The past couple of mornings I've found myself working in the women's clothing tent, which is stressful, but a nice change from standing all day. The first day I worked there it was a literal shitshow- I was cleaning up dirty nappies/diapers all morning. The women's clothing tent is a place where women who have just arrived in Moria -and who are typically still wet from arriving in the boat (or dinghy) they took from Turkey- can change into "new" dry clothing. It didn't initially sound like a bad gig, but because it's the women's tent, there are also countless children running around, and dirty diapers are constantly being changed.
When myself and the other day shift staff arrived in the morning that day, the women's clothing tent was just filled with dirty diapers. Literally, I would pick up a pile of wet, dirty clothes, and find a dirty diaper shoved underneath it. Myself and a few other female volunteers took it upon ourselves to clean the clothing tent. I took dirty nappy duty, while two other volunteers cleared clothes, and mopped the floor. The tent looked lovely when we were done cleaning, and I was quite glad to see that the relative cleanliness had carried over into this morning when I was working in the tent again.
But, however stressful cleaning up dirty diapers may sound, I find the difficulty of finding clothes that fit each woman, and that she feels comfortable and happy wearing, to be even more difficult. The clothing tent is open each day for new bus arrivals of wet people, and at other varying times throughout the day for other people staying in Moria who need new shoes, socks, coats, and other items. I'm not sure I can say which is more difficult, finding clothes for wet refugees, or for those who are stuck in Moria for a few days and have been around for a while. It always feels urgent, and it seems I can never find clothing in the right sizes.
Today we were receiving a boat of wet people and attempting to find them dry clothes. Within all the stress of the women's tent- bad smells, children running around, crying, and frustration- we are still able to find beautiful moments. For example, I began helping another volunteer, Heather, find clothing for an older woman. Heather had found her a shirt and pants, but was having trouble figuring out what else the woman wanted. She called me in to help translate. We figured out that the woman wanted a long jacket and boots (all in black, of course), so we each rushed off to find those individual items. Somehow we were able to find them, and the woman actually had a quite nice, presentable outfit that she liked. All three of us were happy, and those moments are rare.
People often ask for specific colors, or for new, rather than used clothing items, and I often have to tell them that we just don't have them. We do get donations of new clothing, but not always in every size, and definitely not in every desired color.
In the afternoons I've been mostly on bus duty, which involves creating lines of people when the hourly bus into Mytilini arrives, and just being generally available to help when someone has a question.
Some days the lines can get quite long. Like yesterday, it was the first day the ferries were running after the ferry strike and the general strike, so families were lining up (we're talking hundreds of people) to take the bus into Mytilini. Somehow most of the lines I was working on were beautiful. I don't know what caused it, maybe people realized that things would be better for everyone if the bus lines ran smoothly.. but probably not. Whatever it was, it made the job much easier, and we volunteers were able to focus on the fun stuff like blowing up balloons for children waiting in line with their families, and passing out tea and cookies.
Unfortunately, working the bus line is not all tea and cookies. Today I finally experienced being yelled at by an angry taxi driver. A long term volunteer, Camilla, told me of her difficulties with taxi drivers at the bus line, but I'd never witnessed it before today.
I was working the bus line this afternoon with two new volunteers. We were relieving Camilla and the other morning shift bus line workers so they could go eat lunch. After a few minutes a taxi driver came up to me and started shouting at me. He was mad that we were "taking away his business" by directing people to the bus line. For more information, taxis into Mytilini cost about ten euro, while the bus costs one euro per person. For most people and families, it's cheaper to take the bus than a taxi. All we do as volunteers is provide people with this information so they can make an informed decision. But of course, the angry taxi driver would hear none of this.
Somehow through all of his yelling at me I was able to remain calm.
"Excuse me, but do you need to yell at me?" I asked him, as calmly as possible.
"YES I DO!" He shouted. "BECAUSE YOU ARE TAKING AWAY OUR CUSTOMERS! WHY DO YOU TELL PEOPLE TO TAKE THE BUS?!"
"Well," I said, "not everyone can afford to take a taxi, and the bus is cheaper."
"WELL GIVE THEM YOUR MONEY!" He shouted back at me.
"I don't have enough money to pay for each refugee to take a taxi." I said, half laughing.
After this he continued yelling and the other two volunteers I was standing with (both women) stepped in. The older woman tried to get him to calm down and stop yelling at us, while the younger woman who happened to be half Greek, started arguing with him in Greek.
By this point a small crowd of taxi drivers had formed around us and people were beginning to stare. I don't really know what was said ("It's all Greek to me!"), but I know the half Greek volunteer, Denise, was quite angry. Unfortunately, no matter how good her argument was, I know it did nothing to change this angry taxi driver's mind.