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.


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.


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 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 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.


"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.

the "translator"

IMG_2191 When I first arrived at Moria Camp I knew that I wanted to use my Arabic skills as much as possible to help out. However, I intentionally avoided the medical tent because I was afraid that a bad translation could potentially harm someone. But the longer I've been here, the more word of my being "an Arabic translator" has spread. I have to laugh at that, because I'm definitely not a translator. When I'm speaking with people in Arabic I usually have to ask them to repeat themselves a lot, and then I infer a lot based on whatever context we're in. It's a lot of guessing, and I definitely don't always know what's going on.

But I was called in to the medical tent by my new friend Omar who also speaks Arabic, probably at a similar level to myself. He said he was having trouble understanding what a woman needed, so I said I'd try to help. The woman had two small children with her and after much confusion, I finally realized she just needed my help to carry one of her children into the main room so the doctor could look at the smaller child. So, for the first time in my life, I held a baby. He was wriggling around and clearly freaked out that a woman other than his mother was carrying him, but I did all right.

Once we'd arrived in the next room, the doctor wanted me to help with translations, asking things like: "Does the baby have diarrhea?", "When was the last time he pooped?" and "Did you give him milk or water?".

I don't know the word for diarrhea, or poop in Arabic. Sorry. So I tried to mimic those actions to the mother who had no clue what I was going on about. Eventually the doctor was able to make a rough translation using the international language of hand signals. I was able to help translate a few questions and answers though, so overall I felt as if I'd been helpful. That was, until the mother approached Omar and told him that she'd rather he just translate, because his Arabic is better than mine.

Omar translated that sentence to me, but I didn't need him to. It was clear what she was saying, and that she hadn't expected me to understand. Even though I knew she was wrong, my confidence was still lowered and I felt off for the rest of the day.


Later on, Omar approached me again asking for help. This time for something completely different. He'd met a man, Hamid, whose family had lost almost everything to the Turkish police, including some of their passports. I'm not entirely sure what Omar's intention was in bringing me into this conversation, but I was glad that I was able to help in the end.

I told Omar that I had funds from donations I could give him, I just needed to get into the city to withdraw some money. Omar told this to Hamid, who immediately asked for Omar's phone number, promising to repay him once he reached Germany. Of course Omar told him this wasn't necessary, and explained that the money was from our family and friends back home.

I ran off in search of someone who could give me a ride into Mytilini. I ran into a group of Iranian-American guys who had just pulled up to the camp and told them what I was doing. They didn't particularly want to leave because they had just arrived and were excited to start working. So instead of giving me a ride into town, they pulled out their wallets and gave me money. It turns out they had raised some funds before coming here as well, and they were more than happy to share.

I brought the guys over to meet Hamid, and once I gave him the money, things got really emotional.

"Is he crying?" One of the Iranian-American guys asked.

"Yeah, he is." I said.

The Iranian-American guy walked up to Hamid and gave him a hug. They all hugged. It was a beautiful moment. Hamid looked over at me and told me a heartfelt thank you.


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.


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.


a strange feeling

Lesvos, Mytilini, Greece - 1/28 I started my day early with a run before sunrise. It's something I've been doing occasionally when I wake up early and can't fall back asleep. I only covered about two miles, but I ran a beautiful loop around Mytilene Castle, ending back where I started, at the Port of Mytilene, where all of the refugees who can continue their journey into mainland Greece have to depart.


I worked at the Syrian gate again today. The weather was pleasant the whole day, so that meant that there were more boats arriving on the island, and more refugees arriving at Moria Camp. Several buses arrived at the Syrian gate today, at least two of which held a number of wet people who were still in need of warm, dry clothes.

After one bus was unloaded and the people ushered into the camp through the Syrian gate, I noticed a few families who were sitting outside the gate, looking confused. I asked a volunteer with the group I AM YOU why a particular family was just sitting outside the gate. I hoped that he might know something, since he speaks better Arabic than me, and seemed to know more about the group who had just arrived by bus. The volunteer told me that this particular family had just finished registration, but that they had no money to continue their journey.

