LESVOS DAY 5: Sunday November 1st, 2015

Today is my last day in Lesvos, and it just so happens to be my birthday as well as election day in Turkey. It has been a pretty quiet day. Not many boats came over from Turkey like the other days (we were told this tends to happen during important political days/events/visits by particular officials or PMs), but nonetheless we did help one boat out this morning and there were MANY more photographers and media representatives present. On Thursday when we were at the beach all day we met maybe a handful of photographers the entire day and there were many more boats that day. However, today there were probably 2 photographers or media reps there per individual arriving on the boat and they had the cameras and lights in their face while some of the refugees were still trying to get out of the water onto the beach, it was absolutely ridiculous! We changed a small child and helped his family into the ‪#‎TeamHumanity‬ vans to be transported to one of the camps and we were on our way.

On our way to grab something to eat before Oxy, we checked in at the Harbour where Starfish organization is stationed out of and came to find there was also a boat that drove right into the harbour at Mytilini, no coast guard assistance to probably the safest, easiest landing point, did they have GPS!? It was a lot of young Morroccans and we teamed up with some other volunteers from Starfish and walked the group to the nearest bus stop which was about a 20 minute walk from the harbour where we were. The Moroccans were so nice, most of them did not speak English (or very very little), they mostly spoke French and Arabic which I found interesting. As we played 20 questions on the walk and asked each other everything from nationalities to marital status, to future goals, to age… They asked me how old I was and found out that it was my birthday so they sang me happy birthday on our walk to their autobus stop… “Happy birsday for an to you Miss Ahmbear/Californiahhh …” definitely a highlight of the day. Once we got to the their transit stop, Katie and I took selfies with just about every single one of the people waiting for the bus, knowing full well we would see them in just a short time at Oxy. But we said our goodbyes and farewells anyway. They were too sweet not to. 🙂

Went to OXY for my last volunteer shift today and served some sandwiches with my new friend & fellow Starfish volunteer, Kirsten, who is a journalist from New York. lt was very quiet because there weren’t really any boats so we had a concert with a violin, tambourine, volunteers and 40+ Moroccans whom we had walked to the bus previously in the morning. We also spent the afternoon cleaning up Oxy, and collecting dry/reusable clothes and shoes for redistribution in the clothing tents. There were so many shoes, and we had to find the pairs, as most of them were just strewn about the premises. One thing that was a little disheartening at Oxy was working the clothing tents, struggling to give out donations to people (clothes, shoes, etc), and then picking up those donations while cleaning the camp where people stand in line for the busses, or for food tickets, or for the clothing tents, or in the tents where most of them sleep. Nevertheless, we were able to recollect a lot of donations just from what people had left behind as they continued on their journey to the next camp and hopefully onto their final destination in Europe. The project of organizing the shoes was pretty eye-opening to the volume of people that had come through Oxy that weekend, actually mainly the night before and that day. There were a LOT of shoes. Monday’s wet arrivals surely had their pick of shoes, I can say that for sure. One tip I would give anyone who is sorting used shoes for any particular reason is, if possible, make sure to tie the shoelaces together so the pairs stay with each other. This was probably the most time consuming part of this task. But it turned out beautifully as you can see from the picture above.

We ended our day at Oxy a little early so we could attend a volunteer meeting called by Starfish at the harbour in Molyvos where the scene had been so bleak just 5 days ago. We had heard ahead of time that the meeting would be sort of a therapy type session with a licensed professional there, with an aim to help all of the volunteers kind of take a step back and process everything. Or at least start to… I cannot thank the Starfish team enough for having this meeting. There were about 50 volunteers at the meeting and it was really nice to go around the room and put names to faces for those I had just seen around and given a friendly passing wave to acknowledge our joint efforts. We talked about a lot at this meeting, with the main aim being to help volunteers recognize the emotional strain that undeniably, everyone in the room had experienced at one time or another during their time volunteering. Wednesday was especially important to talk about, because many of the first responders to the worst tragedy the island had seen (the 300+ person boat that sank) were Starfish volunteers, seeing as their home base is at the harbour where the coastguard brought all the survivors in. Even though there were some eye rolls (including my own) at a few of the exercises the therapist from Red Cross had us do, I believe the overall effect and target was met. That meeting, the volunteers sharing their experiences, will be forever sacred to me. I will not go into detail about anyone’s specific experience since it was a safe place to share, but I can tell you that I learned something about myself that night. I learned that I revert to laughter in a group setting, when in reality I am fighting tears. The fact that this wonderful organization, Starfish, had taken such an interest in the well-being of their volunteers allowed me to stop fighting tears and made it ok to share exactly how I feel, because someone across from me was feeling the same fucked up way. I didn’t realize how much even just the last few days was affecting me, but this was a great start to acknowledge the severity of the situation and how unprepared or unequipped all of us were in dealing with everything. We made a picture at the end of the meeting in a small group exercise, where we each drew a symbol, word, or picture about either how we were feeling at that moment, or our overall experience on Lesvos. Our group members had a common theme of sort of melancholy depicted in rain/sunshine, hope, inshallah, power fist, and a flatline/heart images. I tried to give it to the  most affected person in our group but they refused it, saying that they thought I needed it more. It is now hanging on my fridge in Istanbul, and for me, it will forever be the most important and valuable piece of art that I own. 

After the volunteer meeting, I had a lovely & proper Greek birthday dinner with Kunal, Katie, and Brice. I would like to thank my friends Brice Garcin & Katie for sharing this journey, hotel and car rental with me I have met so many beautiful people here and I would like to return as much as possible to continue in our efforts. Volunteer’s coordination Team (Lesvos), Team Humanity, A Drop In The Ocean, Akti Hotel Lesvos, Starfish (new NGO), and all of the beautiful people associated that work their asses off every day to make a difference against all odds, you inspire me and I look forward to continuing the journey with all of you. Thank you for this experience, my heart was broken a thousand times this past week but my soul is so full. Thank you to everyone who has donated and shared this experience. I will conclude this series with an overall “After” piece that I have been promising to publish for the past month. The truth is, I needed a full month to process this experience, and I needed to go through it day by day with all of you. Thank you & stay tuned… I will publish the conclusion “After” this week.

Lesvos in the News: November

Views from another admired Volunteer