I have been transitioning between two polarities this weekend, via a few days to settle and re-balance myself in London. From a safe bubble-like space of meditation, structure, schedules and safety-nets to a completely different world – one where I will be responsible for my own time management, schedules, finances as well as providing (rather than receiving) support and care to numerous others.
From a large, cozy house in the Dorset countryside to the unknown. A Greek Island off the coast of Turkey, steeped in mythology and history yet drowned in souls seeking asylum. New faces and experiences await me, that I am sure.
Having come from a space of self development and personal growth, London was a series of welcome overwhelms. Sitting on the subway I noticed I was the only person in the carriage not on a phone, the only person sitting in awareness. I wondered if perhaps I was the only one to really smell the orange being carelessly peeled by the passenger next to me. Learning mindfulness at even the most mundane times has become a gift in my life, something I have honed further the past few months and that I hope will serve me well in the more difficult landscape of Lesvos.
Preparing for the journey
I have spent the last few weeks preparing. Just as much a mental & emotional preparation as a practical one. The more I read, the more I learn about where I am heading the stronger the pull feels to get there. So much is happening in each moment, and this situation has been escalating for a long time now. As over a thousand refugees land on Lesvos each day, I am looking forward to joining them soon and providing whatever help and support I can.
Part of my mission into Greece is to help build some awareness across the globe. So many people have no idea how significant this crisis is, how huge and consuming, not to mention how long it’s been going on. As well as providing real help & support on the ground, I also have a passion to share the experience, place and people with the world.
A ferry from Athens
As I write this I am sitting on a rather large ferry, somewhere in the middle of the Aegean sea and it’s the middle of the night. Once the sun begins to rise, I will be nearing my final destination of Lesvos and coming to the end of my roughly 10 hours journey via sea. The first hour made me a tad nervous as sea sickness kicked in. 10 hours, I imagine, is a rather long time to be seasick. Luckily with time it subsided and I am feeling good now, albeit rather alert for 1am thanks to massive over indulgence in delicious Greek coffees back in Athens today.
Greece, so far, has made a good impression. Athens is stunning and the weather has been surprisingly warm and sunny for January. Wondering through Athens you wouldn’t realise there is such a massive refugee crisis happening so close by, let alone a massive economic crisis too. The people are friendly, business is running as usual and first impressions are good. There is a large volunteer effort happening down at Piraeus port, however it is in the arrivals part and despite receiving contact information to go and meet the volunteers there, my visit through Athens was brief and I didn’t get a chance to stop by, so my impressions of Athens are brief and very limited by my own rushed visit.
So, what do I know heading into this?
As winter really kicks in here in the northern hemisphere, the numbers of refugees arriving in Lesvos by boat are still exceeding 1000 per day, often as many as 2000 or more. These asylum seekers are coming from mainland turkey, arriving in over-crowded and often dangerous rubber boats, sometimes requiring towing in to land, and in extreme cases capsizing before reaching the island.
A Turkish factory has been caught producing and selling non-bouyant life jackets. A sad and horrific addition to an already disastrous situation.
Speaking of life jackets, there are a number of controversies on Lesvos around the unimaginably large numbers of discarded life jackets leftover, what to do with them, and who is allowed access to them. A small number of volunteers were recently detained by the local authorities over taking life jackets off what they considered to be private property.
The information surrounding this is rather blurry, and it is hard to understand or know the details and motivations. On a lighter note, there are some great initiatives of people doing some fantastic things with old life jackets, such as using the straps to reinforce tent frames, using them to create bedding, padding and flooring, and even reconstructing them into carry bags and satchels, both for refugees as well as for sale (with all funds going back into the organisations and donations)
A formidable task ahead
Although the forecast this week is for good temperatures, there have recently been storms causing problems for people at sea, and temperatures are due to drop next week to overnight lows below zero degrees celsius most nights.
Lesvos is a large island, and the numbers of refugees arriving at different ends vary from day to day – I will need to be flexible in my location and help I provide in order to be of the most assistance over there.
Things have been shaken up over at the Turkey side with an explosion, thought to be an ISIS suicide bomber, killing and injuring tourists over in Istanbul. It’s a volatile time to enter into this corner of the world.
I believe things will make more sense after I have properly settled in and had a look around, for now I am going entirely on a combination of news reports, volunteer communication groups online and talking with people. My journey continues.