As I settle in here and talk to locals and volunteers, I hear so many amazing stories. The community of Lesvos has made a difference in the lives of so many and has itself been profoundly transformed by the refugee crisis.
Natasha is a single mother of two who works every day in the warehouse in Molyvos, folding and sorting clothes for the refugees. When we are having dinner together, everyone who walks in the restaurant runs to her with open arms and expressions of joy. She speaks with a sort of poetry describing how the community has changed. “This is the time of our lives not for money but for humanity…We don’t think about anything else any more.” She explains that people in Molyvos go home at night rather than gather in cafes to dance and sing as they used to. “But we are grateful. We see that people who have lost everything smile and thank us. We learn so much from them.”
Yanos owns a bar on the harbor road called “Pirates”, a favorite watering hole for young volunteers. He describes the day a boat filled with 250 refugees broke apart just outside the harbor while tourists and locals sat at cafes. This happened during the period before there were medics and lifeguards here, so fisherman in the harbor went out to meet the boat and dozens of local residents ran to the harbor to help. He worries about what the recent changes in the political environment will mean for other lives.
Michael works at a bakery in Kolloni on the road where the refugees who arrived on northern beaches once walked for 40 miles to Mytilene. He says now that the refugees have transportation to Mytilene, he misses the opportunity to be helpful by sharing loaves of bread and bottles of water. He gives me giant bags of bread to take to the refugee camp.
Aphrodite owns a hotel on a beach where hundreds of boats landed in 2015. She recounts dressing children in the clothes of her own son and daughter, of 50 people showing up to help her family clean up broken boats on the beach, of a soaking wet baby who stopped crying by sucking on her neck. She laughs about the boatload of musicians who arrived on her beach and announced “We are a special boat!” as they video taped their landing. The musicians made it to Germany and now internationally known for their music and their escape from Syria. http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/08/19/432584553/syrian-rockers-fleeing-war-find-safety-and-new-fans-in-beirut
The people of Lesvos have welcomed more than a half million refugees in the past year and helped them on their journey. There are no stories here of terrorists or crime or rage but there are a endless stories of compassion and mutual understanding.
Lesvos is a living lesson in humanity. Indignity and hopelessness are breeding grounds for extremism. If we want to be safe from war and terrorism, we should support the people who have lost everything in their search for a hopeful and secure life.
“Thank you. This is the first time in two months anyone has smiled at me.”
Refugee arriving at Eftalou Beach, Lesvos.