourselves, these were the people trying to save the world, the ones that cried with us and held us. We had found home, for before we had never felt like we belonged. I’ve grown so much closer with my actual family since I have been on the islands. The difference was that the majority of the people from our respective home nations are not the same as us. We all were here trying to save the world, trying to make it a better place.
 
             I know that many people in the US cannot come, and they support me and allow me to volunteer here. But those that have gone home, or have returned, no longer feel at home there anymore. Everyone just feels miserable when they to their homes. Most cry and feel so meaningless, they cannot pull themselves out of bed. That is what I am scared of. I am so jealous of my European friends who can stay here longer, while I can only be here 90 days then must be out of the EU for 90 days.
 
              As a group we sat there weeping together. All of us just crying and holding each other until we had no tears left.

 

1.14.2016

1.14.2016
              This morning I had to bid my farewells. Half of the volunteers will still be there when I return in three days, the other half will have returned to their homes by then. It was not necessarily the easiest telling Frida, Solfrid, and Ingrid goodbye. As we were waiting at the port for Theresa to say goodbye we saw a girl walking with her bags away from the ferry. I vaguely knew who she was, but that was due to her spending time with Mari the past few days. She was not going to go on the ferry with us, and she was in tears. Mari spent the time we were waiting for Theresa trying to comfort her, while I was anxiously pacing wondering if Theresa would make it on time, or if the ferry would leave without us. It made bidding our adieu’s a little easier to the three girls. We will definitely see each other this summer back on the isles, but they will depart for home the day before I return to Samos.
 
              On the ferry there were so many familiar faces. If we did not recognize them, they definitely recognized us. Each one of them had seen us dancing, distributing clothes, working with the children, erecting tents for them, etc. Our tickets placed us in the interior of the boat with three general populace, but as we were standing on the deck waving to the girls and Theresa, we decided that we would rather be with the refugees who had to stay outside, most of the familiar faces were out there. We ran into one of our friends, Tardik, who speaks fluent English so we sat by him. Soon enough there were about 10 around us, we utilized him as our interpreter.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              The ferry trip itself was 11 hours, but it seemed much longer than that. After about 3 hours Tarek came to me with a concern about the families, women, and children who had to sit outside the whole trip. We both went inside and with the power of a reflective vest and possibly me being American we were able to persuade one of the crew to allow the women and children to go inside.
 
              Had that not happened there is no way that the next events would have happened. Tardik and I took a walk around the ferry and began to talk. He had actually worked on a ship mostly out of the Indian Ocean which allowed him to gain culture. His father had been in the hospital for 3 years so he spent every night sleeping there, helping the nurses and doctors. There he learned some medical work, nothing in depth, but he knew enough to help people. His goal was to go to Germany where his sister teaches English. He knew that he needed to continue learning English and further his education, and he mused about possibly doing some work with the UN.
 
              We talked for a while about who we were in the heart. He had never really felt like he belonged anywhere before. He had given up his religion, and due to his work on a ship gained culture. In Syria most of his peers looked at him like he was different because his thoughts did not align with the rest of the general populace. He was another one who just never felt quite at home, even when he was home. Even those at the camps and on the ferry asked him why he was spending more time with the volunteers rather than with his own people. I told him about myself, my immigration story, my military background, and my intentions about the orphanage and working on a book to tell the individual stories about the refugees. Due to his ability to speak English I told him that I would like to start with him, and that perhaps he could help us. He was immediately on board, but it never happened today.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Roughly half-way through the trip we broke open the bags of toys, balloons, markers, and blank sheets of paper. We informed the children and their families that the drawings would be used to help the islands and to buy toys for the children who would be passing through the islands in the upcoming future. We let them know that we would be selling them online via Ebay. All of the children wanted to help.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              When we opened the bags I started to make balloon animals and blow up regular balloons, Mari started handing out sheets of paper and markers. This was my first time to interact with the children besides my first night at Moria Camp on Lesvos, and they were clamoring all over me to get a balloon animal. The balloons went quick, mostly because I could only find a few bags of them on Samos. Many of them broke because they were old and sticking together. Next time I come here I must fill a bag with balloons for balloon animals.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              The next two hours we sat with the kids drawing pictures. I have a stack a good inch thick in my laptop bag now. Some were regular kid drawings, some were pieces of art. I have no idea what happened to the markers, especially since all the caps were rolling all over the floor. Not a big issue, I doubt they cost me over 10 euro from donations. Some of the younger children had more marker on their faces than on the paper but they were happy as were their families. For 11 hours on the ferry they had nothing to do but sit, and the camps themselves become monotonous after a few hours. I can only imagine how bored the children must have been.
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
 
              I gave Tardik my camera and cell phone to take pictures of the children drawing. It is easier having another Syrian taking the pictures rather than a volunteer. There are cultural differences so we have to ask permission to take pictures, something that does not occur on Lesvos. In general, one should not take pictures of teenage girls or women, and of course make sure to ask before taking a picture. Many of the pictures taken today display the child either holding their picture, or of them actually drawing it. This will help out massively because we can display that it was an actual refugee child that drew the picture.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
             Without Tardik’s help there is no way that this would have run as efficiently or the magnitude of pictures we had procured. I believe this was a massive life-changing experience for him. He saw the children so happy, the parents thanking us, and noticed the children having something to pass their time. I am so thankful for his help but also that he was able to be a part of this. I pretty sure that I spent a pretty penny on cookies for all the children, or else I was massively overcharged for my cup of joe. I will just go with the latter, because who is really counting anyways?
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              I was nodding off since I had only slept three hours the night before, and I have before mentioned our sleep predicament as volunteers. I ended up falling over and sleeping on the metal floor, but woke up with a blanket that one of the refugees had wrapped around me. Tarek had been sitting next to me watching Mari’s and my bags, and had a cup of coffee for me by the time that I had woken up. I ate a few bites of food, talked with a few refugees around me, and then let the refugees use my Bluetooth speakers to listen to some tunes. They are from the same group that we were dancing with a few nights before, so I knew that music was their thing. Within minutes there was a group in a circle clapping and dancing.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Mari fell asleep next to a refugee family and our bags. Besides perhaps our passports none of the refugees would have let anyone touch our luggage. Everyone around us tried their best to take care of us as a show of gratitude. For some all they could do was offer us a blanket, others sat on the floor so we could sit on a chair, we had some share some food with us, one gave Mari a hat, while another gave me a necklace.
 
