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.
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.