Volunteering with refugees in Lesvos: first month
So, the first month is just behind. Time flies when you're having fun is what they say. Unfortunately, that was not the case in my situation. It was obviously not why I was here anyway, but things could have gone better...
But now, let's start at the beginning. As I wrote in my previous blog I started directly at Shower Power, a project in which women and children from the largest refugee camp Moria can have a shower and a save house is offered. I had some really beautiful moments here. A lady that left a tear because she saw how much we took care of her and her family and she had a place to relax. The little girl that didn't got any attention from her aunt that took care of her but turned out to be a big talent when it came to the djembe I put in her hand. Or the little boy I had to shower and who enjoyed the warm water and relaxing shower so much! It's no exception when they scrub their children really hard
But soon I realized that SP wasn't the place was where I could put my whole heart and soul in and I didn't want to work here all of my time in Lesvos. This had a number of reasons. First of all, that there is a huge amount of children coming to the house. I didn't see coming. In Syria, it is not strange to 6 children. It doesn't even all fit in our small rental car! So even less with also their mum joining them. And so we ended up with a house full of children without mothers. This could end up being the biggest chaos, but often the oldest sister takes care of her little brothers and sisters. Not always and even sometimes when there where a lot of mothers: children can keep you SO BUSY! The second point was that I regret the brief contacts. Building a nice social connection in 1.5 hours, which consisted of smiles, to try to learn some words off their language, combing their hair, make henna tattoo's and so on, and then bring them back to the terrible camp and say "See you later, good luck over there and maybe see you never again". Nah, didn't like that.
And then there was this big fight in Moria on Friday evening the 25th of May. Arabs against the
Kurds, which is the minority of the population of Moria -and actually are the minority in many
countries and this often for tensions in the Middle East-. I heard about the fights the day after and
it was going around that 4 were dead and 27 wounded. Fortunately, this was not the case and 'only'
7 people were injured. But still, chaos on the island. The day after, about 600 - 1000 Kurds (numbers
are always very vague because of different interests from different organizations) went on the streets.
Not to a specific place, but in any case away from Moria where it was unsafe for them. In the
following days they were divided into three camps, a few days later over two camps. One of these,
Pikpa, that actually has a capacity of 100 of the most vulnerable refugees, housed (more; tented)
about 250 Kurds. Another place, Humans 4 Humanity, that actually is no camp at all and so has
no showers nor toilets, also took care of 400 - 600 Kurds.
You might think now, Anouk, you got distracted from where you started your story with Shower Power. But this crisis was for me a confirmation that for me Shower Power was not my place to be. I want to give direct aid. Help at Pipka or H4H, give assistance to people who already left home once and after all of this, have to leave their new 'safe place' again. I felt so useless in the days after the crisis, in which we at SP went the day after twice instead of three dimes to Moria and had about 15 shower guests. Being so close to finer but not being able to help didn't feel good.
The day after the crisis, I moved to the city. I wanted to be able to close the door behind me after work and like always, feel as free as possible in the circumstances in which I live. That Sunday, after my last shift at SP for that week, I drove on to my rented scooter to my new nice apartment and drove in a street in which I thought 'Hmmm this can be a one-way street, when I'm home I will look at Google what is the best way to go". And then there was the accident that hides in a little corner, as we Dutch say. In that corner I hit another driver on his scooter at the front with about 25 k/m. Both on the ground. He immediately stood up so I decided I could stay down for a little longer. I wasn't really in pain, only felt a little nauseous and two of my fingers looked a bit bloody. They called the ambulance even I thought it was a little overrated. But driving to a doctor that could have a look at my fingers myself was impossible. From the -already crappy- bike was not much left.
The nail of my left middle finger had to be amputated. Now that on itself is already a pitty, but the whole circumstances didn't make it much better. No one that you inform you about how and what (what you are injecting in my arm and what are these weird things you spread all over my body?), no one that gives you painkillers before they pull out your nail. And the trash bin was only a cardboard box with a garbage bag in it. Great. Of course, I would rather have not in a hospital at all, but certainly not this one.
"But driving to a doctor myself was a little impossible.
From the -already crappy- bike was not much left"
Altogether, the pain wasn't that bad. My middle finger kept bleeding for a week or so, my index finger was and still is blue and thick and all over my body on the weirdest places I had bruises, but I've been very lucky. Also, the guys from the rental place thought someone must have broken a few bones, picking up a scooter bad like it was.
