the Syrian gate

Moria Camp, Lesbos, Greece - 1/26, 1/27 I've spent the past two days working at “the Syrian gate.” Which involves standing for hours on end, in cold (or sometimes sunny and lovely) weather, waiting for buses to arrive, or waiting as confused-looking families mill about so I can attempt to answer any questions they have.

Usually my Arabic comes in handy, but sometimes I have no idea what someone is asking, and end up feeling dumber for having tried to help. For the most part, people have similar questions, so it's not difficult to figure out what they're asking, but at other times, I'm simply at a loss. Thankfully, I'm rarely working alone, and there are countless other experienced volunteers around to step in.

There's a man who sells sim cards and cellphone minutes at a Vodafone stand near the Syrian gate every day. I think his name is Faisal. Before I met him I was very skeptical of the Vodafone salespeople, and him in particular. But he came over to me and another volunteer yesterday and introduced himself. I learned that he's Syrian and speaks Arabic, Greek and English, and he comes here because he feels compelled to help. Yes, he's making a profit from his Vodafone stands, but the refugees would be buying new sim cards either way, and at least he is very helpful in translating and answering any questions people have. I approached him several times today to ask him to help translate with people whose questions I couldn't understand, and he was more than happy to help.

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One man was traveling with his son and had just received his registration number. (All refugees receive a number before they are registered, so they can come back and complete their registration once their number is being processed.) This man told me that he left his bag on the UNHCR bus that dropped him and his son off at the Moria Camp. I tried to help him figure out where he could go to find his bag, but I had some difficulty translating the answer. Faisal was more than happy to translate for me, and treated the man with so much kindness, even kissing his head and wishing him luck as he departed.

Later in the day things at the Syrian line got more stressful (but only by my newcomer standards). UNHCR buses were picking up families who had registered and taking them to Kara Tepe (the family compound) to spend the night, since there was no more space at Moria Camp. After one bus full of families departed, the bus driver returned, but he seemed exasperated by the lack of a line. Everyone was clustered near the door (still somewhat orderly, nothing too dramatic) and the bus driver decided to drive the bus forward what he said would be another “hundred meters.” He ended up driving the bus to a distance that felt like nearly 400 meters, and perhaps felt longer to the families who were walking with small children and carrying all of their belongings with them.

The sun was setting and there was still at least one more bus load of people who needed to be transferred to Kara Tepe. At this point the workers at UNHCR had passed this duty along to myself and one other volunteer (Martina). They said they'd be back, but it felt doubtful. I kept walking back and forth, bringing people from the Syrian gate and leading them down the road to the spot where the bus would pick them up. I kept repeating: “It'll be about 20 minutes until a new bus,” to various people, hoping that a bus would actually arrive within that time period.

By this time it was nearly completely dark outside. I put on my headlamp, hoping it would help alert cars that were still driving down the road of our existence. I'd been trying to radio in to the information tent with Better Days for Moria to find replacements for myself and Martina, since our shift was up and Martina's ride was waiting for her. I was worried we were too far out of range for the walkie talkies to work, since we'd been moved nearly a quarter mile farther away from the main camp than we were originally stationed. It seemed like no one was responding to my calls for assistance. Eventually someone did respond and we got two new (experienced) replacements, which allowed myself and Martina to feel okay with leaving this group of people out in the cold, dark, standing by the side of the road waiting for a bus.

I last heard about the group of people waiting for the bus was when I was walking back up the hill to the main camp with Martina. We ran into a guy who was bringing down hot tea for the people who were waiting. I hope he got there in time to give out hot drinks before the bus arrived. When it gets dark here, the cold seems to come with it- and quickly.

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Aside from working stressful bus lines at the Syrian gate today, I had the opportunity to encounter some of memorable people.

One guy named Alice (at least that's what it sounded like) approached me, asking if there were any organizations that could provide him with money for a ferry ticket. He is from Nigeria, and only had half of the money necessary to buy a ferry ticket to Athens. I had 20 Euro on me, so I gave it to him.

It was a difficult decision to make on the spot. We'd been told in our volunteer orientation that it can be difficult to assess who really needs money, and that how to decide who to give it to can be complicated. I figured that he might have a decent chance of getting to Germany as a Nigerian, and figured that I could spare 20 Euro. Alice was extremely grateful and continually approached me throughout the day with kind words. Unfortunately, he'll have to wait until at least Friday to catch the ferry to Athens because of an upcoming strike by the ferry workers.

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When I came into Moria Camp on the bus this morning things were a bit hectic. There was a large crowd of people, pushing and shoving to get onto the bus I was on with a few other volunteers. I learned that there was about to be a ferry strike and people were trying to get in to the city to catch the last ferry before the strike began. I think there won't be another ferry to Athens for a couple of days at least. People were clearly desperate, and I heard stories of fights that broke out a bit later in the morning.

I'll try to post more tomorrow. Until then, I leave you with this:

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