The meadows here are overgrown with wild strawberries, sweet peas and brambles. The hillsides roll on for what feels like ever and I sit here, sipping a fresh mint tea with the sun on my cheeks. Where Athens was orange blossoms and pine needles, and Idomeni the stench of burning plastic and mud puddles, this signature scent is one of cherry blossoms and green unfurling walnut leaves.
Back in Greece I’m certain big chunks of my heart lie discarded along the train tracks, back at that hell I came to love. It’s too hard to fathom that I could just walk away without leaving so much of myself back there.
So here I find myself, recuperating in Bulgaria from the three most intense months of my life.
The typical post refugee-crisis cocktail is one hell of a lot of uncertainty mixed with a splash of mutated survivors guilt and a twist of something vaguely resembling PTSD. Life in camp is so hyper-real, this reality and raw humanity in your face every day, that stepping out feels a little like tip-toeing off into some kind of strange dream. A dream where everything is a little lighter, a little blander, where you can’t connect with anybody in the same ways that you are used to.
And you keep feeling like you’re in a dream, until the dreams come. The dreams of war, of desperation. Weird endless nightmares of hands and feet and distribution lines and never enough of anything. Signs of your brain finally getting some free time to reconcile the horrors that it’s spent 90 days repressing.
Insomnia, for the first time in my life. Restless, relentless, infuriating insomnia. Pacing and stretching and exhausted but awake. Perhaps I had run out of dreams.
My story isn’t unique, leaving these crisis situations is universally and famously one of the most difficult parts of humanitarian work. Despite entering with the best intentions, its hard to remove yourself and not burn to the ground with everyone there, to not become consumed and despondent.
Slowly I have been coming back to myself in this rural hideaway. Taking time to think, to re-integrate all of these news experiences and lessons into my life. Accepting that it feels like hell to hand over my passport and cross a border into a country where a refugee would be stopped, beaten, or even shot. To be given luxuriously free access to flit around however I choose, just because I was born inside the arbitrary chalk-sketched border lines of a small country in the South Pacific ocean.
Because that means I’m better, I deserve more, I’m OK to pass, safe passage for me, whenever I like.
The unjustness of this all makes me so, damn, angry.
So what have I taken from this experience? That I need to use my voice. To shout from the rooftops and share my stories. That there isn’t enough information out there, that every step of the way I am met with a beautiful curiosity. The people I meet want to know more, to understand, to help.
Of course, I’ve learned so much more. I’ve learned about war and humanity, of violence, love, hope and loss. I’ve learned of new cultures, new languages and made new friends. The things I’ve gained from this experience are not measurable. But in the meantime, I just need to keep telling my stories to anyone that will listen.