From Lesvos with Love!
Fade up from black to a sunrise over the Mandamados hills with the Turkish coastline behind. The image represents hope, healing and happier days on Lesvos. My grandparents witnessed this sunrise along with their brothers and sisters and so many before them. Now thousands of people who have made the journey here by plane and boat lay witness to this beautiful image daily. This shot is taken from half way up Mount Lepetymnos in a small Greek village called Ipsilometopo. Even Ipsilometopo is waiting for inhabitants, villagers and tourism. And it's with great appreciation of this beautiful island and it's inhabitants that I can say from Lesvos with Love!
I found the courage to write again.
Living on Lesvos the last ten years has been quite an experience with the last year, one for the history books. I'd like to start by saying what incredible people I have had the pleasure to meet in the last year on the third largest island in Greece. People who in the face of extreme circumstances have risen to the challenge of just being human and extended their hearts and souls to provide some decency in an unbelievable situation. The human wave of migration really began 10 years ago with a spike in numbers beginning a year ago here on the North side of the island. Locals with the help of many wonderful independent people and Organizations have been at the grassroots organic lifesaving humanitarian aid movement from the beginning. These people are every day people whose lives were turned upside down by the economy six years ago and then by the human wave.
The sexiness of a boat arrival wears off pretty quickly when you are faced with the reality of being a human and the countless issues that a small place endures with an economic crisis and a humanitarian crisis on top of it. Then sprinkle on every issue in the book thrown at a small place and you have a huge psychotherapy session and healing exposition on your hands. This doesn't translate in pictures or in the countless 15 minute of fame segments you see on television or even a news story from a reporter, blogger or celebrity coming to lend a heart and a hand. It comes from living, breathing and emotionally being at the face of adversity and in the instance of this situation for Greeks and locals struggling to survive economically in a European Union without the Union.
For me it translates in the small gestures and the very spontaneous moments when you are doing something else and it hits you over the side of your head. Last Sunday, I was in the car outside of the port of Mytilini organizing something when I felt a tug on my shoulder.
I turned around to see four young boys. They were about the age of my youngest english students. The one that tugged on my shoulder had those incredible blue/grey/green eyes that I equate with Afghanistan. Our exchange was all in pantemime so I have no idea where he was from? The 10 year old boy pointed to a small piece of paper that was in fact a map of the harbor with the Statue of Liberty labelled and the road down to Tsamakia Beach with an X and under the X some instructions in Arabic or Farsi.
It was a split instant and I pulled all the children across the street so that they could see the statue that I pointed to and then I asked, "do you speak english?" The reply I got was just smiles and the playfulness of the other three younger kids wanting to run and to move on. There were no adults with them and the older boy with the map made sure he got the right directions because he was the leader or in charge. This all happened within minutes and they were off like the wind. And I thought to myself I hope they weren't orphans. Those blue/grey/green eyes still had hope. I myself really truthfully wanted to run after them to just give them an ounce of it but they were gone just like that. Those eyes and that moment will always stay with me and I have so many more just like it.
When you live on a Greek island the local taverna is usually your news source. In the last year, fb (facebook) has been the means to get the word out about the crisis within a crisis X5 and of course now the international media who have graced the island with their presence and have left their indelible mark with their stories in the public domain.
First of all, Moira (usually misspelled in the news reports) means destiny in Greek - what the news reports want to say is Moria. Moria is the registration point or now hotspot for the human wave on Lesvos. I have often wondered if it was destiny or fate that brought all these people to this island or just location location location?
Until recently, I haven't been able to sleep at night because of the conditions in Moria camp especially after it rained in October 2015. I saw that horrible image of a man inside of a refrigerator just to keep dry on fb. That image has haunted me and my dreams and I vowed to myself I was going to do something about Moria. But alas, this crisis within a crisis X5 got so overwhelmingly big that even my good intentions got washed aside with my tears and I had to just focus on being positive and what I could do.
What I did want to reset in my psyche was the image of Moria as well as the island. I wanted every time I went near Moria or I brought a volunteer around as part of "voluntourism" to Moria that I could ask "have you seen the ancient aqueduct in Moria?," that I would remember something more pleasant than a man in a refrigerator. The picture above was taken about a week ago. Moria the camp is a completely different place than Moria the village. If you have a chance to go see the aqueduct in Moria - the corner taverna on the road going to the site is run by "Theodoros" meaning "gift of god" - sit down take a coffee, ouzo and a meze and strike up a conversation. He speaks a bit of English and who knows maybe just maybe you'll improve your Greek.
Social media lately is a buzz with the declining numbers of charter flights to the island which equates into tourists. I try not to feed into the numbers because as an island we've already gone through so much and what I'd like to feed into is the positive angle of social media as well the the international media. Now without a shadow of a doubt we as an island are on the world map and what we as Ambassadors of this lovely place need to tell the world is what an incredibly rich and beautiful place Lesvos has always been and will continue to be. And now they can meet some of the most incredible people. So as I watch and view numbers of each story that come across my fb feed and when I see 20 million views go to a cat who made the choiceless choice crossing; I can't help but just laugh at how ridiculously funny that really is and that I fatefully am entangled in the cat story.