              As Mari was sleeping, Tarek and I fell into deep conversation. He has decided that he wants to write a book to help the Syrians learn how to integrate into society, help them with the immigration, and to help with the refugees learning English. I immediately thought of my friend Kristina who is a publicist back in Norway. This book of his is going to happen, it will take a while, but he also knows that it will also help him with fine-tuning his English.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              We sat at the aft of the boat and talked. His life had changed in the past few hours. Instead of his previous plans, he wanted to do work helping people. I am not sure what he and Mari had talked about while I was sleeping, but I think it was the same as my previous conversation with him. He had found people whose thoughts aligned with his, and after seeing the dynamics with the children he decided to change his life goals. He told me that Mari, the other volunteers, and myself had helped him, and now he wants to return the favor. Humans helping humans. We became brothers tonight, staring out over the Aegean Sea. I told him that I will find him in Germany, that I will follow him on his migration. I need him to help me with the book that I am working on as well. I believe that he could be extremely vital to the world due to his language skills and culturism.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              When the ferry arrived at Athens, the goodbyes began. We had Lasse Olofson, a journalist from Sweden who we had met in Lesvos. This trip changed him as well, and I know that our paths will cross again on Samos. He is helping a boy who lost his college diploma and passport gain asylum in Sweden. Then of course it was difficult saying goodbye to Tarek, but I will see him before I return to the States.
 
              My phone now has more pictures and group-selfies from the last 10 minutes on ship than the past two years of owning my phone. I hope to see these humans again, for they have become good friends and their faces have become very familiar these past few days. As we were saying good-bye I have never been thanked, hugged, or told that I was a good man so many times in my life.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              The dynamics of the day could have easily been something totally different. We had heavily thought about taking a flight to Athens which does not cost much more than the ferry. We could have stayed inside the boat where it was warm instead of giving our seats away. We could have not last-minute brought the toys, balloons, bubbles, and drawing things for the children. Had we not though, Tardik would not have decided to help the refugees, the children would and women would have been sitting in the cold, and we would not have this incredible story to tell the world. I would sit outside in the cold every night to have a night like we had today.
 
Video of the children with Andrew and Mari: https://www.facebook.com/lasse.oloffson/videos/1013861825345083/
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
These are some of the pictures the kids drew on the ferry to Athens. These are their memories. These are the kids who are afraid to go and play when it is sunny out because the coalItion does not go on drone missions when it's cloudy or there is a storm. As we were on the ferry jets flew by twice and I watched some of the children cringe in fear. These children were almost all under 10 years old, kids just like the ones back home. Imagine your child with these memories. ‪#‎ChildrenOfWar‬
 

1.11.16

1.11.2016
              While I cannot even think straight, doze off every time I sit down to eat, and wake up exhausted I cannot skip another entry. The days’ merge into one another, we do not even know what day it is. We just say it’s Saturfriday for nobody knows what day it is. It’s very comparable to a military deployment, you never know what the day is going to bring, how many people are coming in on boats, sleep is a joke, and you eat whenever you have time to stop and realize the last time you ate was 8-12 hours before. I think the only reason I eat is because I have to sit at a café in order to access their Wi-Fi. It is 3am and I have to be up in 4 hours, but what has happened these past few days, especially today, must be recorded before I forget it due to exhaustion.
 
              The past two or three days since my last entry have been busy. Due to my confessed OCD to the coordinator, Vale, I have been working out of the warehouse. To some with OCD it would be a nightmare, for me it’s a challenge that we can surmount. I wish that I could have access to the Menards card for work back in the states though, I’d probably max it out on color-coded boxes. We make due like always with the blank back-sides of cards, masking tape, and sharpies. Ahh, but the boxes. Different size boxes, most have corners smashed from being shipped all over the world, and none of them match, but we manage.
 
              I usually start out my morning by willing myself to fall/crawl out of my bed, halfway because I wake up still mentally and physically trained, halfway because my back must look something comparable to an S-curve. Getting ready is easy once I finally stand up. Since we share one shower between 30 of us we all skip taking a shower for a few days. We cannot tell since we all smell the same, and I highly doubt that the refugees can tell that we haven’t freshened up either. I left most of my clothes in Lesvos, I donated quite a bit to the refugees. Therefore, getting dressed is extremely simplistic. Grab the pants that I had not worn the day before, turn my t-shirt, socks, and boxers inside out, hope that my shoes are dry, and grab my reflective vest.
 
              We have the kitchen/meeting room here that I have before mentioned which helps out a lot. There is a plethora of granola bars, and we share everything here. I can buy enough oranges to feed the lot of us twice for $2-$3, there is a stand within 20 meters of the nursing home we are living in. We all start our day here because that is where the schedule is, and in order to take a shower you must pass by the kitchen, so there is quite often a queue of people waiting for the shower taking breakfast while they wait. We all formulate a plan of attack as to where we are delegated to be working for the day, coordinate vehicles to get us to our locations, power through coffee and tea like there is no tomorrow, and enjoy our groups solidarity.
 
