my last day

My last day in the camp, working with Better Days for Moria was calm and lovely for the most part. The weather was bad, so we didn't have any boats coming in, and nearly the entire country of Greece was striking for better working conditions, so there also weren't any cab drivers, Vodafone salespeople, or even gypsies hanging around the camp. The weather was bleak, but a positive atmosphere hung in the air- or at least as positive as is possible given the situation. I spent the morning trying to be as productive as possible, while avoiding potentially stressful interactions. That meant I stayed hidden in the dry clothes tent, sorting new donations and repackaging shower soap into smaller bottles for hygiene packs. I had a nice conversation with another volunteer, Keith, from the UK. Keith and I agreed to take pictures of each other while we were sorting clothing and bottling soap so we'd have something to send back to our friends and families.

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Lunch came sooner than I expected. It was the first day at Moria camp where I was actually disappointed it was lunch time, because I really didn't want my last full day to end. Lunch is always delicious. We have amazing volunteer cooks who create masterful vegan meals on a small budget for the volunteers. I feel the need to continually shower them with compliments. (Kudos!)

After lunch I found a fellow volunteer, Florian, and asked him for help. I asked him to give Adnan (the Pakistani refugee who bought me a present and confessed his love for me) a gift of fifty euro to repay him for the gift he'd given me. For one, I'd hoped that repaying him for the gift would at least help me feel less guilty for how the situation had played out, but I also really just didn't want to take money away from someone who really needs it. I gave Florian the money and told him my stipulation that Adnan must not suspect that the money is from me. I wanted Florian to give it to him under the guise that it was a gift, unrelated to the awkward situation Adnan had put me in. Florian happily agreed to help me out and said he'd give it to him when the time was right.

After my conversation with Florian I wandered around for a bit, half trying to find some work to do, half just taking pictures and trying to preserve an image of the Better Days for Moria camp in my mind. While I was doing this, I ran into Adnan. He asked to speak with me and wanted me to walk down the road with him a bit. I told him I'd be happy to talk with him, but said I'd rather not walk anywhere.

“You don't trust me,” Replied Adnan.

“No, that's not it at all.” I said, flustered. “I'm just comfortable here. I don't see why we can't just talk here.”

Part of me knew that this situation had the potential to be far more dramatic if we moved to a more isolated location, so I wanted to diffuse that as much as possible by keeping us in plain view of the rest of the camp.

To that he replied: “You don't trust me. You think I'm a terrorist.”

Suppressing an eye roll, I denied his accusation.

“That's really not it,” I said. “Why don't we just talk here?”

After a moment's pause, Adnan began. He asked me for my phone number. He wanted to call me in California, just to hear my voice. I told him no. I didn't want to do that, and that even if I was okay with it, it was impossible because my phone can't accept or make international phone calls.

“I have a boyfriend,” I said. Trying to give the lightest, yet firmest rejection possible.

“I just want to call you,” he said.

“No,” I said. “I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that.”

After a brief pause, Adnan then went on to ask me for a memento. He wanted me to give him something of mine. Even the hair tie on my wrist. When I refused, he just continued to repeat his request.

“Please,” he said. “Give me anything.”

“No,” I replied. “I don't feel comfortable doing that. I have a boyfriend and I'm leaving tomorrow and you need to move on.”

“Please,” he said, “please, please.”

Simultaneously begging and making me feel guiltier by the moment for rejecting his request.

“No,” I said. “I'm going to walk away now.”

I turned and continued to walk up Afghan Hill, where I ran into Florian and another volunteer, Julian, who were digging trenches for drainage. We had a light conversation about ditch digging, and I was able to get my mind off of my depressing conversation with Adnan.

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Later in the day, after giving a brief Arabic lesson to some of my fellow volunteers, I ran into Adnan again. He was still persistent. This time he asked to take a photo with me. Again I refused, citing my boyfriend and the fact that Adnan needed to move on.

“You're young,” I said. “You'll meet someone else. Trust me. It's better for you to move on.”

“I don't think so,” he said. “You're the first person that I've met that I feel this way about.”

Then he repeated his request for me to take a picture with him, continually repeating the word “please,” as if using it more would somehow change my mind. But I remained firm in my refusal. I knew it wouldn't be good for him to have anything to remember me by, and I really dislike the idea of someone pining for me from hundreds of miles away.

His pleading continued until I walked away.

Later that night I went out to dinner with a large group of volunteers. It was one volunteer's birthday, and several of us were leaving over the next couple of days, so we had a big celebration and farewell party. Somehow we found the only restaurant that was open during the general strike. When we first walked in with our group of about twenty, the restaurant owner looked concerned. He told us he was worried he didn't have enough food for all of us. But he somehow made it happen and I think it was clear that everyone was enjoying themselves. The owner even brought out a cake and performed some magic tricks for all of us. It was truly a great send off.

During dinner I spoke with Siobhan, a long term volunteer, about the situation with Adnan. She was able to help me feel less guilty about rejecting him and all of his requests. It was her opinion that he was trying to manipulate my feelings. I rejected that idea initially, but now I think Siobhan may have been right. Whether or not he intended to, Adnan was definitely manipulating my emotions and trying to guilt me into giving him what he wanted. Despite the infinitely awkward and sad situation that surrounded us, that analysis makes sense to me.

Siobhan told me not to feel bad for rejecting him.

I'm still trying.

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.

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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.

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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.

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