In the morning, I went off to the bank and to the shop to pay for the goods from yesterday. The Hummus Team had postponed their distribution until 13:00, so I drove down to Idomeni myself. I first walked to A and his brother. “Sabah al kheir!” I said, and they came out from their tent. “I’m leaving today,” I told them that I would come back a bit later and say goodbye again.
I walked on to R’s family, oh how I would miss them! They invited me into their tent and gave me tea, as always. “El youm, I go Turkiye,” I told them. I left my phone number and Facebook address, and we took some pictures together. I gave them some packs of biscuits, R opened them immediately and put on a plate, inviting me to eat. I hugged them all goodbye.
On the road, I met H by coincidence, and we walked to their big tent (it’s a big tent with probably 100 beds or something, I don’t know). I gave his sister the eye shadow that I had previously bought for her, and also one disc with hijab pins. “It’s my birthday today,” she told me. What a great coincidence. “It means nothing. Before, mom always helped me to organize a party on my birthday. This is my only birthday gift this year,” she continued, holding up the eye shadow, smiling. She started peeling an apple, and her mother gave me a cookie. “We don’t have money anymore. We had money when we came, because we worked in Turkey, but we have no money left. We cannot do anything here” She had been working with sewing clothes, or maybe selling clothes. I’m not sure. “I learned Turkish in a month,” she told me. The mother and daughter showed me their painted ‘tattoos’, hearts, flowers and fire, and two letters. “It stans for my husband and me,” said the mother. The girl leaned towards my ear and whispered “It for my boyfriend! Don’t tell anyone!”
H and I walked towards the Hummus team together. Today was not too good, and not too bad. I probably didn’t contribute much to the actual crowd control – I don’t remember. The children gave me flowers, like they so often do. I put it all in my hair. “Where have you been? You should visit us every day!” I met a member of one of the previous families at the distribution; I hadn’t visited them for some days. “I’m leaving today,” I said, “to Turkey”. They wished me a safe trip, and I wished them good luck.
I started to say take farewell of everyone. “Why are you leaving?” one of the boys asked me, “It’s always like this. The good people always leave.” He named some other volunteers, who had already left, ”and you are also leaving…” These are the times when I feel the inequality stronger than ever. Someone asked me to please stay. E started crying. I started crying. H took pictures of us crying. I took pictures of everyone, or at least some people, and hugged them goodbye. “I’m leaving now,” I said. But obviously I couldn’t leave. I took farewell of everyone again. We hugged again, I cried some more. “I will cry when I come home,” H told me. “We will meet again, Inshallah! Let me know what you do, where you go. I will come visit you, wherever you go,” I promised them. “Don’t forget me,” H said. “How could I ever forget you?” I asked rhetorically.
After many more rounds, I turned around and walked away. I looked back. Will I see them again? I walked on. Don’t turn back, I told myself. Keep on walking. I dropped by F’s family on my way back, and said goodbye to the children. Then, I took farewell of dentists in their container.
I left Idomeni with the radio on full volume. Goodbye, good luck.
I stopped at Hara on my way back to Polikastro, to say goodbye. We were hanging around the cars for a while, chatting. Cool kids. “Don’t go,” S told me. I started crying again, of course. They are amazing. Really. Incredible. We looked at each other. Group hug. We said goodbye, we said see you later. I stepped into the car and dried my tears. I looked into the rear mirror and took a deep breath. I started the car and looked in the mirror again. I waved, and drove away.
I stopped at the Chinese shop to say goodbye. They asked when I had to leave, and invited me for lunch. I explained that I wasn’t able to stay, as I also had to wash the car. Some people entered; they had come from EKO and Nea Kavala (a military camp close by). I tried to help translating between Turkish and Chinese. “He has a clean heart! Tell him that” one of the men told me to translate to the male shopkeeper. “Pffff, let’s go! I’ll help you clean your car,” said the the female shopkeeper (who I’ve been talking mostly too), and pulled me away from the desk, grabbing tools for the cleaning. “They don’t like me,” she said, “all those men like him more than me”. I asked why, and she started explaining: “He is so nice to them, he often gives them things for free and for really low prices.” I know that she does that too. “Actually, when they first arrived here, I didn’t like them. I had just read about that case where that young volunteer was raped by some refugee, and I was angry with them.” I don’t know what made her change her mind, but really they are wonderful people, both of them. I don’t think I’ve been able to describe it fairly.
It took more than an hour even though we were two people and we had better equipment than I would have on my own, so I’m really very grateful for her help. Eventually we were done, and once again it was time to say goodbye. “Come back soon!” they said, and I promised that I would come back. I really like these people; they don’t seem to see how many amazing things they are doing and how much it means.
Then, as a last goodbye, I drove “home” to the warehouse. I had hoped to write some letters and those kind of things, but really there wasn’t enough time. I took farewell of everyone, they’ve really been doing an amazing work, especially the ones who have been here for a long time – and who are planning on staying even longer. “Another hug,” one of the volunteers said when I came out from the kitchen, the person that I’ve probably spent the most time with. “A fourth one,” I said. Then I ran to the front – “If I don’t go now, I will never go,” I ecplained. It had taken more than an hour to get out from Idomeni. They came to the front door too, and we said goodbye again. A last hug. “And I’m a cold person,” he said, “I can imagine how it was at the camps…” I laughed, and jumped into the car, waved, and left. Don’t look back, I told myself.
I stopped by EKO camp on my way back to Thessaloniki. It’s of course smaller than Idomeni, and less muddy. It also looks more structured than Hara, with more stable tents on tidier rows. I met with a volunteer who dropped by the warehouse last night, and she showed me around in the camp, presenting the NGOs and similar active in the area. We eventually went to have some Falafel. I didn’t have time to grab a last falafel in Idomeni, so this kind of compensated I suppose. I said goodbye to the volunteer and the kids who were following us around. She’s cool, she’s very young. Several people here are quite young, well, everyone younger than me is ”young” in my opinion. I’m told that I’m young too. But many volunteers here, or at least a handful, are like 18, it’s great and impressive.
I survived the one hour drive to Thessaloniki. I feel like I might die every time I’m driving; it’s a wonder that there are not more car accidents. I did have to slap myself a couple of times when it felt like I was falling asleep. It took four circles to find the right entrance to the parking lot in front of the car rental though; would be funny (or not) to have an accident during the last minutes of the rental. Obviously, I care about the money this would cost (no insurance, wiho), not really about other consequences. We survived, the car and I. Did I mention that the car has been terribly scratched since the first day? That has been my biggest fear throughout the two weeks. ”How was it?” the man at the car rental asked me. ”It went well!” I replied, ”I cleaned it, I think it should be okay. Only… It’s a bit scratched… I don’t know how it happened…” He looked at me, ”what do you mean?” I showed him some of the scratches with a pounding heart. ”Oh, it’s not too bad,” he said, and I think both of us felt quite relieved. He looked under the carpet, it was clean (I think – at least we did clean). We went back to the office. ”You don’t have to worry about the scratches, it won’t be too expensive,” he said. ”Let’s say 25€” I nodded and reached for my wallet, while they gave me back the deposition fee. ”Or no, just give me 20€”. We thanked each other, and I left for the bus.
I waited for the bus on Aristoteles Square, blowing soap bubbles and looking at the people passing by. Thinking about the people that I met here. It was so much more than expected. Everything was so different from expected. More beautiful, more horrible. Every time the bubbles burst, I felt the tears accumulating under my eyelids. I don’t know if I love or hate this place, I don’t know what it did to me.
Bye Greece, maybe we will meet again. Probably. The question is, what will you have become by then?