              I usually make a few stops when I am grabbing oranges in the morning. Sometimes it is to grab supplies for the nursing home: light bulbs so we can see in the shower room, plumbers tape so that the shower-head functions properly instead of being a hose, and cough medicine since it is easy to get sick. A few of the girls have the Moria cough; dubbed due to working at Moria Camp at Lesvos from inhaling all the plastic and rubbish burning. The past two days I’ve spent a good $100 on supplies for the warehouse which are badly needed: packing tape to coerce the boxes into resembling squares again, proper black markers so we can read what the contents are instead of thin-pen markings, masking tape so that we can apply shoe sizes to the heels of shoes so that distribution is expedient, labels, and a few packs of balloons for the kids.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
           We rotate who brings lunch supplies to the warehouse, and usually one of the volunteers takes some time to prepare lunch. The first day we ate oranges and apples, which sufficed, but according to Paulo, “I’m not a bird, we need some protein.” It also helps because then we remember to nourish ourselves and give ourselves a break and enjoy each-others company.
 
              The warehouse will be a challenge for the next week or two, but it is a task that can easily be completed with a little bit of elbow-grease and a tremendous amount of will power. It’s a good thing that there are more than 2-3 working because the task would definitely appear more daunting. For two days we sorted shoes, mostly used, some new. We tie them together, or tape them together with the heels facing the same way. On one of the heels we apply tape with the shoe size which we have to look for since we write them down in European sizes and most are marked with U.K. and U.S. sizes. It can be monotonous, but we bring Bluetooth speakers, talk about anything and everything, and enjoy our task because we know that our work is needed. By 4pm we get a call for what supplies are needed from the warehouse which are usually shoes, socks, winter jackets, and trousers. Every refugee comes off of the boats wet and we want to make sure that they can stay in the best of their health. We sort our boxes out usually 2 sizes a box, and since the sorting has been lacking due to few volunteers during the holidays, the exact boxes we packed earlier in the day we load right into the vehicle driving to the port. At that point we look at each other and the monotonous sorting becomes worth it.
 
              After the warehouse we usually take an hour-ish off to grab some food, utilize Wi-Fi, slam coffee like it is going out of style, and try to mentally prepare for the evening. Some take a nap, I refuse because I am afraid that I won’t wake up in time for my next shift, I do not want to let the team down or refugees who are relying on me being where I am supposed to be. We go to the port and work at the camp right there. Some refugees that crossed are dropped off to us and we distribute dry shoes and clothing per need. The camp is located at the port as well because the ferry to Athens is on the other side of the fence. We handle crowd control because we want to keep people from standing in the street to prevent any vehicular mishaps.
At 8pm the Swiss kitchen-team shows up with their truck and serve soup. We utilize some of the volunteers to help keep the refugees in queue since we must serve in the parking lot/street. The majority of us eat the soup and bread that is being served, refugees and volunteers. This helps show solidarity between the refugees and volunteers. I think all the volunteers look forward to having the cup of soup though, because either they have not eaten since breakfast, or else we are cold and wet and need the warmth back in their bodies.
 
Here is the reason I have neglected my journal entries. Two nights ago, we received 700 refugees. What 50 volunteers do on Samos runs 10x smoother than what 2000 volunteers do on Lesvos. It would have run even smoother had it not been raining all day. Most of us spent the good portion of the night erecting tents and using tarps to block the rain. We numbered the tents, figured out how many people each held, and delegated who was sleeping where while keeping in mind who was sleeping in the tents. The port-camp has large tents (20’x40’) and foam cabins (10’x15’) erected by the UNHCR. On the ferry from Lesvos to Samos we saw on the news Samos pronounced as a refugee hot-spot. Both refugees and Turkish smugglers/mafia know that as well, hence the large influx of refugees.
 
Last night we were instructed to keep the refugees inside of the camp as much as possible since the local police were worried about a vehicular mishap. Dr. Manos is a legend here, sets up a power point projector with movies for the children every night. Mari had her speaker and was entertaining some of the refugees who were standing in queue. We decided to move her inside, and then everyone moved inside. Within minutes the whole camp was standing in a circle. For a good half of an hour I think we were doing a dance off, which consisted of some refugees dancing, hand-springs, and break-dancing. They made me dance and then made me do push-ups. It started out in variation push-ups me vs. refugees doing one-legged, or one-hand push-ups, clapping push-ups, and then finally competition to see who could do the most. I was dubbed Jackie Chan by all the refugees.
 
We could have all left shortly after soup had been served but all the volunteers at the port were caught up in the moment. There we were holding hands in a circle dancing: volunteers, refugees, women, men, children, Syrians, Moroccans, Norwegians, Brits, Americans, etc. We listened to western music, Syrian music, etc. It didn’t matter, it was music and it brought us all together. They remembered us from yesterday erecting tents for them in the rain and distributing clothes. We danced for an hour plus. We all forgot where we were at. The refugees for one moment had a time to forget the trials and tribulations they had gone through, and the volunteers had time to forget our exhaustion, what we have seen, or what we knew the refugees still had to go through. It was simply electrifying, all of us together, dancing through the night. We had found love in a hopeless place, no, we found love whole new place.
 