"Okay," I said. "Can you tell them to come with me, and that I might be able to find some funds for them?"

The volunteer translated for me, and I began walking up the hill from the Syrian gate to the Better Days for Moria (BDFM) camp. We walked slowly, since this family had five small children with them. On the walk up to BDFM I introduced myself to the father and asked his name. He told me his name is Mohammed, and thanked me for helping them.

Once we reached the BDFM camp I told the mother and children to wait near the children's tent, so the whole family wouldn't have to wait around while I tried to sort out whether I should buy ferry tickets for this family, and how to go about doing it.

Mohammed came with me into the information tent, where I found Siobhan (a coordinator in the camp), and told her what I intended to do. Siobhan didn't even flinch. She gladly looked up the ferry times, told me how much a ticket would cost, when the next ferry was leaving, and who might be able to give me a ride into the city to buy the tickets.

I found a ride with David, a pastor from Dallas, Texas who has been volunteering in Moria Camp for a week or so. He was more than happy to give me and Mohammed a ride into Mytilini. Our first stop was at an ATM, where I took out about 300 euro for the tickets. Next we stopped by the ferry building where I tried to figure out how to purchase ferry tickets. I quickly found out that you do not buy the ticket inside the ferry building, but in one of the many travel agencies in the city. Mohammed and I went to the nearest travel agency, located just across the street from the ferry building.

The travel agents were very helpful. I was able to buy tickets for Mohammed and his family to Kavalla, with additional bus tickets to the Macedonian border. I also gave Mohammed an additional 60 euro for his family. But it didn't feel like enough.

When we got back to BDFM, Mohammed and his wife were extremely grateful and continually thanked me for my help. His wife kept kissing me on the cheek, and Mohammed told me that she considered me a sister.

I tried to give them instructions on what to do next, but I was at a loss for words, and couldn't figure out how to translate what I wanted to say. I ended up just telling them to go back to the gate where we'd met, knowing that they would either catch a bus to Kara Tepe (the family compound) or find a place to stay within the Moria Camp.

After all of this was over and we'd said our goodbyes, I walked over to the tea tent to take a break. I felt overwhelmed. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever before experienced the feeling I had at that moment. I couldn't describe it.

I didn't feel as happy as I thought I would. All I could think of now was the stark reality that this family would face along their journey. The Macedonian border is closed today, hopefully only temporarily. I worried that didn't give them enough extra money for their journey. And later in the day I even learned that the ferry strike in Mytilini will continue through the weekend, so Mohammed and his family will have to find a way to go back into Mytilini to change their departure dates on their tickets, or they risk losing them entirely.

This process that refugees have to go through is so complicated and inherently disillusioning. I'm almost glad that I will only be here for a short time, so perhaps I'll still be able to maintain some sense of hope.

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:



moria camp, day 1

Moria Camp, Lesbos, Greece - 1/25 IMG_2160

Today was my first day working at the Moria refugee camp. I was less nervous than I thought I would be going into it, and thankfully it turns out I had no reason to be nervous. Everyone I encountered was kind and had a sense of humor about the situation, which seems essential. It seems common to make fast friends with both volunteers and refugees.

I arrived at Moria this afternoon, after traveling by bus with my friend Emma, who I met on the flight from Athens. We were just in time for the daily tour of the camp where the current coordinator for the day shift, Liska, showed us around and got everyone signed up and registered as volunteers.

During our tour we were lucky enough to run in to the (in)famous artist Ai Weiwei, who is creating a documentary and art installation on the island. He was very kind and answered everyone's questions, and even took selfies and group photos with the volunteers. I found myself surprisingly starstruck however, and couldn't think of anything to say to him besides: "You follow me on Twitter!" -- so instead of potentially embarrassing myself, I thought it best to not say anything at all.


