a strange feeling

Lesvos, Mytilini, Greece - 1/28 I started my day early with a run before sunrise. It's something I've been doing occasionally when I wake up early and can't fall back asleep. I only covered about two miles, but I ran a beautiful loop around Mytilene Castle, ending back where I started, at the Port of Mytilene, where all of the refugees who can continue their journey into mainland Greece have to depart.


I worked at the Syrian gate again today. The weather was pleasant the whole day, so that meant that there were more boats arriving on the island, and more refugees arriving at Moria Camp. Several buses arrived at the Syrian gate today, at least two of which held a number of wet people who were still in need of warm, dry clothes.

After one bus was unloaded and the people ushered into the camp through the Syrian gate, I noticed a few families who were sitting outside the gate, looking confused. I asked a volunteer with the group I AM YOU why a particular family was just sitting outside the gate. I hoped that he might know something, since he speaks better Arabic than me, and seemed to know more about the group who had just arrived by bus. The volunteer told me that this particular family had just finished registration, but that they had no money to continue their journey.

"Okay," I said. "Can you tell them to come with me, and that I might be able to find some funds for them?"

The volunteer translated for me, and I began walking up the hill from the Syrian gate to the Better Days for Moria (BDFM) camp. We walked slowly, since this family had five small children with them. On the walk up to BDFM I introduced myself to the father and asked his name. He told me his name is Mohammed, and thanked me for helping them.

Once we reached the BDFM camp I told the mother and children to wait near the children's tent, so the whole family wouldn't have to wait around while I tried to sort out whether I should buy ferry tickets for this family, and how to go about doing it.

Mohammed came with me into the information tent, where I found Siobhan (a coordinator in the camp), and told her what I intended to do. Siobhan didn't even flinch. She gladly looked up the ferry times, told me how much a ticket would cost, when the next ferry was leaving, and who might be able to give me a ride into the city to buy the tickets.

I found a ride with David, a pastor from Dallas, Texas who has been volunteering in Moria Camp for a week or so. He was more than happy to give me and Mohammed a ride into Mytilini. Our first stop was at an ATM, where I took out about 300 euro for the tickets. Next we stopped by the ferry building where I tried to figure out how to purchase ferry tickets. I quickly found out that you do not buy the ticket inside the ferry building, but in one of the many travel agencies in the city. Mohammed and I went to the nearest travel agency, located just across the street from the ferry building.

The travel agents were very helpful. I was able to buy tickets for Mohammed and his family to Kavalla, with additional bus tickets to the Macedonian border. I also gave Mohammed an additional 60 euro for his family. But it didn't feel like enough.

When we got back to BDFM, Mohammed and his wife were extremely grateful and continually thanked me for my help. His wife kept kissing me on the cheek, and Mohammed told me that she considered me a sister.

I tried to give them instructions on what to do next, but I was at a loss for words, and couldn't figure out how to translate what I wanted to say. I ended up just telling them to go back to the gate where we'd met, knowing that they would either catch a bus to Kara Tepe (the family compound) or find a place to stay within the Moria Camp.

After all of this was over and we'd said our goodbyes, I walked over to the tea tent to take a break. I felt overwhelmed. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever before experienced the feeling I had at that moment. I couldn't describe it.

I didn't feel as happy as I thought I would. All I could think of now was the stark reality that this family would face along their journey. The Macedonian border is closed today, hopefully only temporarily. I worried that didn't give them enough extra money for their journey. And later in the day I even learned that the ferry strike in Mytilini will continue through the weekend, so Mohammed and his family will have to find a way to go back into Mytilini to change their departure dates on their tickets, or they risk losing them entirely.

This process that refugees have to go through is so complicated and inherently disillusioning. I'm almost glad that I will only be here for a short time, so perhaps I'll still be able to maintain some sense of hope.