The Kunkush cat story is a fuzzy feel good story that as fate would have it I was a part of the day the cat arrived in Skala Sykiaminias. I remember the beach being very crowded with big lenses, many volunteers and of course the human wave. I was helping some children with their life vests and I had just lost battery power to my camera. I jammed it in my pocket and I was cursing myself because I was documenting some Norwegian women volunteers with NKS as well as the situation and now I had no battery. It didn't matter because there was so much to do to help.
There were screams, shouts and out of the corner of my eye I saw a white flash dart into the bushy area outside of the Lighthouse Camp into the concrete bunker. Kids needed water, wet clothes needed changing and scissors were needed to cut emergency blankets for shoe sizes and telephones free from their plastic. The beach cleared, the commotion stopped, the human wave subsided and I thought to myself what just happened? I looked around and saw the lonely cat house carrier and I told Berit (a Norwegian volunteer), "I'm going to put that cat box near the edge where the cat jumped into the bushes and maybe the cat will come back because that was it's home?"
Kunkush was obviously freaked out. In the back of my mind I was like I need to take a picture of these people in case we find that cat again. But, boat arrivals always throw your human reasoning off a bit and the wave of emotion hits you and sort of dulls your senses. Like the human wave, I walked back to the Solidarity - Platanos camp and forgot about it until I saw the cat on fb again and met the volunteer who was responsible for Kunkush's family reunion (more on this later). Kunkush's date of entry I believe is October 29th, 2015. The cat was reunited to it's Iraqi family in Norway about two weeks ago. 20 million views later we are all feeling fuzzy, which brings me to the Petra sunset.
I wish all my photos were clear and clean and with this photo we could all ride off into the sunset and reunite with our families and make all this nonsense go away. Kunkush is a lucky cat so to speak!
The human wave continues to collide with the Greek islands and Lesvos. Just some days before brought 30 new rubber boats near Kratigos area in the South of Lesvos near the airport. On the ground news sources tell me that the smugglers are sending boats between 2 am and 6 am and one after another so that the NATO boats get confused? Turkey refuses to go along with the NATO charter in the Aegean which means smugglers are gaining an upper hand.
Lesvos continues to register the human wave the most recent about 400 people and 3 boats yesterday. This story is moving fast and by the time I type that number, it has already changed. The Idomeni border into FYROM is closed to Afghanistan people. There are about 16,500 people there. Many people are stuck in Greece the number increasing every day. The last count was about 20,000 and even that number is wrong. The Minister of Education has already put a proposal forward to educate children in the Greek system. The EU mechanism for Humaniarian Aid has just issued 700 million euros over the next three years to go to Aid Organizations. As I write this I am shaking my head because that money should go to the Municipalities dealing with this. Some job creation will result because now the blockage is no longer Lesvos but Idomeni and now the Greek route is being handled by again local wonderful people extending a human heart. And all I can think about are these empty villages and refugee resettlement.
The police are letting 300-400 Syrians or Iraqi's go through the Idomeni border into FYROM and other borders up the Balkan route are closed with limited number of people being able to cross. Our Solidarity brothers and sisters and particularly the humanitarian Greek hearts in Piraeus and Athens as well as up the mainland to Idomeni are helping with food, medicine, blankets and make shift shelter. There are amazing people in Idomeni who have managed a major situation.
But the local story doesn't stop there. Above is an old olive press. The olive oil business continues as well as local products and tourism have been the mainstay of Greece for many years. This photo was taken on a Pandora Lesvos tour with volunteers who wanted to be a part of the local story and know more about Lesvos. Socially conscious volunteers are now drinking the water of Lesvos and feeling the love of the land.
If you would like to come and be part of an amazing group of people and meet some of the most solid people I know we need your help but also be aware this could all go away in a blink of an eye. Translators in Arabic, Farsi, Daeri as well as medical people are needed. Also, you will need to register with one of the Organizations here.
If you would like to combine touring and volunteering now is a great time to visit Greece and show your socially conscious side as well as become educated to this beautiful country and maybe even meet the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize (more on this later) or the countless amazing people who are on the frontline, mainland and other islands. Donations are always welcome in money, food, and clothing. And if anyone out there that reads this blog has connections into planes or boats who can get people here to Lesvos or up the Balkan route please let us know as we are pushing to promote this beautiful place, country, people and culture in a positive light. Be adventurous, throw caution to the wind and come be a part of her and his tory!
DISCOVER GREECE come now ...
This story has no end as of this blog entry the Governments and the mainstream continue to block "safe passage" and "open borders" as well as don't understand that tourism depends on getting to the destination. The good news is that there are people helping people and the wave of solidarity is uniting each and everyone of us.
Fade to black....