It's been a week since I left Lesvos. I still dream about the many people I met while volunteering, and about working the bus lines and the Syrian gate. I also cry more easily now. I've always cried easily, but now I feel my emotions more keenly. Reading articles about refugees freezing to death in Bulgaria, and hearing about people drowning while attempting to cross the Aegean- I can really feel the loss now.
Zeus, God of Thunder, was raging the day I left Mytilini. Heavy rain showered the earth, soaking everything in it's path. I was glad to be able to avoid going to Moria that day, as I knew the ground would have turned to mud. But I still wished I didn't have to leave.
I walked to the bus stop that morning as I'd done every day for the previous two weeks. I wanted a final goodbye with my new volunteer friends. I gave everyone a hug and seriously regretted leaving.
Soon after I went to the airport. I ran into two other volunteers who were leaving, Florian and his friend Andy. Florian had been a middleman in my unfortunate situation with Adnan. He confirmed that he had gifted Adnan the 50 euro I'd given him, but said it was difficult to convince him to take it. I thanked him again for his help.
On our flight to Athens we sat near each other. Another volunteer who I'd met only briefly, a woman of Swiss-Italian origin sat behind me, along with two volunteers from Grand Rapids, Michigan, my hometown. I should've known they were from Grand Rapids from their accents, but I didn't really figure it out until I heard them introduce themselves to their Swiss-Italian seat mate. I briefly contemplated introducing myself as a fellow (former) Michigander, but thought it'd be more interesting to eavesdrop on their conversation.
They were talking loudly about volunteering and their experience on the island. Eventually the guy sitting next to me began contributing to their conversation, and quickly revealed himself to be a Greek police officer who works at the Moria refugee camp. After taking a quick glance at his face I realized that I recognized him from my days working at the Syrian gate. I decided it was best not to reveal this to him.
The man from Grand Rapids sitting behind us, Doug, asked the officer a question. He wanted to know if the Moria refugee camp was a prison before they began using it for it's current purpose. The officer didn't immediately understand his question, so I chimed in and said: "It was."
Eventually the question was repeated for the officer and he had a different opinion on the matter.
"No, it has never been a prison. I don't know who is saying that." He said.
It's me! I thought. I said that! I'm sitting right next to you!
The officer then went on to explain the original purpose of the Moria camp. He said it was created to be a prison, but was never used as one. Instead, in it's early days, it was used to hold economic refugees from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, to keep them from leaving the island.
Oh, that doesn't sound like a prison at all! I thought sarcastically.
The woman on the other side of Doug then chimed in.
"We think you all deserve the Nobel Peace Prize." She said to the Greek police officer, referring to him and the residents of Lesvos.
Definitely Lesvos, I thought. But I don't know about the police officers. -- I rarely saw Greek police officers actively working against the refugees, but the sheer apathy they seemed to hold for their jobs made the registration process far more confusing than was necessary. If they had simply been willing to take a more active role (which on good days I did see) the process could run more smoothly for everyone.
Thanks to the comment about Moria being (or not being) a prison, and my occasional side eye to the Greek police officer sitting next to me, the rest of the flight was a battle for the single plastic arm rest separating our seats. He would take up too much room, leaning into what I'd defined as my personal space and I would fight back by reclaiming the arm rest any time he so much as lifted his arm. This cycle repeated- with the officer slowly reclaiming the armrest and me quickly stealing it away again- until the plane landed an hour later. That's about as far as I felt comfortable going in my fight against the often apathetic, sometimes corrupt Greek police.
Thankfully the flight to Athens from Mytilini was short, so my feud with the off-duty police officer didn't last long. Once we landed in Athens I picked up my bag and made my way outside the airport to find a taxi. I'd booked a hotel in a part of Athens I'd never been to before. The price was good and I was looking forward to taking a long shower in my private room.
I quickly found a taxi and the driver ushered me into his car, tossing my bag in the trunk, and quickly jetted off. I hadn't realized before I got in the car that he didn't know where my hotel was. When I'd told him the name, "Hotel Les Amis," he acted like he'd been there before. But once we got into the cab, he revealed that he actually didn't know where it was. We were already on the highway at this point, so I told him the address. He didn't seem to understand my poor pronunciation of Greek street names, so I handed him my phone with the written address of the hotel. The driver held my phone and his own, looking between both of them- still driving, mind you! The car began slowly swerving into the next lane, he looked up from our phones and moved us back into the proper lane, then looked down again. I put my seatbelt on and held my breath. The driver repeated this process a couple of times before he told me that the street my hotel was on was closed because of a strike.
I knew that Greece had been through many strikes recently, so this news didn't surprise me. The driver said that he'd take me to a different hotel. I asked that it be no more than 50 euro a night, considering that the hotel I'd reserved was only 30 euro. He said that he knew of some hotels in downtown Athens within that price range. He told me he'd make sure I was in a great spot in the city.
Despite his reassurances, I was still upset. I'd already spent far too many days in "the heart of Athens" and by this time I found it pretty boring. I'd intentionally booked a hotel in a different part of the city so I could experience something new. This, coupled with the driver's scary driving methods, was starting to put me in a bad mood.
Eventually I told the driver: "Just take me to Syntagma, I'll get a room at a hostel there."
He still tried to convince me that he would take me to a nice hotel in downtown Athens. Eventually I just told him: "I don't want a nice hotel. I want a cheap hotel."
I realized he assumed that 'my company' was paying for my trip, not me. I can't imagine why he thought this as I was wearing no makeup, dirty rubber boots, a stinky blue sweater and jeans that were too big. I can't imagine I looked like a professional of any kind. While traveling, I typically assume that I look more like an unaccompanied minor than the 25 year old woman that I am. So I was sincerely confused as to where this guy got the idea that I was a professional on a business trip to Athens.
It was a long drive into the city. I kept looking out the window for something familiar, but the route he was taking was new to me. I started crying silently in the back seat. By this point I'd resigned myself to the fact that the cab driver was going to pull over into an empty parking lot where he would rape and murder me.
I always get stressed out at the end of a long trip. If I've been away from home for a while and there's an obstacle in the way of my getting home, I usually just start to cry. This cab ride felt like an obstacle, and I was scared and upset.
The driver noticed me crying in the backseat, but it took him a while to say anything. By the time he did, we were nearing Syntagma square, and I'd come to the conclusion that I would not die in the backseat of his cab. But I was still crying.
The driver finally spoke up and said I could pay him 35 euro instead of the standard 38 euro for a trip into the city. I was still upset, but happy to take a discount from this man who I'd felt had cheated me. Once he finally stopped and let me out, I grabbed my bag and stormed up the street toward the one hostel I know in the city. I was outraged and needed to finish my cry in peace.