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.

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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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