So, I decided to once again go to Greece, this time the Northern part of the country. Idomeni has been a hot topic in the news lately, and I searched through the internet in an attempt to determine where I could be the most useful. I didn’t expect to work with anything health related this time, as I had been doing on Lesvos, as the situation seemed quite different. I was planning on going with Lighthouse Relief, but unfortunately plans where changed along the way. They still seem awesome though, just saying. In the end, I aimed for the Czech Team, who were (are) running a big warehouse in Polikastro. Working in a warehouse is not very popular among volunteers, I’ve heard, but still oh so necessary.
And off I went, without much more plans than that.
The border control between Turkey and Greece was the first time I’ve ever been questioned while entering a Schengen country. To exit Turkey was smooth and easy, but the Greek border control took ages. “Where are you from?” he asked me, “What are you doing here? What are you doing in Turkey?” He looked suspiciously at my passport, poking the corners, flipping the pages and examining the papers. I thought for a second that he would pick it apart.
I arrived to Thessaloniki after some 11 hours of from Istanbul, and successfully rented a car after much research and confusion (most rentals want you to be at least 23 years old and own a credit card). Seriously, why would anyone want to drive a car in a big city? It’s horrible. Anyways, after some hours of embarrassment and horror, after getting a sim-card and sleeping bag, I found started driving towards the warehouse, about an hour away.
Today is soooo windy, I was afraid the car would blow off the road. I drove past the EKO camp – an old gas station now serving as a home for about about 2000 people – where the tents were dancing in the wind.
The warehouse is big. We receive more or less sorted donations from all over Europe (mostly) – clothes, shoes, toys, sleeping bags, shampoos and what not. At the warehouse, volunteers would sort the non-sorted items (PLEASE sort your items properly if you’re donating something, makes live so much easier than having volunteers on the ground sorting tons and tons of items!) and pack them on pallets according to different categories. Individual volunteers as well as bigger organisations would come to the warehouse to pick up the things they need – may it be a pair of trousers for one person, or ten boxes of t-shirts for a bigger distribution activity.
We sorted some clothes, and then a truckload boxes of rain boots. My eyes have turned into deserts, I should have brought my sunglasses to protect against the wind and the sand – even my ears are full of sand. I cannot imagine what it’s like to live at the camp today (or any other day, for that part).
In the evening, I went to the meeting for new volunteers at Park Hotel – a hotel in Polikastro, which is now used kind of as central point for all volunteers. It seems like all groups need more people. Apparently, the situation in Idomeni is very bad. Not that it’s unexpected, but sad. Increased violence – between ethnic groups, domestic violence, even against volunteers*. Also, diseases are more and more prevalent. Respiratory infections, gastrointestinal problems, dermatological conditions… Furthermore, it’s a bit scary to hear how the police is seemingly rather ambiguously arresting volunteers**.
*I NEVER experienced any threats or violence while at the camp as such – I was much more worried before going there after hearing all the warnings.
**Majority of the police that I met were actually also quite friendly, and not at all rude or hostile as people.
Back to the warehouse, it was eventually time to sleep. Did I mention that I will sleep in the warehouse? It seems quite fine, only EXTREMELY dusty, hm. ”You know how to do it, right?” another volunteer asks me. ”Uhh, not really?” I reply. She explains: first you take two pallets, then some cardboard pieces on that, and then you might want a blanket before you put down sleeping mat and sleeping bag. This way, it will be less cold and less hard. We walk around the warehouse to find an appropriate place. In several corridors, these kind of pallet beds have popped up. ”Not too close to the door,” she advises me, ”it will be windy and cold”. We walk on, and she points at a pallet reminding me of the Tower of Pisa . ”I don’t trust our ability to stack properly,” she says, ”You might not want to sleep too close to the pallets”. Eventually, I find an empty corner, and I ask her if it seems like a good idea. She shrugs – ”hopefully you will not be killed by boxes during the night”. Uh, I hope so too.
Just finding my way to bed.
Goodnight, and if I survive until tomorrow I will write again!