Tag Archives: Lesvos

1.20.2016

1.20.16
           
             Today was another day at the warehouse. The biggest victory of the day was finding three huge bags of men’s winter hats. Men’s shoes, gloves, hats, and winter gear are probably the items that we lack the most. This is due to the fact that there are more men immigrating. It is not that they are trying to come to western nations to take advantage of what we have. Rather, there are more men because their families can in general either only afford to send one person and/or because they know the perils of the trip and hope their son/father can make enough money so that they can fly the rest of their family. During the trip many die along the way, the number is unknown how many lives are lost along the way as they travel across the middle-east, we only have a rough estimate of those lives lost crossing into “westernized” nations. Those that are sent by their families because they can only fund one family member are the one’s most likely to be successful. That is why there is such a large influx of men vs. women and children.
 
              The warehouse in comparison to two weeks ago is like night versus day. Everyday we can see the difference and it is encouraging after staring at boxes and clothes labels all day. We have worked out a deal with the local municipality who gave us the warehouse to use. In return we give supplies to the hospital, child charities, and lower-income families on Samos. Yesterday’s struggle was finding boxes which entailed me driving to the port and to the nursing home/flat to find boxes. As we were sitting down to eat some lunch, the local Greek women who pick up supplies came and tore through the warehouse. All the boxes I had just found were taken as well as everything that had been organized was strewn all over and boxes were haphazardly put in the wrong designated areas. It became a pretty big set-back as well as deflating the morale of all the volunteers at the warehouse.
 
              I spent the afternoon working on my diagrams for the warehouse so we could bridge the language barriers for sorting and labeling. The plus side is that I can sit inside a café because I need to use the Wi-Fi. The negative is that my eyes start to burn after staring at Google images trying to find appropriate pictures to use that will not be offensive to the Muslims or any other people type. I have to milk my coffee out so that I can use the Wi-Fi, but that adds up after a few days.
 
              There is a big contrast between work here on Samos versus work on Lesvos or at home. In reality, I work less here I feel than back in the states, longer hours, but not quite as grueling. On Samos there is very little to no interaction with the refugees. It is more infrastructure, bureaucracy, and entertaining the children-which is not my forte. Working with my Lesvos group is more of a support group, while Samos group is more of a psycho-therapy group. Here I really feel no need to decompress, if so, I would have to decompress everyday back in the states. Lesvos we had more in common since we shared the same experiences, while on Samos I share less experiences with the volunteers than I do with my co-workers back in the states. Either way, every job is pertinent, it just feels entirely different, almost more of a “safe bubble” than living in the states where they do not report on the crisis.
 

1.19.2016

1.19.2016
              Today I returned to my warehouse. I was happy to see it in better order; Pru and all the volunteers had done a great job. I had been stressing about it the whole time I was gone. I spent the entire day sorting and organizing the warehouse with the other volunteers. For the most part I unofficially/officially manage the warehouse, which means I ensure efficiency with the volunteers. Since I will be here long-term I can keep the system in order instead of the volunteers who are here for a week and could change the system up.
 
 

1.18.2016

1.18.2016
              I returned to Samos around noon on the ferry. There were refugees leaving Lesvos to go to Athens, Greece and many more refugees from Samos joined them as I stepped onto land. The cabin that the volunteers use for distribution is right next to the port so I went there immediately to see if I could catch a ride back to my “flat”/nusing home. As I stepped in I was immediately swamped with new faces of volunteers who had arrived while I had been in Lesvos, and refugees boarding the ferry asking for warming layers, hats, and gloves. The cabin we use for distribution was immaculate when I had left, but as I stepped inside I could not even walk for boxes were spilling off the shelves all over the floor. I spent almost an hour trying to put it back into order, but left after volunteers kept on coming in and bringing in refugees in as well. I honestly was just overwhelmed from the past day, no sleep, and coming back to a mess that I had not forseen.
 
              I went back to the usual hang-out spot where we usually grabbed a meal or soda/coffee and use the Wi-fi. Probably the wrong decision, because I was sitting there absorbing the past 24 hours and suddenly realized that I was alone, again. We had always come here as a group, sharing each others plates, sharing stories, and relaxing after our shifts. I looked around at all the empty seats and would have completely lost it had not our waiter come over to sit with me for most of the time I was there. After I finished eating I went back and finally slept.
 
              I woke up late evening and wandered into the meeting room at the nursing home. Most of the volunteers were there, some who I knew, some who I did not know. It was good to see faces, but they had not shared the same experiences with me. Here on Samos it is more of a safe bubble where we only deal with the port camp, entertainment of the children, and light distribution. The warehouse is about as safe and far removed from the crisis as could ever be. A few of the volunteers had made soup, so at least there was that.
 