This is why I cannot go to bed, because I am afraid I’ll forget all my thoughts by the time I wake up. I made a decision the day that it was raining that I should adopt one of the refugee children. I was adopted, one of 13 in my family adopted, and it is time for me to pass it forward. I was given an opportunity that so many yearn for, how selfish of me to not do the same. I have known since I have been on the Greek isles that this will be my next phase of my life: the refugee crisis. Even after the boats cease to cross there will be much work to do. Those of us who have been volunteering on the refugee crisis know that we must continue our work on the integration and education of both volunteers and refugees. Europe and the US will both have a dark decade or two ahead of them filled with hate, discrimination, and human rights violations. It is occurring now all over Europe, and it will only be worse in the states. We will have to help the refugees with education, language, and teaching employable skills. Many have degrees and skills, but there are the children and the women who must be integrated into society as well.
 
I had a realization that I cannot adopt just one child. Mari and I both realized and decided that we need to start an orphanage. We will be able to help educate the children who have little-to-no chance of success, which will help them become employable, which will in the long run be a massive part of the integration process. We both agreed that this is what we were meant to do. Both of us have never really felt at home back in our home countries, but here we have never felt so at home. We have never felt so needed, appreciated, or felt that we belong. Here we have found what feels like home. Both of us are scared of going home. I am absolutely terrified of returning to a life or no purpose and living in a society where I am going to work until the day I die. I have no desire to go back to a world that barely acknowledges my existence, frowns when I smile and say “how are you doing” as I am passing in the streets, or a people to selfish to care about the human rights violation happening under their noses. I cannot return to such an empty and meaningless life.
 
I have no idea how this is going to work, but after being here, I know where there is a will, there is a way. There has to be a way, there is no other choice. Shall I turn my back on the children that will wander Europe until they get deported, freeze, or starve to death? How can I walk away knowing that the orphaned girls will be begging on the streets and their only way to survive will be to fall into the world of prostitution? I have spent the entirety of 30 years of my life trying to get rich and build my empire, trying to be remembered in the history books, fighting to be part of a war memorial. All that seems trivial, a waste. I know what I must do, and am more at peace now more than ever.
 

1.9.2016

1.9.2016
              Samos had a totally different vibe than Lesvos. The port city has a longer strip, yet so few cars, parking is available, and you can barely notice the impact of the volunteers on the island. We had gone from an island of 2000 volunteers to an island of 50 volunteers. While Lesvos has 80-140 NGO’s, Samos has less than 10. Less than that I am sure, but I have yet to see the total dynamics that happens here. I believe the NGO’s on this island consist of Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross/Red Crescent, The Samaritan’s Purse, and then everyone else here are independents that coordinate/work/live together.
 
              There are no independent volunteers running around trying to play the hero and take selfies with babies, I have yet to see a photographer or journalist, neither are there NGO’s who do their own thing. Every person and NGO coordinates with one person who coordinates with the local municipality. Even the police here do not seem like the police-state of Lesvos or that of the United States, they remind me more of the police in the states from the 1980’s and prior years. I have yet to see riot gear, barbed wire, fences, or police who seem more military than police.
 
              The dynamics of Samos versus the dynamics of Lesvos has a large part due to what has happened at Lesvos. Lesvos received all the media, while Samos and Chios received little to none. While it was good that the world started to pay attention to the refugee crisis, Lesvos had become a zoo of volunteers, NGO’s, photographers, and rumors. Samos has no desire to become what Lesvos is. They do not desire the attention. The locals of Lesvos are terrified that due to the massive attention they have received due to the refugee crisis that it will severely hamper their summer tourism. 
 
              I assume that is why the locals and the municipality are so involved here. There are no beaches like those on Lesvos, just straight drops into the water. The Greeks do their own patrolling, have their own places along the coast that the refugees can change from wet into dry clothing. Since the beaches on this side of the island are drop-offs, the Greek Coast Guard actually meets their boat, and escort them or bring them on their own boat.  There are no 200 volunteers greeting the boats as they come in, fighting and arguing over the proper way to handle the refugees, or fighting to hold a baby for a selfie picture. The 50 or so photographers with lenses shoved in the backs of volunteers and into the faces of refugees do not exist.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Myself and about 7-8 volunteers worked in the warehouse for the late morning and early afternoon. We focused on sizing shoes, marking them by European sizes, and putting them into their properly marked boxes. A big shipment of donations had come in right before us so there is a lot that needs to be put into their proper boxes and making the supplies ready for distribution. Men’s shoes always seem to be the biggest need so that was the focus.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              After 3pm I had off until 7PM.  I went down to the port where we have a “camp” and our distribution building. We distributed what individual needs as were needed and rational. The Samaritan’s Purse provided supper for both the refugees and the volunteers. It was a solid cup of soup as was the bread that they served with, and at the end of the day when one is a little chilly the cup of soup couldn’t have come at a better time.

1.8.2016

1.8.2016
              Today was travel day/day of reset and relax… if you can call traveling without really knowing where or what you are getting into relaxing. That’s the islands for you, time ceases to really be a thing, if it happens it happens, but there is no rushing anything.     
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Miri and I crashed with Raffael, their friend Paris from the UK, and our new friend S. Ahmed. It was the first time either of us had slept past 9am since we had arrived at Lesvos. I woke up and decided to walk down the fisherman’s wharf; we were in a small fishing town just outside of the main city of Mytilline. I figured I would let Miri sleep since she stayed up several hours after me, sorting through her thoughts. The day before she had heard both S. Ahmed and my story and it was a lot to take in. A lot. If you think these journal entries are a bit to wrap your heads around then imagine if you were the one here and seeing everything happening, and hearing two sides of the war, imagine what was going on in her head.
 
