changing religions

I volunteered to work the Syrian gate again today. I told myself after yesterday that I would try to do something different, but I'm beginning to feel attached to that spot. I feel like I'm really helping people there, and my Arabic is improving significantly with each day, so I feel like I'm becoming truly valuable there. While standing outside of the gate this morning, I ran into Mohammed and his children again. It was a bit of a relief to see him, since I thought they'd been transferred to the family compound at Kara Tepe, and I felt it was my duty to inform him of the ferry strike, and to tell him what he needed to do.

I told Mohammed that he needed to go into Mytilini today and change his ticket because there were no more ferries running until Sunday. It was difficult to explain the ferry strike to him, so I just said that the ferry workers didn't want to work this weekend. I hope he spread the word to others inside the compound, and that he was able to change his ticket to the next available ferry.

I spent the rest of the morning sitting outside the gate, answering the occasional question, and watching children (some of them Mohammed's children) running back and forth through the gate, fetching clothes and food from the Better Days for Moria camp.

Later in the morning I'd moved to sit in the sun on the other side of the entrance to the Syrian gate. Three guys came up to me and said to me in English: "Excuse me, do you know where I can go to change my religion?" My initial response was just to laugh. Yes, I blatantly laughed in these guys faces, but they took it well.

"Why are you laughing?" They asked me.

"You're serious?" I asked. Thinking they were just interested in changing religions in order to have a better chance at getting asylum in another country, I assumed it'd be okay to laugh, as I'd fully support someone doing that.

"You want to change religion? Like, you're Muslim and you want to be Christian?" I asked.

"Yes. He wants to be Christian, and I want to be Jewish." The guy replied.

I laughed again. "I don't know where you can do that. Sorry."

"Okay. Thank you." They said, and walked away, seemingly unfazed by my laughter.


A while later I walked back up the hill to the Better Days for Moria camp to see if lunch was ready yet. Every day in the camp an absolutely lovely lunch is prepared for all of the BDFM volunteers. I believe the chef's name is Carol. She cooks a delicious vegetarian meal everyday and I always look forward to it. Lunch today was a spicy bean salad and hot soup.

After lunch, as I was walking back down the hill to resume my post outside the Syrian gate, I ran into a woman who was handing out religious pamphlets that I'd seen a lot of refugees carrying throughout the day.

I approached her and asked her (in Arabic) if I could look at one of her pamphlets. She wasn't fooled by my speaking in Arabic because I was still wearing my bright yellow volunteer's vest. She reluctantly gave me one of the pamphlets that was written in Arabic.

I didn't have time to try to read the pamphlet, but I'm not sure I really need to. The images on it are clear enough. She was trying to proselytize and convert people, presumably to Christianity.


Things like this bother me, considering I'm a born and raised Atheist, but it bothers me here even more so than in my everyday life. There are several religious groups that are volunteering at Moria, at various spots on the island, and probably around the world, for the refugee crisis. I absolutely LOVE that. But, at least from what I've seen, most of those groups don't seem to care whether they're helping Muslims, Christians or Jews, which is exactly the way I think it should be. Especially in a situation like this, where people are fleeing their countries simply trying to find a safe place to live. I think it's unfair to bombard them with religious material, trying to convert them, at the time in their lives when they're most vulnerable. At least wait a few years until they've settled into their new lives for a while.

[To be fair, I think it's completely okay to talk to people about religion if they're receptive to it, but I think proselytizing, in this situation, goes a bit too far.]

But this woman has the right to stand outside the camp and hand out pamphlets about whatever she likes. I suppose there are worse ways to go about it, so I'm not going to concern myself with it.


The day wasn't much more stressful than usual, but after standing outside the Syrian gate for several hours (today it was in the hot sun), I tend to get tired. There was a call put out over the radio asking if anyone needed help, since a volunteer had shown up and she was willing to help out anywhere. I listened intently as Siobhan put the call out over the radio. She asked every station except me if they needed an additional hand and everyone declined, so I waited a moment and then responded: "If I could get a replacement at the Syrian gate that would be lovely." Siobhan responded kindly: "Of course that'd be possible, we'll send someone over."

The girl they sent down to help me out had never worked the Syrian gate before, so I quickly explained the process to her before running off to take a moment for myself in the tea tent. I told her I'd be back in about 30 minutes to take over again, I just needed a break.

Just as I sat down outside the tea tent, eating my two chocolate cookies to recoup some energy, I saw Raoul walk up. He was the shift coordinator for the day, and told me that there'd been a call at the Syrian gate. I told him I could go back down and help out, so I cut my break short and walked back down. I was a bit disappointed to only have taken five minutes of my thirty minute break, but I was also glad to go back to the Syrian gate. I was nervous about leaving it in the hands of a newcomer. Even though there are many capable people working around there, I think I'm beginning to feel responsible for the people who stop and ask me questions all day.

Not long after I returned to the Syrian gate, UNHCR began lining up families outside to wait for a bus to take them to Kara Tepe (the family compound). In the past there'd been issues with making families walk a quarter mile to get to the bus, but today they lined up the families just outside the compound, in a sort of parking lot area where there are food stands.

The families standing there were blocking most of the road, but usually if a car wants to move in or out, they can just wait a minute or two and the families will move over to give them space. However, there was an issue with a Greek man who drove up in a giant black pickup truck. He honked his horn and tried to pull into the parking area without giving the waiting families any time to move. There were several small children very near his car, and he could have easily hurt one of them, or any of the people sitting/standing in his way.

The many was clearly very angry, but his actions only made things more stressful for everyone. Myself and another volunteer from UNHCR stood in front of his car, trying to tell him to wait just a moment while people moved out of his way. He wasn't having it. Faisal (the Vodafone salesman) yelled at him in Greek for a while, as did many other people, in a number of languages. I think he probably got what he deserved.

After we'd finally gotten all of the families on busses to Kara Tepe, my shift for the day was over, so I headed back up the hill to find a ride back to Mytilini. I was stressed out and tired, which is how I feel most days after working at Moria Camp.