So the useless feeling of not much I could do became stronger. Even at Shower Power I couldn't be that
usefull with one hand always up in the air to stop the bleeding and one ankle that also hurt. Time to get
myself back together wasn't really given to me, as there was no coördinator to take over. And after each day I
had to go to the rental place to sort out insurance stuff and go to the doctor to change the bloody bloody
bandage. And in between, I said hi to the cops to place a signature for who knows what and I had to pass a few
Chinese shops to buy necessary things for the house. Like a spoon. It's just so much more easy than forks or
knives when you like to enjoy your yogurt in the morning.
So all together, a pretty full on week that week. Then that Saturday after it turned out unexpected to be my last
working day. because they needed to do some important changes around the house and also the coördinator
that would take over came back that Sunday. So Noukie went straight to the bar, yay!
And now, how is it going emotionally? Pretty fine. Better than expected when it comes to seeing the bad
circumstances from the refugees here. The poor facilities many people have to live in and the endless waiting for
their papers. It makes me very sad but it doesn't get me down. What does get me down and very upset it to be very disappointed in the communication between the organizations and NGO's, and the volunteers to each other. Of course, there are exceptions, but overall I feel like no one is working together and many are just working hard on their ego. Not many seem to know what the other is working on and also... doesn't seems to care. Where you expect a place where people work together to have the best for the other, it doesn't seem like a place where this is actually happening.
"Overall I feel like no one is working together and many are just working hard on their ego "
Good, so what's up now? At this moment I'm helping out at the warehouse Attika. They receive donations from all over Europe with shampoos, shower gel, caps, toys and so on but mainly clothes. They selected them in different boxes and we get orders from people from Moria and make them a nice box. It's definitely not always easy to decide what you'll give to a lady that has size M and 4 children and a husband with size XL but it's all you know and we do our best. It feels good to work here, to be usefull and at the same time slow down and let my body repair itself. Even though you walk all day from corner to corner to get your box from a family ready and your legs tingle from all that standing. But it's all good when they pick up their order from the van at the end of the day! Check out the Attika's warehouse in photos.
And in the meanwhile I've been looking into another project to be part of. I would actually really like to use my background as a social worker but that doesn't seem to be an easy thing here. They ask a lot of experience, fair enough. But I'm sure I will find another nice place to use my qualities. Maybe get creative with the refugees, give them swim lessons or teach them photography? You'll find out in my next blog ;)
And now you're probably think you're at the end of this story, but it's a never-ending one ;) Because also my last weekend was a strange one. Let's say this island is just weird overall. Full of big contrasts. Friday morning asked Aris, who runs Attika, to join him and two other colleagues for a weekend in the north. Yeah, a break and a new discovery, why not? So we left after another day of packing boxes for family's in a warehouse of about 40 degrees and I was never so ready to go for a swim. After quickly packing my bag and forgetting half of my stuff, we raced up north.
We arrived at this really beautiful cool bar Conga's and I could hardly believe it for the first hours. Not even an hour away is all this sadness and busyness from Mytilini, and now we are here. Surrounded by mainly Dutch tourists, a cocktail and a few on the sunset. Let's forget about everything. That wasn't really that easy. We had an amazing dinner with fresh fish and had a last drink watching the dark ocean in front of us. Then Aris read a message on his phone about a boat landing only 5 kilometers away. As the name said, it's a boat what lands on the shore. But with refugees. Without finishing any drink we walked quickly to the car and headed that way. Since I'm here I wanted to get a course "what to do at a boat landing" but as I didn't feel really useful with a finger with a bandage that couldn't get wet, I decided to do it later. So this was cold turkey style. When we arrived all the 35 passengers were already put on the side of the road by the coastguards. We gave them fruit and I tried to make little conversations. One of them was with a Syrian lady that spoke pretty well English. She told me that they have been for 5 days in the jungle before they stepped into the boat that night. Two of the whole group got hurt and I reckon one had a broken foot, that much pain he had. I noticed her pants were wet and she said she has been so afraid for the sea. You have to realize many and maybe none can swim. I said "at least you made it to the other side". Then she asked me "are we save now?". I wished with all my heard I could just smile and say "yes your save now" but it's not true. The hell of Moria is only starting now...
And the weekend only just started. The Saturday we had a full day of chilling. Sunday would be the last day for me and on the way to Molivos to go back to this cool bar, I asked Aris to drop me off at the Life Jacket Graveyard (click for photography series). A place where thousands of life jackets got dumped after refugees arrived the shore in the north of Lesvos. Impressive in a bad way. All these jackets stand for one life. And many jackets weren't even jackets, just something inflatable that just a little stone could have ruined it. That must have saved a person's life. I'm so sorry for everyone that is part of this crisis. My thoughts go to the ones that survived and to the ones that didn't.