              Around 11am I went to her room to wake her up. We needed to return the car, meet the other three girls coming with us, book our ferries, and grab some food while all on island time. We spent about half of an hour with our newly met friends and had some “morning” coffee. We shared stories, laughed how every volunteer on the island was always too exhausted to think properly, and soaked up the sun. Such a variety of individuals sitting there. Paris from the UK, Raffael from Hungary, Miri from Norway, S. Ahmed from Pakistan, and myself from the US. A mini-UN get together, but we were all agreeing with each other, or at least understanding different viewpoints, not instantly condemning because the views are not exactly parallel.
 
We took the ferry to Samos; it was about a 6 hour ride.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
        
          It was around 10pm when we landed and just like landing on Lesvos, we stepped on the tarmac and had no idea where we were or what we were supposed to do. After about 10 minutes we were able to call our contact. Welcome to the world of country codes and burner phones. We had no idea who this woman was, all we knew about her was from Facebook.
 
              A taxi took us to a restaurant where our contact, Vale, and two volunteers were eating. One Laura was from the UK as well as Vale. The other was from the US; his name was Mike. Besides the two veterans I had met, this was the only other American I have met on the Greek isles since I’ve been here. The majority of the volunteers on Samos are from the UK, so he was happy to find another American, for they had been ribbing fun at him for his nationality. We both laughed about it, and then he mentioned the same thing as me. When people ask where we are from we hang our heads in shame and hastily mumble “America.” (America is not popular in this part of the world because of its foreign policy and lack of aid to the refugees.)
 
              We were shown to our new accommodations which were only a few blocks from where we had taken our supper. I’m 29 years old and am now living in a nursing home. Due to the good relations here between the Greeks and the volunteers, the Greek municipality gave the volunteers here a wing of the nursing home. Everything here is so organized, and our rooms were already mostly set up with bedding and towels already laid out. It was just like a big hostel. I think the thing that I was excited about was a common room and a kitchen. The last hotel that I had been staying at for the duration of my stay at Lesvos had no common room, so after shift, most volunteers just sat in their rooms by themselves.
 
              We were shown where the shower was, which was clutch, I hadn’t showered in three days. I doubt the girls had in a couple days either. Then we were told that our orientation meeting was not until 9:45am. We were all so happy. We had great accommodations, everything had been prepared for us, and we were going to get some proper rest.

1.7.2016

1.7.2016

          I don’t know how I lost a day, it is very easy when you are so busy you forget to eat or sleep. Most of the time it is almost hard to think because we’ve been burning both ends of the candle. I am fortunate that everyone speaks English for the most part, I could not imagine working and speaking a language that is not my first-language. You can tell by the time we have evening meetings how mentally drained the volunteers are when they are thinking in Norwegian, Danish, German, etc, but have to speak their thoughts in English. Words that would have been easy to remember suddenly become lost. Even I trip up on words, but I’m not sure if that is just my ADHD kicking in mixed with the intense desire to sleep, or drink coffee… or both.

          I am now going to Samos for sure now. They receive roughly 150 refugees a day, but they need more help than here at Lesvos; there must be a volunteer per refugee on this island. Myself, and the team coming with are excited to be able to work more on a personal level and also the opportunity to be utilized more effectively. Though we know what we are doing on Lesvos is important and needed, we more or less feel like we are underemployed. This next chapter of my journey here I am looking at with optimism.

          I’m sitting on the pier near where the ferry will launch typing this. It is 10am and I’m sitting next to a cat looking over the boats tied up. It’s a beautiful view, I think if it wasn’t for the beauty of the island the morale of the volunteers would be severely hampered. I spent the morning packing, I brought too much with me. About half of my clothes I am going to donate to the refugees. I look at the team coming with me, and it amazes me how little the girls have brought with them. Most are here for a month and they have a hiking bag to live out of. I definitely packed like an American.

          It’s different working here with the European female volunteers, they wake up and go to work, not even considering makeup. Daily showers are almost an impossible dream, and most of the clothes we wear, we’ve been wearing for a couple days straight. They still don’t get washed, just hung out to dry.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

          I think back to some of the girls back in the States, who couldn’t fathom a morning without their Starbucks or wearing the same outfit in two weeks. Different perspectives, but then I am coming from a country that many of the women feel entitled and expect to be held up on a silver platter. It also helps that these women came here to Lesvos to help people which I would never expect of most Americans.

          Today was also the first day for me to drive on this island. I rented a car for a few euros to get us to the other side of the island where the ferry was. So at least the steering wheel was on the proper side of the car, and driving was on the same side as in the States, but every car here is manual. I am so happy that I was taught to drive stick but the hill it was parked on was more than a 45-degree angle. Within 5 minutes the road can 1000 meters higher in elevation. Every road here loops up and around mountains, with no guard rails, just straight drops off of cliff faces at every turn. To say the least, it was an interesting first 5 minutes driving, compared to the flat- square roads in the states.

         Since there are so many volunteers here, we had nowhere to stay, we were considering sleeping in the car or we were going to see if we could share a tent with the refugees. Might as well get the real experience we thought. Since the dynamics of the island are always changing, bureaucracy, and even the flow of the refugees, it is not wise to pay for a hotel for 2 months straight. You might end up having to work on the opposite side of the island which is a good hour drive when the conditions are good. We stopped by Camp Moriah to grab some supplies. One of the volunteers documenting the story of the volunteers, not the refugees, overheard Miri asking some of her friends if they knew of any places to crash. He, Raffael from Hungary, offered us the spare beds in his flat, someone had moved out that morning. That’s what’s amazing here, good people here, people you really do not have to question their motives.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

           Somehow everything works out, it’s an island, so everything is laid back. I couldn’t imagine the US working like this, my customers cannot even wait a day for us to order a part before they call corporate and start raising a fit.

