a gift

Yesterday I spent the rest of my donation money on shoes, children's winter coats, leggings, razors and diapers. Those seemed like some of the most popular and urgently needed items, so I was glad to be able to help out by purchasing them. IMG_2268 (1)

Another volunteer, Florian, was willing to drive me into the city to buy things because he had already promised to give a ride to Adnan, a refugee from Pakistan who sometimes volunteers in the clothing tent. They were going to an internet cafe so Adnan could call his brother.

After the internet cafe we drove to a large department store that's on the way back to Moria from Mytilini. After we'd chosen the donations I wanted to purchase, Florian told me that Adnan wanted to buy a gift for a girl. They wanted my help in selecting the right gift for her, so I walked around the store and pointed out potential things a girl who is stuck in Moria Camp might want. I asked Adnan questions about her like: "What does she like?" and "Does she have her ears pierced?" and "Would she like this?" and he didn't know the answer to any of them. So I told him: "You should really know more about this girl before giving her a gift, but okay."

Eventually Adnan purchased a bag that I had suggested, and we left. Florian had to buy something else in the store, so he ran back inside. As he was in there, I sat in the car and left the door open to let the cool air in. Adnan was awkwardly standing outside the car. Suddenly he bent down on one knee and handed me the bag with his gift in it. I laughed, thinking he was showing me how he was going to present his gift to the girl.

"Oh, that's how you're gonna do it?" I said, laughing. "Well don't give her this." I said, taking the receipt out and handing it back to him.

I thought that he had just wanted me to keep the bag in the backseat with me because the car was stuffed with donations, and there was space in the seat next to me. Unfortunately I was wrong.

On the drive back to Moria Camp I kept looking at Adnan thinking he looked sad. Maybe he'd meant the gift for me? I thought. No, no, that's unlikely.

When we arrived at the camp we all grabbed a bag full of clothes and headed toward the clothing tent to drop them off. Again, Adnan handed me the bag with the gift in it. Weird, I thought. But I guess I can carry it inside for him.

Once we had put the bags away in the clothing tent I handed the bag back to Adnan, and he walked away. I was focused on sorting my donations, and started taking pictures of the items I'd bought.

After a few minutes Florian came back in and said: "Caron, I think Adnan meant to give the gift to you."

"Oh, no." I said. "Okay, I'll go back out and talk to him."

Adnan was standing outside the clothing tent with the bag in his hand. He gave it to me and I thanked him for it, apologizing for the mixup.

Then Adnan told me that he loved me and would give his life to me. I told him that I appreciated the sentiment, but I have a boyfriend back in California who I'm flying back to be with on Friday. Adnan looked very heartbroken and disappointed. I remained completely confused and shellshocked, but tried to say nice things to him. Eventually he walked away looking broken.

Before today I'd only seen Adnan in the clothing tent a few times. I'd tried talking to him a bit, but he never seemed to talk much to anyone, so his responses were short. Someone told me that he traveled here by himself from Pakistan, and misses his family so much he's considering going back.

It feels horrible to break the heart of someone who is already so lonely.

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.


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.


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.


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: