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 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.

shitshow

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.

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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.

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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.

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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