After the tour I asked Liska where I might be most valuable given that I speak Arabic. She recommended I sign up for the day shift from 9am-5pm, and said she'd give me a walkie talkie tomorrow so I could make the most use of my language skills.

I got a chance to speak Arabic with some people a for bit today, but it was mostly speaking broken Arabic with three Iranians and one Kurdish guy, who each only understood a bit of the language. So communication was limited.

While I was sorting clothing in the Dry Clothes tent three (potentially) Moroccan men came up and asked for coats and warm clothing. I went into the back to fetch a coat for one of the men. After making sure his coat fit, I quickly made my way back into the tent to continue sorting women's personal hygiene bags. Another couple of volunteers came out to further answer the men's questions. They were looking for sleeping bags, and although Moria Camp has a number of sleeping bags from a recent donation, they're only providing them to refugees who can't receive them from UNHCR (which provides aid based on nationality). But myself and the other volunteers who were assisting these men didn't know the whole story at the time.

One of the volunteers told the men that we couldn't give them sleeping bags, but that they could get them from UNHCR. While this was happening, another woman was off figuring out why we couldn't just give the men one of the many sleeping bags at Moria Camp. She came back after the (potentially) Moroccan men had already left, presumably to get sleeping bags from UNHCR. She told us that they could be deported if they are identified by UNHCR as being Moroccan, and myself and two other volunteers immediately broke into a run and began searching for these men, trying to find them before they made it to the UNHCR camp.

I was the only one of the three who actually knew what these men looked like, so I ran to both UNHCR gates, scanning every male face around. I couldn't find them, so I can only assume that they didn't contact UNHCR about getting sleeping bags, hopefully they knew better. Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing.

on my way

Athens, Greece - 1/23 In spite of my fears (and a strong desire not to leave my boyfriend and dog) I am embarking on a two week trip to Lesvos, Greece. I will be volunteering with informal aid organizations on the island, trying to assist with the current refugee crisis by using my knowledge of Arabic, and by purchasing shoes and other warm clothing with your donations.

The man I was sitting next to on my flight to Athens today asked me what encouraged me to take this trip. On instinct, I referred to my standard answer: I read an article about what was happening on Lesvos and was inspired to help. It seemed like there was no official organization on the island. No big aid groups had stepped in yet, and the island's residents were left to help pull in dinghys full of cold, wet desperate people as they reached the shore.

And that's true. I was inspired by that article. It helped me realize that I have skills that might actually be useful in this situation. But it took something more for me to actually take the steps to go through with this trip.

Unfortunately, I think it took the death of my mentor* and friend, Bonnie Bucqueroux, who passed last October. It was thinking of what Bonnie would have said- what she would have encouraged me to do- that really gave me the strength and confidence to know I can do this.

I know Bonnie would have been proud of me, and would have encouraged me to make this trip. She always saw potential in me, and she always encouraged me to follow the path I wanted in life. I believe that path includes helping people and exposing injustices, which is something Bonnie dedicated her life to.

I feel confident that Bonnie would have supported my choice in making this trip, and for me, that's enough. So when I'm nervous getting on my flight to Lesvos tomorrow, I will try to keep that in mind.


*Blogger's Note: I want to clarify my feelings about my wording here. I don't really want to say that "it took Bonnie's death" for me to make this trip. That seems cliche and is not quite what I'm trying to say.

What I intended to say was that Bonnie's death served as the impetus for me to start actively and voraciously pursuing my dreams again. Because it allowed me to see that no matter how vibrantly we live, our lives can still be taken from us at a moment's notice, and I don't want to just sit around and wait for it to happen while my future and my dreams slip away from me. (Clearly I'm thinking about more than just this trip here.)

Bonnie lived her life pursuing everything that interested her, and never being afraid of what someone might think of her. She trusted her gut and did what she knew was right. At the very least I can honor her by attempting to do the same.