Tag Archives: Syria

6.9.2016

It’s been 3 months since I left Greece and the refugee crisis. If there had been an easier and faster way to return I would have taken it without a moment’s hesitation. Rather, I spent the entirety of my time state-side working and saving money to pay for my bills back home in the states and to pay bills in Greece. While I would rather be volunteering in the field, it was somewhat refreshing to catch my breath, rekindle old friendships or forge new ones, network, and explain/tell the refugee crisis to those who knew little to nothing.
I will be staying in Greece until the end of August. My most current plans are to volunteer in Samos, Greece as the warehouse manager. Due to the Greek, EU, and Turkey sanctions our ability to volunteer may be/will be severely hampered in comparison to the beginning of the year. I’ll be spending tonight in Athens, Greece and will meet up with several volunteers I had worked with from the NGO “A Drop in the Ocean” from Norway. They are focused more in Athens and Idomeni where the bulk of the refugees in Greece are currently detained at. Depending on their needs I may find myself back on mainland Greece.
While I still have yet to reach my final destination I am relatively un-stressed in comparison to my first time out here volunteering. Flight changes and layovers have never been a problem with me. Last time I landed in Athens it was a shot in the dark as to where I was staying, how I was going to get there, where the ferry is, or who to even connect with once I made it to the islands. This time it is the complete opposite. I may even have someone to pick me up from the port when the ferry arrives in Samos.
I have no idea what the next few months may have in hold for me. Last time I learned a lot about myself and my relation to everyone else in the world, strengthened family and friend ties, met some great refugees and volunteers, and found myself immersed in the most electrifying atmosphere of humans helping humans. All I know is that I have never felt so right about myself until I began this chapter of my life, so I will continue and look forward to what life has to show me.

2.6.2016

2.6.2016
              I’m sitting at a table for supper typing this. Around me sits 12 volunteers – none of whom are from the same country. A few of us speak English as our first language, but not everyone. We have some Arabic, English, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, German, and Portuguese conversations in which everyone participates. Some have to use a translator, some of us are multi-lingual so we can converse or participate in the conversations by following context. Those coming from America have just one language, English, while almost everyone else is fluent in at least three languages. I’m thankful for my studies in Latin, Arabic, French, and Spanish because I can follow along. I am in no way a master of any language, my American English slang is so mumbled most of the time that even the Irish have no idea what I am saying half of the time. Still sitting here among a multi-national table of volunteers is a blessing, for we are a group that represents our nations, we represent peace and solidarity.
 
              Finally, I have a friend from the States coming; I requested her to bring a bottle of Siracha Sauce. I dearly miss eating Mexican food, or anything with spice. Every morning I eat some eggs, and I immediately think of salsa. I think the only other thing I have her bringing is some gummi bears from the local butcher in Oshkosh, Ski’s Meat Market. Haribo Gummi Bears are alright, but they do not quite cut the cake.
 
              I have a busy next two days coming up. Because of the international politics it was almost impossible to finalize any plans. I thought I was going to go to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to find out where volunteers are needed, but my friend Todar is already there. I worked with him in Lesvos with ‘A Drop in the Ocean.’ He has since broken off and helped found the NGO ‘Northern Lights’ and also helped found The Hope Center. The Hope Center is a hotel on the beaches of Lesvos – this allows refugees to come directly from boats and have personal rooms to change, make chai-tea, and to rest and recover before they move to the camps.
 
              The next two days I must coordinate with Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). They have planned on working in the warehouse with me for three days. On Tuesday I must go to the island of Kos to help the volunteers there set to look for refugee boats on the Aegean Sea. One more island, one more adventure. I have one day to hand over responsibilities to the new long-term volunteer, Bogdin from Hungary. Tomorrow will be a very busy day.
 

1.25.2016

1.25.2016
              Today was the first day that the warehouse resembled a warehouse. The past couple of weeks’ labor finally fell into fruition, so it was pleasing to finally see the results. It also raises concerns because the space gained was largely due to distribution to the refugees. Though we do have more shipping containers coming in in a week or two, the donations are starting to slow down. To some it may seem like there is a large supply, but most of it is not what is direly needed. We are down to enough shoes to last two-three days before we have to start handing out summer shoes. We have been separating shoes as to the upcoming journey the refugees will have in Europe. Many will walk the distance of Europe twice, and it is winter. Refugees are freezing to death in Europe or getting amputations due to frostbite, so we try to equip them properly. Soon we will be handing out items that we know will neither last a week to the environments or will fall apart after a few days of walking. It already hurts when we have to turn them away, but knowing what they have to go through and handing them items unfit for the environment and journey is heart-wrenching.
 
              The situation of the refugee crisis changes daily, but this week the situation is becoming even more drastic. Turkey has slowed/attempted to stop the flow of refugees. I can only imagine what that means. Turkey is already infamous for their human-rights violations, for trying to kill refugees trying to cross. What exactly are they doing to slow down the flow of refugees?
 