          When we got inside the flat there was a man about my age inside sitting by himself. At first we had thought that he was a volunteer but after talking with him we found out that he was a Pakistani refugee. He works at the tent at Camp Moriah serving chai tea to the other refugees, so more or less he is a volunteer. We invited him to supper with us; we wanted to hear his story. Volunteer or refugee there is always a story as to why we all are on the island together. The refugees have a story of death, pain, and suffering. The volunteers all have a story too. Some altruistically came to help, others were on vacation this summer when a refugee boat landed next to where they were enjoying their holiday, some were so sick of their monotonous life at home of work, sleep, work, sleep that they had to take a break. There are some volunteers who have lost themselves and needed to find themselves again, there are some veterans from different countries in the coalition who either came back to continue their mission, or because they needed to pay back for the sins of their past. Everyone has a story, and we want to hear the story so we can tell the people back home.

           This is the sad part of my night. The part where I finally met a face to the demons that haunt my dreams, and permeate my thoughts. Talking with S. Ahmed about his story of how he came to be here on Lesvos was an emotional moment for both him and I. He fled Pakistan due to the wars, it took him 27 days of walking to make it here. He had to leave his mother because she had diabetes and could not make the trip. His horror stories of being treated like cattle, 4-5 people packed in the trunk of a car, 30 some more packed inside the vehicle. Their limbs gave out, their joints gave out, and every car had someone suffocate. The Iranian smugglers would just toss the bodies on the side of the road. He saw his friend from home die who had been traveling with him. His friend had four sisters, they couldn’t even bury him, he had to leave him. He went through at least two car trips like that and two different boat rides. His whole trip was death. It weighs on his conscience that he survived.

           He made it here to Lesvos, so lost now due to language and nationality. Due to American pop culture/music he spoke perfect English, so well that the refugees barely accept him because they thought he was a spy from an agency like CIA or Hezbollah. He felt that he couldn’t be accepted by his own people because they thought that he worked working for an agency, and the volunteers didn’t think that he was a Pakistani. This is where the journey of the refugees gets worse. In 6 days he is going to be deported back to Pakistan because he is not from a priority war-zone country. This is true for any refugee that is not coming from Syria, Iraq, of Afghanistan. The EU does not want the refugees, hence the payoff to the Turkish government to keep the refugees, and also a way to keep Turkey out of the EU. Due to the Dublin Act, refugees will be deported to whatever country in the EU that they first registered with. That means many of them are getting sent back to Greece or Croatia once the country’s decide that they will not accept refugees.

           Those that are not from priority war zones (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria – the ones directly affected by the coalition) will be deported back from where they originally came from. Many of them have walked to one border to find it closed, to walk to another border to find it closed. I’ve heard stories of the immigrants walking for three months just to find someplace that they can find asylum. There are torn up passports from a dozen nations scattered throughout the island because they think that if they have no identity that maybe they will have a chance. Those that don’t come from the coalition war torn countries think that they are nobodies, and it’s hard to not agree with how they think, for they will never be accepted. They feel like they are not even humans or deserve a chance to live just because they do not come from a coalition war zone.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

           He took a boat from Iran and this wasn’t a zodiac/inflatable, this was a speedboat. They have a higher chance of capsizing since a quick jerk of the wheel while catching the right wave could flip a boat. It’s happens to people in the states, a customer of mine just spun the boat out. I have no idea if they had smugglers driving the boats, people/refugees who have no choice but to collaborate with the smugglers so that they can earn passage. We just do not hear about it because it happens in areas that the Western world has little to no knowledge of the smuggling racket.

           As he was boarding his speedboat he was 100% sure that he was going to die. He called his mom for what he thought was the last time to talk to her. She kept on telling him that he was going to be ok, that he was going to make it. He is going to be deported back in 6 days, the living hell he has endured was for nothing.

           I feel horrible for my friend Miri, within half-of a day she heard both sides of the war. She saw two grown men cry, one who had been part of the destruction of an infrastructure, and another who suffered from the destruction. There are details about both S. Ahmed and myself that she heard that would make most grown men cry, and yet she was the only one here to comfort us. I really do not know how I would have survived without her these past couple of days. Today was just another day I wish my Mom was here just to hold me and tell me that it will be all right. I’m looking forward to Kristina returning in a week, she was the mother figure here for me my first week.

1.5.2016

1.5.2016
              Today I had patrol on Skalla beach, we only had one boat come in down by me. Most of my team were working a few kilometers down the beach at Lighthouse where a boat came in comprised mostly of babies and children. They take precedence since they are more susceptible to bodily harm from being cold and wet. From what I hear they had their work cut out for them.
 
              I worked with Tony and one other volunteer, Shaamia, who spent most of her time at one of the transition camps since she could speak fluent Arabic. Tony and I really could do nothing but be in the way so we took it upon ourselves to do beach clean-up. Though this isn’t very exciting, it, like every other job, is very important. Our host island is known for its scenery. Rubber dinghys, orange life jackets, and trash all over the island will destroy the tourist economy which the Greek locals worry about. We also have to be mindful of the environment/eco-system here.
 
Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
             We spent a good three hours hauling boats out of the water by hand and hacking them apart with kitchen knives to make them moveable. It was back-breaking work, but it was sprinkling which helped keep us cool.
 
              Keeping the beaches clean is a way to keep positive relations, but it is also important because we need clear beaches so that we can bring new boats full of refugees to shore. If the shore is full of obstacles it becomes difficult, almost dangerous, especially when carrying infants over the rocks all over the beaches. These are not sandy beaches. The locals did take notice which was both important and rewarding.
 
Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              They were happy to see volunteers taking care of their island. For many of them, it’s their front yard where refugees are coming in. My NGO is highly respected because we are known for picking up trash our consistency on patrols, and being there. Many NGO’s show up for a week or two, take pictures, play the hero, and leave without actually participating in the rest of the infrastructure.  They take selfies with a crying baby and then sit and drink coffee while watching trash waft in the air and float into the ocean.
 
              The situation on the island can change, and does change, often. Politics from the EU, border closures, Turkish pressure to keep refugees from escaping from them, etc. There are over 2000 volunteers here. While it is nice to have this many people here, most of them just end up on the beach. Often the amount of volunteers trying to help a boat is triple the amount of refugees on the boat. Then include the 50 journalists, photographers, and videographers shoving lenses into everyone’s back. It becomes very chaotic and probably almost a shock to the refugees. Several of us were considering going to Chios, another Greek isle, because we had heard they needed help.
 
              As I said the situation changes; the group of us that were going to go to Turkey were volunteers planning because we felt that we could be utilized better. At our evening meeting we were asked if there were any volunteers that would be willing to go independent and go to the island of Samos which is south of Lesvos. They apparently have only 6 volunteers so we immediately knew what needed to be done. It looks like myself and at least 4 others will be going there by the end of the week. We will have to break off from our NGO and go as independents, but “A Drop in the Ocean” will still be our mother NGO.

1.4.2016

1.4.16
              I started my day out at 12:00 am, was not thoroughly excited about the schedule because I was scheduled to work a double. The coordinator making the schedule has about 60 volunteers here. Since the majority of them are only here for a week or two it can be quite hectic to make a new schedule every day. Making a bi-weekly schedule for 15 people at a prior job was a headache, so I do empathize. Nonetheless 16 hours is not very desirable, but the job must be done.
              I worked with two other volunteers who I cannot pronounce one of their names for she is also a Norwegian. The other volunteer, Tony, is a biology teacher from the UK. Working with different volunteers on these shifts help make the shifts bearable. It allows us to talk about where we are from, what we do in the “real” world, future plans, what led us to coming to Lesvos, and if we run out of topics we play the “would you rather” game.
              It was about 330 in the morning that we started seeing motion on the Turkish coast. We could faintly make out headlights driving to a spot on the coast where there was no reason for people to be at. By 530 we had seen about 20 vehicles drive to the same location, yet no one had left. At 6 am every car left and we knew that the boats had launched. At 7am we spotted our first three boats, but they were still 6 kilometers out.
              These boats are equipped with 30hp Yamisaki outboards, which would be equivilant to a trolling motor back in the states. Each boat has 40-50 refugees so they do not move very fast at all. For a boat to cross at the shortest distance between nations it takes about 3-4 hours to go the 4 kilometers. Once we spotted the boats we were ready, so ready to help them come ashore, but we had to play the waiting game.
Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
              It was about 10 am the first boat came in. The refugees were paddling the boat with their hands as the Spanish Life Guards were towing them. The boat was so loaded that it was taking on water and it was a time race. Luckily everyone made it on that boat. At the point I was working we took in 6 boats, and many more were landing at other locations throughout the island.
              When you see a boat land and you were the one who spotted it, and called it in, the 16 hour shift all the sudden becomes very rewarding. The most rewarding part though was just welcoming the refugees when I was handing out socks to them. They were so happy to be here, so happy that they had lived. One man said that he was 100% sure they were going to die trying to cross, but it was better than being treated worse than animals by the Turks. The smiles and thumbs up from the kids, who were shaking from being wet and cold were so amazing. Albeit they were wet, cold, and hungry, they were overjoyed. Hugs were given, smiles, and utterances of “welcome” were being given left and right. This was the first time someone had smiled at them in a month or more.
              We also had one of our biggest boats since I’ve been here land at Lighthouse beach. 300+ humans had made it to the EU. Simply amazing, we had been so used to seeing the inflatables boats/zodiacs. Working with 50 people vs. working with 300 people is quite challenging, but definitely rewarding. Just knowing that we were part of saving 300 people in one boat was a huge victory for the volunteers here, it helped offset the catastrophe of the day.
              On the south part of the island a boat went down. One that we know of, but we think that there were 2. 35 bodies have washed ashore now, but if each boat holds 40-60 people and there were two boats, there are approximately 80 bodies out there that have not been found. This really killed me. I spent 2 hours crying and puking from the anxiety. It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. Every volunteer knew and is hurting from it.
              I feel it hit me so directly, for I knew where the boats had launched from, but no one had any idea how many boats or people had launched. It is something that could easily have been avoided. I’ve been contemplating going to Turkey to report every boat that launches from the spot I was observing this morning. I would only have to hide from 2am-8am near the spot that the boats were being launched. If I were to do that I could accurately notify the volunteers on Lesvos how many boats were leaving and how many people were on them. Using my military training I could find a position that would not compromise myself, and using that position I could report the exact location and azimuths the boats are heading. In couth I could talk directly with the Coast Guard and give them their bearings in relation to the refugees, while also working speed. This would mitigate the number of humans lost at least on the north side of the island. Over 3500 refugees died last year trying to cross, and I know if I prevent one from sinking that’s at least 50 lives saved.
              The risk is somewhat high, but two months ago I was supposed to be back in Iraq fighting with the Peshmerga against the Daesh/ISIS. If these refugees are willing to die to try to escape, then I can risk sitting in a Turkish cell. I have a few things going for me that most of the other volunteers who want to do this do not have. I am an American citizen. I am an American veteran. I can pretend to be an ignorant, arrogant American if the Turkish Police and government find me. I really would need nothing besides a compass and phone, perhaps some binoculars. For all they would know I am a stupid American bird watching, which is what they think of us anyways. There is a risk factor but it is pretty small compared to the risk I was going to take in Iraq. When I deployed with the US military I had one bullet for myself, no Marine has been captured since Vietnam, for everyone we fight do not follow the Geneva convention. When I was planning to fight with the Peshmerga I was going to keep one grenade for myself and as many of them that I could take with me. The risk of me doing this is minimal in comparison, my head weighs heavy trying to make a decision of morality vs. my personal security. This would also allow me to extend the time of aid I can remain here since Turkey is not part of the EU. This is partially due to the human rights violations as well as if the EU keeps the refugees in Turkey then the EU will not add Turkey to them since the rest of Europe does not want the refugees. Since I do not have a work visa I can only stay in Lesvos 90 of every 180 days, but if I’m in Turkey I could stay longer.
              I went to supper with a few friends, we all needed to recalibrate and get our bearings. A few were independents, some were “Drops,” and there was the British camera crew who was there as well. Two lifeguards joined us, one a Norwegian Special Forces, and the other a US Navy veteran. I was enthralled to find another veteran. Most veterans forgot what we went into Iraq for and our mission. It had became a little hazy because the people of America had turned their backs on us and gave up on our mission, and we had seen our government sell weapons to the very enemy that had killed our brothers. For most it was easier to forget the most real part of 10 years of our lives, then to remember that we had been sold out by both our government and the people of America. Finding another veteran out here gave me hope that not every veteran had given up.
              The rest of the evening we talked over our supper. There were four of us who were military and we talked about the Turkey plan. The camera crew was the same that I had mentioned before who had been beaten, thrown in prison, followed the migration path, etc. They are planning a trip to Kenya to document the veterans and humans hunting down the poachers. I was offered a position to go with them, they would cover my weapons, gear, flight, etc. Everyone here have realized that their/our life mission is to take care of this world.

