I returned to Lesvos today after a week at the Port of Piraeus in Athens. Lesvos has changed. Almost overnight, it went from a place with an urgent mission on high alert to a place of calm and sorrow, anger and relief. The refugees who remain here are imprisoned behind razor wire, managed by the military and guarded by riot police. Most volunteers have moved to the mainland to support the 50,000 homeless refugees scattered around the country. The volunteers who remain on Lesvos are dismantling the infrastructure they created. Some volunteers have engaged in a different type of activism to draw attention to the militarization of a humanitarian crisis. The people of Molyvos face an uncertain future with the loss of tourism. There will be a lot of morning after here.
Most of my week in Athens was spent in my hotel room with an annoying cough but I saw plenty in a short time and heard many stories from friends Nanci (Oakland) and Anne-Lene (Norway) when they returned from the port each night. The dirty docks of Piraeus are now home to 5,000 people in flimsy tents. I have never seen such horrible living conditions, even in the slums of India. There is almost no sanitation, not enough food or blankets or basic necessities.
People stand in lines all day for small meals, soap, baby milk, a used pair of shoes. Volunteers struggle to acquire and distribute scarce resources fairly with almost no help from government or large NGOs. A few days ago, the Greek military served a dinner of rotting potatoes. A 15 year-old girl asked Anne-Lene “Why doesn’t anyone want Afghans?”
And yet it is peaceful and friendly and hopeful.
The winding road back to my cottage in Molyvos from the ferry was lined with yellow wildflowers and bright red poppies. When I arrived, Elpiniki, my onsite yaya, greeted me as she always does — “Kalimera! Good?”
Have you submitted any of your posts as a letter to the editor to the NYT or commentary on NPR? This is such an important story which we are not reading about in the press or hearing about on the radio here at home. Democracy Now would probably be interested if they are not already covering it. I don’t listen regularly to them.
Good idea– I will try! The European news media has covered it extensively and it has not been kind to the EU and Turkey.
The contrast between the beauty of springtime on the island and the misery of the refugees concentration camps is mind boggling.
Are you still working on your book? This is a compelling story and you are an eye witness to it. Sending sustaining thoughts. I am surprised the refugees remain hopeful and am glad you are there to help.
I am still working on it but the process has presented many life lessons. Nothing I learned about writing in my career applies except syntax rules! Hopefully, old dogs can learn new tricks.