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