I started at the dentist container; that was kind of my intention. I tried to keep track of who came first and not; a lot of people were waiting already before 10. The dentist started there work, and after a while I decide that it was calm enough for me to sneak away to Hummus. “You are never here, where have you been?” someone commented. “I’m sorry! I promise to be here tomorrow,” I answered. Another volunteer was leaving today.
“I have to go back,” I said after distribution was done. But no – instead I ended up at E’s tent. While she was lighting a fire and burning everything from plastic spoons and bottles to panties, I was talking to her oldest little sister. This girl speaks beautiful Turkish; she is 15 years old, and had also been working during their years in Istanbul. Similar to E, she had been involved in making plastic cutlery. I look at the plastic spoons that E is burning. How have they been made?
“We want to go by smugglers,” the sister tells me. I don’t know how to feel about that. I don’t want them to go with smugglers; I’ve heard countless stories of people getting arrested and sent back, getting all their belongings taken away, and also beaten up. We see people pushed back from Macedonia every night. But at the same time, what are their options? What do they have to lose? They tell me about friends and relatives who have successfully crossed. I don’t know.
They invite me for breakfast; they’ve cocked the food from the Hummus Project distribution, and gotten tea from the Tea Tent. I stay with them; this might be the last time. We eat from these foam boxes, which I suppose they received during some other food distribution. I decide to buy them some plates for tomorrow. Eventually, I have to run off towards the warehouse. My shift today is from 15, as we are currently lacking people. Also, I have to pick up the items ordered yesterday, from the shop.
I find an ATM in Polikastro – it’s empty. Uh-oh. The shopkeeper comes with me to another one, it’s also empty. ”You can take the goods now, and pay us tomorrow,” says she says. ”Really? Okay, I promise to come tomorrow! I can leave you… not my passport in case of police controls, but I can leave you my keys,” I suggest. ”It’s not necessary,” she assures me, ”the volunteers here always keep their words and do what they say.” They help me load my car. ”It’s way to small,” they comment, and decide to drive with me to the warehouse, with the rest of the items in their car. ”We’ll just close the shop for a while, it’s alright,” they say.
At the warehouse, we try to prepare a pallet to send to one of the military camps, trying to match the number of shampoos and soaps and washing detergents with the number of tents and number of people. I was planning on meeting up with some of the Hummus Team volunteers for a farewell dinner, but I completely lost track of time during the packing process. Never mind, this is more important.
”Are you busy tonight?” one of the Northern Lights volunteers ask me. They don’t have enough people for the night shift. I’m more than happy to help out, although I really still don’t know how to make the distribution run smoothly. ”Prioritise the people who don’t have any tent or any blankets at all,” she tells me. These are usually people who have just been pushed back from Macedonian border. ”And then, families with small children. If there are not enough tents for everyone, they can sleep in the big tent for kids activities.” I receive instructions to pick up some tents from another warehouse.
We fill the car with blankets and sleeping bags. Just before midnight, I drive to Polikastro to pick up the other volunteer who will join. Also, one of the Czech Team members decided to tag along. We eventually find our way to the other warehouse, but we cannot find any tents. Apparently, some other people took them to the camp. Oh well, confusion. At Hara, we meet up with these other people, and start the distribution. ”Do we know how big the tents are?” I ask the others. Nope. Oh well. Luckily, it’s not too crowded today either. We have almost enough blankets for everyone, although some people had to go to the kids tent.
In the end, I stand with two fathers, not willing to give up. ”It’s not for me, it’s for the children,” the insist, but I simply don’t have enough blankets. I cannot do magic. Some other people are still standing around, watching us. We talk, and talk and talk, and talk. It’s English, its Farsi, Arabic and Turkish – and an even bigger dose of body language and facial expressions. In the end, they just start laughing. Well, it could’ve been worse considering the situation. Everybody starts laughing. I wish I could’ve gotten to know these people under different circumstances. I give one of the fathers two scarves, and the other one the jacket that I took from the warehouse. I lock the car; it’s over. They leave – at least they’re not angry. Some while later, another guy drops buy and asks for a blanket, because everything is wet. I give him a doormat. ”What am I supposed to do with this?” he laughs, but takes it.
Eventually, it was time to leave. I think we did quite well, for being all new and confused. We jumped into the car, everybody was tired. ”I will talk,” I declared as we started the 30 minutes drive; ”You have to talk with me, or else I’ll fall asleep and you don’t want that.” They didn’t object. ”What are your dreams?” I asked them, and we had a rather nice conversation all the way home. I don’t remember what we actually talked about, but at least I didn’t fall asleep.