Lesbos

 

It all was experienced this spring. I write about my very personal perspective on Lesbos island first now, during waning summer – as other things needed to be experienced, too. Very different things, like also very different angles of nature-culture-crisis-beauty formed a rich “dance” of my month-long stay in Greece…

 

What I went for, how I arrived

Oh, of course! I forget you need a bit of background facts (cause otherwise I’d jump straight to cores and nuances, well..):

5 first days on my own, Greek people and places have always won my heart, when I entered my hotel room I cried – so happy it felt. I think it was the old beautiful man from the reception – after I said who I am – he just said “I know” with his incredible low masculine voice (I soften immediately…)

 

After that I joined an organization dedicated to rescuing refugee boats from Aegean Sea once they manage to reach European waters.

And to giving medical care and translation in Moria Camp.

And to supporting refugee families living in Kara Tepe camp, waiting for ‘green light’ to be transferred elsewhere in Greece/wider Europe to try building often destroyed lives from scratch: we took care of washing service and children activities.

 

 

Who inspired me

My first inspiration and inner drive to go to Greece and help was my Danish friends that were there in 2015. After 3 years, when – after turbulences and the 180° shift in life direction – I had a window open for a longer travel during the winter, it suddenly came to me that now is the Time: I dropped my exotic plans and bought a ticket to Lesbos.

These Danish friends are since then continuing their artistic activism in form of Other Story – a project giving voices to real people that carry deep stories in transition.

 

 

I can say it has been the weirdest job I’ve ever had

My week could look like that (4+2+1=7 …and a bit of extra moments stolen from time):

4 night shifts of boat spotting on Katia Hill, always with a partner, staring at the empty, dark Aegean Sea in case a refugee boat arrives and needs help. Life stories. Wind. Weird aliveness. Doubt. Happiness. One time real anger – expressed -> transformative, leading to the deepest lucid dream I’ve ever had in my life.

2 shifts in Kara Tepe camp with refugee children activities.

1 day off. Overall richness. Incredible amount of contrasts.

 

Children in the Kara Tepe camp were sweet and rough, curious, playing eagerly, learning eagerly, fighting eagerly. We had a language barrier, which – like with love encounters across borders – flipped us to another level of presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second and last boat landing that I took part in. Early morning, me and another volunteer needed to come back, we forgot some equipment on the boat. I told her I needed to stay a bit longer on my own, not coming back to the house. Abandonded life jackets and various things one apparently grabs for a survivor’s night. 44 people came with this boat. It’s an ‘everyday life’ situation.  **) Aegean Boat Report provides official reports on refugee boats arriving on Greek islands, day after day

 

 

The organization I joined had leadership that I trusted, that inspired me, their ethics, overview and there-for-you attitude towards so many people they needed to interface with! Here during boat and rescue training.

I think leaders are so important, cause volunteers are almost by default a treasure. They come cause they have something important stirring on their heart. Leaders set the tone, inspire and influence by leading by example. That’s what I experienced through them and feel very grateful for. They provided fun, depth and hope. That’s a lot to receive from someone working so hard voluntarily!

 

…and off times, with funny, wonderful people

and old Greek restaurant I kept coming back to…here with a friend

here by my favourite cafe and concert spot ‘Bobiras’

 

 

 

 

“Idyllic” Lesbos – a new form of deep tourism

So much on one little island! All this beauty and weird contrasts all over street corners and nature makes Lesbos now, I think, an extremely rich and interesting place to be, work and live for a while or longer. International culture of very diverse people from all over the world

…on a mission to help,

                                    experience real life in transition,

                                                                                       “(re)humanize” stories:

                                                                                         stories heard from media,

                                                                                         stories incomplete,

                                                                              stories distorted by stereotypes or lack of knowledge

I met people, of course – that continue telling important stories about refugee situation after coming back to their homelands. I’d like to link especially to two of them I’ve met and shared a lot with while volunteering:
meet Tirej
read Anna
and Guardian on empathy (through close stories) vs apathy (in “abstraction”)

 

 

Oh, speechless now ! : I am still in the process of creating this blog (unpublished)…and I just heard the breath-taking news that these NGO leaders were arrested by Greek Police!

https://www.facebook.com/sean.binder.39?ref=br_rs

https://www.facebook.com/ioanna.sch/posts/10216893874969802

 https://www.facebook.com/hahmad1996/posts/10214125541505437

 

 

 

the whole PAST-PRESENT-FUTURE cycle

From scary past stories, to positive present experience to heartbreaking news of the future

(that is happening now)

I went to help 3 years after hearing…

 

… Lesbos stories from 2015 :

…that there’s boats with scared, life-risking refugees flooding to the shores of Lesbos from all possible sides, while there’s too few NGOs and almost the whole humanitarian burden lies in hands of independent volunteers

…that NGOs that are there often compete instead of collaborating with each other

…that refugees freeze, cause it’s winter and there’s bottomless need for warm clothes and especially shoes…never enough for all

 

Great generalisation, I knew it – glued together from random stories and stereotypes – therefore I needed to see with my own eyes. But I WAS prepared… to have a deeply transformative experience, a wake-up call, a sort of close confrontation with tough reality that is far from the world I got used to experiencing in everyday Denmark.

So I was scared to go. Yet ready to be skaken-awoken! The winter was piercing cold in Copenhagen when departuring.
But my experience on Lesbos 2018 was surprisingly positive. It gave hope more than it took away hope.

 

my Lesbos story from 2018 was :

…tourism deteriorated – as my taxi driver was so bitter about – but a new „humanitarian” tourism blossomed, creating extremely rich, unique on the island that I have not experience any other place

…there is so many different NGOs right now helping with boat rescue, education, collaborative arts, medical and psychological help

…thanks to collective international efforts, huge warehouses with clothes and all other stuff for distribution was so full that we didnt know what to do with all that

…I was so impressed by my leaders of an organization I volunteered for. Professional, generous, considerate with huge overview and thorough in providing both lifeguard- first help- and ethical approach-training even to volunteers that were staying for merely 3 weeks. Leaders also working voluntarily, staying over a year

…I was impressed and touched by the level of collaboration of different groups and institutions how they coexisted with respect towards each other even though they had different interests and roles to fulfill. And here I do not only mean different NGOs exchanging knowledge, support, organizing joint trainings. I saw – and it was especially visible during boat-landing – where NGOs, police and official medicals from Lesbos were taking action together

 

So I was very surprised hearing a couple of weeks ago that my NGO leaders were arrested! Suddenly humanitarian help became criminalized.
I don’t know what to do or say.
Besides that I just need to share this. And I know they are innocent. I was there.

 

… and how can I say this in the best way?: 

that the whole refugee crisis is so complex that it is unfair to point fingers at any party, actually, without deep (and dynamic!) investigation.

 

I mean it. I feel very strong about that.
I was impressed by the Greek police, I was imporessed by doctors that were coming when we called cause there were 2 deeply pregnat women in terrible condition with advanced hypothermia. They came to save lives even though they never signed up for that: their mission was service to people on Lebos, suddnely there is thousands more. And capacity of hospitals and other resources the same.

Yes, I was there – and many wonderful others – to help people in need, basic instinct, like I imagine doctors do, human-to-human emergency finds no discrimination!
But I do not have an answer how to handle streaming of people in need fleeing to Europe.

Everything has consequences. Everything. Cause elements are (inter)connected…

 

 

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