1.3.2016

1.3.2016

                  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.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

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.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

                  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.

1.1.2016

1.1.2016

It was a pretty easy wake up this morning, I was pretty excited to start out the year. Worked my day patrol shift with Ingrid, a mature Norwegian woman in her 50/60s. Since we were in a car for 7 hours looking over the straits at Turkey we talked quite a bit. We compared generational differences, talked about dogs (she has always had Labradors), how westernized nations are slowly becoming unsustainable in reference to population, and just enjoyed the day.

              It was a relative calm day, slight breeze, very few white caps on the sea. We had a boat come in around 930am. Either every volunteer and reporter were still in bed sleeping the nights’ party off, or else they must have been elsewhere because there were just a handful of us helping the refugees. It generally helps not having 30 people shoving cameras down your throat while you’re trying to get people and children on land. These are not sandy beaches, many of them have drop offs, just a few feet from the shore that children could be totally submerged in.

              I was able to snap a few pics before I went running down to the beach with socks and emergency blankets. The boat didn’t even have a floor on it, just the rubber bottom of the rib boat. Everyone in the boat must have been in 8” of water by the time they got to us. It was still below freezing so everyone was happy to receive a clean/dry pair of socks.

For most of the refugees this was the first time in months that anyone had done anything nice for them. Most of them had to flee their homes, get extorted by the Turkish government and mob for what money they had remaining, were beaten, stabbed, and treated less humanely than animals. By the time they came to our shores, they were running desperately low on hope and morale. To see people in bright yellow jackets waving and smiling after the travesties mankind has inflicted upon them must have been so relieving. They were crying and happy, some had to sit down. I helped two young men change their socks, then wrapped their feet in emergency blankets before putting their frozen/wet shoes back on. They must have never had anyone do anything like that, for they were weeping tears of joy. All I could do is look at them and smile and say “Welcome my friends.”

There are some sad stories too, for though this is a tale of hope and peace, these people came from a world of hell and death. One lady had left Iraq with her husband and 5 kids. Today she was standing in the EU one month later with only 2 kids, her husband and 3 of her children died along the way. We heard stories of refugee children in Turkey freezing to death in the camps, but the Turkish government will not alibi anything since the UN paid them to help the refugees and keep them. (they’re not, they’re double dipping by letting the mob smuggle them out and take some of the profits.) Another man this morning could not even move for he had just found out that the Taliban had killed his brother. This is my last story of sadness for today’s entry. There is a mother here, who would be willing to return to war-torn Afghanistan if she knew that her daughter would be able to stay in the EU and live in safety. A mother’s love.

I have yet to see the pictures, but allegedly Green Peace coordinated with the volunteers from across the island to do something at Life-Jacket Cemetery. There was either a 100-meter peace sign made out of life jackets, or else the volunteers wore life jackets and formed a 100 meter human peace sign. For those that have visited the American Holocaust Museum in Washington DC you will probably never forget the room with the pile of shoes. One of those symbolisms of that era, well for the refugees and volunteers this pile of life-jackets was our pile of shoes. I for-see in 20-30 years we will see something in museums resembling Life-Jacket Cemetery.

I must go bid my adieu’s to some new friends. Some have to publish articles in their newspapers, some to finish their videos at home, others to publish their books, or return to school after holiday. We all have this island in common, we all together stood for humanity, and as we tell each other good bye, we tell the one leaving “Humanity thanks you.” I for one, have never been to Norway, been I guess there’s about 30+ different people that have offered me their house anytime I want to visit. I offered them a place in Wisconsin if they wanted to visit somewhere that is cold and snowy like Norway.

The tabloids call 2015 – The Year of the Refugee. This year 2016 will be The Year of the Volunteer.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

 

Changing the World One Community at a Time