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 and seen to meanwhile. Very different things, like also very different angles of nature-culture-crisis-beauty brought richness to 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..):
Five 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 day shifts in Kara Tepe camp with refugee children activities.
1 day off. Overall richness. Incredible amount of contrasts.
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
“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,
stories heard from media,
stories distorted by stereotypes or lack of knowledge
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!
the whole PAST-PRESENT-FUTURE cycle
From scary past stories, to positive present experience to heartbreaking news of the future
(that is happening now)
… 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-awaken! The winter was piercing cold in Copenhagen on departure.
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 impressed by doctors that were coming when we called cause there were 2 deeply pregnant 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 Lesbos, suddenly there is thousands more. And capacity of hospitals and other resources the same.
Yes, I was there – together with many others – to help people in need, basic instinct, like I imagine doctors do, human-to-human emergency finds no discrimination!
I do not have a straight answer to streaming of people in need to Europe.
But I know that nothing is lost in nature and everyone and everything leaves a trace.
Cause elements are (inter)connected…
Fear is contageous. But so is love.