              Perhaps the most important news that has occurred since I have begun volunteering happened this evening. Greece was given an ultimatum: They have six weeks to stop the flow of refugees or be kicked out of the Schengen. The Schengen allows for trade and the borderless Europe. Europe has been trying for the past couple years to push Greece out of the Schengen because of their economic crisis, so now they can use the refugee crisis as their main lobbying point and shift focus off of the economic crisis. Europe has told Greece that they have one of the largest navy’s so they should be able to blockade the Turkish/Greece coast. Europe has shifted the blame to Greece since Turkey has not followed through with their promise of stopping the flow. In shifting the blame to Greece they can “forget” that they gave 3 billion euros to Turkey to stop the flow.
 
              Greece has to decide to either stay in the European economic trade or they must choose to allow the refugees to die. If Greece decides to remain in the Schengen then the Greek navy must either turn refugee boats back, deport all the refugees trying to cross, or sink the refugees. If they turn the refugee boats around, then they are at the mercy of the Turkish Coast Guard and police whom we have seen sinking boats filled with refugees. If the refugees are deported immediately then their journey of death was for nothing, and they must return to their home nations that are completely destroyed by war and must either join ISIS or die.
 
              If Greece decides to continue helping the refugee’s, then the situation here will become dire. Turkey will have a fence across its southern border, but the refugees will still cross, just at a slower rate. Europe will construct a fence across the northern Greek border, and have a standing military to prevent both Greeks and refugees from leaving. Greece will become a prison for both refugees and Greeks alike. This also means that Greece loses its’ borderless Europe agreement which impacts international trade massively. Since they have an economic crisis here and the Greeks themselves struggle to put food on the table there will be riots among the refugees and Greeks just for basic needs like food. No one could blame either for trying to feed their starving families. The Greeks I do talk to and eat supper with on a daily basis are worried that if they are kicked out of the Schengen then that means civil war.
 
              The EU has also been meeting and trying for the past year to kick Greece out of the EU as well. If Greece is kicked out of Schengen then this will make it easier for the EU to slide their policy along with the Schengen. This will only cause more economic issues as well as incite more riots and help feed the notions of civil war. Greece has to decide between the survivability of their nation or to turn their backs on humanity. It is a horrible decision to have to make. I have before said, Europe and the US have dark days ahead of them, it is beginning to happen. In one year the Greek isles are nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for saving lives while simultaneously losing their rights associating them to the EU and Schengen for saving lives.

1.23.2016

1.23.16

            I have been diligently working in the warehouse every day and then down at the port camp every night for the evening shift. Some days I go because I am scheduled, the other days because I cannot sit around when I know all my friends at Lesvos are working twice as much. I feel guilty being here, but I know that I must stay here and continue my job while playing the PR game until my NGO establishes here. I still have yet to find a niche among the volunteers here, the only one I can find any identity with had also been on Lesvos thus we share some similar experiences. Most of the volunteers here are told that working 7-8 hour days will burn them out, yet all feel useless here. What we do is important but the chaos and organization are different. We are told to decompress from our experiences after our day, so many go out in town. I have no idea what I am to decompress from, for I work double hours at home, at 2-3x higher of a work-pace than here.

            Events on the island of Samos and all the Greek islands may change soon, some changes may be for the better but some for the worst. Two nights ago a boat ended up missing for over 18 hours. What worked in Lesvos does not work here. On Lesvos if a refugee that has already crossed calls a volunteer saying that a boat is crossing and needs help with the coordinates, action happens immediately. The volunteer notifies their coordinator, or in the majority of cases, calls from their home in Europe to their NGO, who in turn notifies the rescue boats. They immediately splash out and look for the boat. On Samos it is brushed off. For over 6 hours the Port Police refused to pick up their phone or would hang up. They do not allow rescue boats to go out without their permission. For hours I had people asking me why we were not doing anything, why Samos was not responding. It was frustrating to know that there are systems that should be in place to prevent these situations. The people were found, but it took 18 hours and international headlines for it to happen.

            This allowed for the immigration focus to turn to Samos, which also includes notice from FRONTEX. FRONTEX is the right-wing in Europe who controls the borders and immigration. If they come into the islands and take over the refugees will not be allowed to cross, will not have a chance to make it to Europe. Since all of the volunteers are actually participating in human-trafficking we all stand a risk of being arrested. This though is a very small risk, since they would have to arrest thousands as well as international NGO’s.

           The biggest risk is that the refugees will not be allowed to enter through Greece and will have to find different, harder ways to escape. They could also be stuck in Turkey, home of human-rights violations, or deported. FRONTEX and the International Rescue Committee are the wolves in sheep’s clothing. The positive is that since the crisis focus has moved to Samos, changes must and will happen. There should not be as many boats trying to cross without volunteers spotting them, thereby notifying rescue boats and divers. The refugees should not be wandering the islands for upwards for 12 hours in wet clothes until they are found and brought to the camps. Lesvos loses people to hypothermia on the beaches, and this is within half of an hour of making it to land. A woman should not have aborted her child due to exposure to the elements and forced to walk up a mountain. Most of this could have been avoided. It took 45 people dying, and a boat to be missing for 18 hours for change to start to happen, hopefully it is for the good.

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.
 

1.18.2016

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.
 

1.14.2016

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.