1.16.2016

1.16.2016
              Started the day telling Todar goodbye. He will be here when I make another trip back to Lesvos next month; he has to finish setting up an NGO that will have its first mission on Lesvos, then to wherever humanity is crying for help. I left some of my belongings in a bag in his flat, so for sure I will get to see him at some point.
 
              Kristine, Mari, and I headed to Camp Moria to hand out blow pops/lollies to the kids. It had been raining all night and all day. There was a lake right in the middle of Afghan hill. It looked so desolate there, volunteers and refugees all were hiding from the elements. One tent that we entered had 5 Moroccan men inside, who cordially invited us in, while disregarding our muddy shoes and wet clothes. They were just happy to see visitors who were concerned about their well-being. The blow pops do not discriminate about age, which is good, because I am 30 and have had more than my fair share of them.
 
              We talked with the Moroccan men in an Italian, French, Arabic, and English conversation. I would like to point out that these were not Syrians. While we should not discriminate about nationalities when a human is seeking asylum, it is important to note that there are other nationalities that are fleeing as well. One man worked as a mechanic for a Japanese car manufacturer for 5 years. If I remember correctly it was either Nissan or Toyota; this is a man that made the cars that we drive in the US.
 
              Kristina started to check on the well-being of the men. Three of them had decent shoes, not quite good-enough for wandering through Europe in the winter, but they were about as good as they were going to get. One man had on shoes that were made of canvas, unsuitable for anything but style. The other man was wearing a pair of shoes three sizes too large, while all had wet socks. We were able to procure fresh socks for all of the men, and one pair of shoes for the man with canvas shoes. The distribution tent would not give us shoes for the man whose shoes were too big. They said it was not a precedence, as we were standing up to our ankles in mud, and he had a couple thousand miles to walk through the ice, snow, and mud of Europe. I watched as Kristina took off her shoes and gave him hers, they fit better than Cinderella’s slipper. She then slipped on the refugees’ shoes with pride. I do not know of a single person in my life that would have done the same. I am proud to call her friend or AKA “Lesvos Mom.”
 
              Mari and I took Krisina to the airport. Due to the bad weather all the morning and afternoon flights had been cancelled. I realized then that I was going to have to take the ferry back to Samos since it was delayed a day instead of flying to Athens with Mari and then hopping on the ferry there. We sat at the airport for 3 hours. Kristina spent most of her time in queue, I just glared at my cell phone since the Wi-Fi was impossible to connect due to all the people waiting for their flight. There were quite a few volunteers, at least 1/3 of the people waiting for flights. There were many faces I recognized, and several from A Drop in the Ocean. It was bittersweet. I was able to say goodbye to some that I had not seen before we left our hotel, but saying goodbye is difficult for me. I have to go to Norway this summer. My social media is no longer in English, it is a mix of Norwegian and Arabic. I have bonded with these volunteers and grown relationships with them that I have never had with my military brothers or friends back home. I had to tell Kristina goodbye. It was hard…
 
              Mari had a couple hours before her flight so we took our car back into town to grab some supper. Our friend S. Ahmed met us. He had one day left before he was to be deported so he was going to catch a ferry to mainland Greece. Since he is from Pakistan he will not be allowed to gain asylum in Europe because he is not from a priority coalition war zone. We talked about the war, Russia, the US, the coalition, China, and Iran’s involvement in Pakistan. One thing sticks out from the conversation. Mari asked how the war would end in the middle east and we both responded with the same answer. The only way to end this war will be for the world to fall into WW3. We both said that the world will kill so many that we will end it because we ran out of lives or else because we destroyed what was left of the world. Albert Einstein was so right when he said, “World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones.”
 
              I dropped Mari off to the airport. This was the part I have been dreading since the moment I left Frida, Ingrid, and Solfrig at Samos. Almost all of my experiences on the islands were with her, we have our plans for the orphanage. Seeing my closest friend leave was heartrending. She will be back in a month, when we go to Turkey to look at an orphanage, but this time I have to return to Samos alone. She has to go back home, and already knows from other friends how hard it is. Everyone that went back is miserable and feel that their life is meaningless.
 
              After sitting in the rain for half of an hour waiting for the car rental person to pick up the car I headed back into town. I must have looked like a mess. It took me another half hour of wandering in the rain to find a hotel. This is the first time I have been alone on the islands, and with the rain and today’s events I really wanted to sit down and give up. Today was tough, tomorrow will be harder. Last time I took the ferry there were 6 of us friends riding into a perfect sunset. Tomorrow I will be going alone riding through a storm.
 

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.
 

1.7.2016

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.