a break

I spent all day yesterday working at the Syrian gate, and all night as well- in my dreams. I tossed and turned all night, answering questions and giving directions to many of the same people I'd actually assisted during the day. When I awoke I was still exhausted. It felt like I'd been working throughout the night. I guess my mind just couldn't stop processing everything.



I'd walked into camp this morning determined to only work half the day at the Syrian gate. But when the opportunity arose, I wasn't willing to switch my shift with anyone. I felt so attached and committed to the Syrian gate, and helping the people who go through there, it felt wrong to pass the duty on to someone less experienced. So I walked back down there and stood around for a few minutes. I was visibly exhausted and had difficulty saying hello to everyone while smiling and remaining cheerful.

After a short while I decided that maybe the Syrian gate could survive without me, and I decided to check out what was happening at the top of the hill. I ran into one of the other volunteers, Camilla, who always works the bus line. She told me it'd be fine to stay up there and work with her for a while, and I decided to take her advice since she's been volunteering with Better Days for Moria for a while, and knows what she's talking about.

It was great having someone to talk with to fill the gaps in between answering questions in Arabic. It made the day less stressful and exhausting. I still had plenty of opportunities to use my Arabic skills, and even found that I might be more valuable staying closer to camp. I was even able to help out briefly in the medical tent when they put out a call for an Arabic translator.

I was really nervous about translating for the medical tent. I didn't think my Arabic would be good enough, and I don't want to translate something incorrectly that could put someone's life in danger. But the situation the medical tent needed help with turned out to be in no way life threatening, and was a rather easy problem to solve.

I walked into the medical tent and was debriefed on the situation. I man needed new glasses. They were pretty sure he just needed reading glasses, actually. The only thing they had a question about was whether he was more nearsighted or farsighted. I easily solved the issue without even knowing any glasses or eyesight related words. It felt great to be able to help out in such a simple way.

I was still on my feet most of the day, helping receive buses, but it was much less stressful working with others than working alone. We didn't receive many buses today, but most of the buses we did receive were Hellenic Coastguard buses, which is somewhat problematic. There are opinions on both sides of the issue as to whether it's better now that the Greek Coastguard are stepping in to help bring in refugees from boats. I think it definitely sounds like it's better, but I worry about how the refugees they pick up are being treated (likely not as kindly as the volunteers would treat them), and what information they are receiving from the Greek Coastguard about the necessary next steps to continue their journey (it seems to be very little).

On one coastguard bus I helped receive, I met a very kind Syrian family who I walked down to the Syrian gate and gave instructions on the registration process. We received the bus at the top of the hill, near the entrance to the Better Days for Moria camp. Near that entrance it can be hectic. There are people around ("Gypsies") who are profiting from the refugee crisis by charging ridiculous rates for people to exchange money. These people swarmed the bus as it arrived, and many Syrian families exchanged money with them, receiving a terrible exchange rate.

I tried to tell this family not to change money with them, but I'm afraid my message wasn't very clear. I waited while they exchanged money, and then walked them down the hill to the Syrian gate. I enjoyed chatting with them in Arabic because they were very kind and continually complimented me on my Arabic skills. They even asked me where I was from and how I'd learned the language. As we were walking down the hill, the mother nonchalantly asked me where she could get new shoes, pointing to her bare feet.

"Oh my god!" I said, in Arabic. "I didn't notice you don't have shoes! I'm so sorry!"

She seemed super chill about it and told me not to worry. I told her where she could get new shoes, and wished to myself that I'd noticed she didn't have any shoes on before we walked halfway down the hill, away from the dry clothes tent at the BDFM camp.

But I was so impressed by how calm and collected this family was, considering that they'd just arrived by boat in what had to be one of the most frightening trips of their lives.


Later in the day, just before my shift ended, I walked back down the hill to check on the Syrian gate. A bus had just headed that way and I didn't know if anyone was around to receive it, and inform the new arrivals of the information they needed to know.

Talya, an experienced volunteer, was already down there and seemed to have everything under control. I decided to hang back, but stay close in case she needed any Arabic translation. With the help of the Greek police at the gate, Talya quickly lined everyone up and got them headed into the gate to get their registration papers. I was still standing back at this point, watching everyone walk inside. As I was standing there, and as people were still blocking the entrance to the Syrian gate, a car pulled up behind me and honked. I absolutely hate when people honk. It seems so rude, impatient and unnecessary. So in response to the driver's honk, I quickly looked back at him and gave him a stern, unsmiling look. "Just have some patience," was all I could think.

After about thirty seconds, the driver of the car got out and approached me.

"Can you please let me in to this gate?" He asked.

"I have no authority here." I replied, thinking he was asking me to open the gates that the Greek police open and close all day for cars.

"Well I do have authority," he said, pulling out his Frontex badge. "and I want you to move."

At this point the Greek police saw him speaking with me and began shouting at me to move out of the way. I was frustrated because I was not the only person blocking this car's path. There were countless Syrian people still waiting to get inside the gate who I felt deserved priority (and respect, and acknowledgement).

"It's not just me. These people are waiting to get in!" I said, trying to explain my point in not moving more quickly. But it had no effect. They simply ushered the people out of the way, myself included.

I've only recently learned of Frontex, and I'm still pretty unclear on what their role is in the refugee crisis. The only thing that is clear to me is that none of the volunteers seems to appreciate their presence here. I can understand. I've never encountered one who has been polite.