My mind is still in Greece

Every time I go to bed, my mind flies back to those nights in Greece. To the nights we drove carloads of blankets to camp Idomeni and Hara, but obviously never enough for everyone. To those nights after the rain, where all tents, inside and outside, all blankets, clothes and people were soaking wet and freezing cold.

”Give me a blanket please, just one blanket”
”You have a blanket already. I know it’s not enough, I know you’re still cold, but look – this person doesn’t have any blanket at all, and we only have one blanket left.”
”It’s for my children, please, they’re cold”
The blanket he has around his shoulders is as thick as a bathing towel. But we don’t have enough blankets.

There have been push backs from the Greece-Macedonian border this night – like every night. People are trying to cross the border with the help of smugglers, but many are arrested by the police and sent back. Sometimes also beaten up. They leave with few belongings, and often return with even fewer. We don’t have blankets for everyone, not to mention tents.

Who has a blanket? Who is exaggerating? Who is telling the truth? We try to be fair, but fairness doesn’t exist, does it? It is cold, for everyone. We run out of blankets, we drive home. I lie down on a pallet under the warmest blanket that I can find. Two blankets. Three blankets. It’s not windy, it’s not wet. Still, I am cold.

I’m in a hotel room now, one week later. In a soft bed, under a thick duvet, in a different country. The people in the camps are still there, in their tents. They’ve been there for almost three months. For how much longer will they live like this?

Do we have dentists here?

Dearest dentist friends and friends of dentists – I need your help, and Idomeni needs dentists!

You might have heard of Idomeni, the camp close to the Macedonian border in Greece. Health-Point Foundation is providing dental care in this container, but there aren’t enough dentists to see all the patients. The clinic opens at 10, but some patients arrive already at 8 to secure a spot that same day. To most patients who arrive later, we have to say ”sorry we’re full today, come back tomorrow at 10 am”. The need is immense.

Some people have traveled here from other informal camps, 30-40km away, to receive medical attention. All in all, we’re talking about a population of around 14’000 people if I’m not mistaken. There are some other dentists operating in the area, but not in any bigger scale as I know. Many of the patients have also been referred there by MSF, SAMS and other organisations.

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When I was there we only have one dentist, and this week we will have no one at all… Can you come and help out? Even if it’s only for 5 days, it would be amazing! If you’re interested, please send an email to dental@healthpointfoundation.org – or approach me!

Thank you ❤

Jess

Goodbye Greece, again

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!”

IMG_8958.JPGH 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.

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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.

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Bye Greece, maybe we will meet again. Probably. The question is, what will you have become by then?

Jess

The last night shift

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?

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“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 sleepingIMG_8775.JPG 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.

Last days: Time for everything

“We’re out of tape,” said our coordinator at the morning meeting, “But all shops are closed now”. “Not my Chinese shop!” I exclaimed with raised arms, “Should I go there and check if they have tape?”

I drove down to the shop and bought all their tape (6 rolls, or something). After dropping the tape at the warehouse, I drove off to Idomeni. I received a text: “The tape was great! Can we get some more until tomorrow?” I called the Chinese shop, they said yes. Some few hour after, the dentist student from before dropped by the container. She had been given permission to stay at the dentists, as it was her last day. Totally fine by me; I walked off towards the Hummus team. I met some of the Syrian volunteers on the way, and understood that the distribution was already over. “Do you speak Turkish?” one of them, let’s call him H, asked me surprised. “Do you speak Turkish?” I asked him back.

We walked towards his tent to say hi to his mom and siblings. Then, we decided to take a walk towards the little town of Idomeni. From the hill, we could view over the camp Idomeni as well as across the Macedonian border. There was some larger building there with people outside. I wonder if that’s also related to the refugees? H’s father is in Germany. He went there some while ago to treat some disease, and now the rest of the family cannot get to him. “Even if my family reunifies, I wouldn’t be able to go,” he said, “I’m 20, I’m not a child.” We sat down on the grass. Rain started falling softly. And then less softly. We hid under some bushes until the rain stopped, and then walked back to the camp.

I visited a bathroom at the camp for the first and the last time. I planned initially to wait until I got back to Polikastro, but then I thought that this is the reality of people here every day, several times per day – how am I “too good” for this? We went to some MSF bathrooms quite in the corner of the camp; ”Those are better,” said H. They were not too bad, only filled with small flies along the walls. And a puddle of faeces in the corner. I’ll spare you from pictures. There is no paper or soap in the bathrooms, which makes sense to me, but I wonder if all the inhabitants have these things themselves?

The Chinese shop called me – ”We have the tape! You can come and pick it up whenever”. Amazing. I walked to the car, but dropped by the train on my way. Well, it’s actually hard to not drop by there when crossing from one side of the camp to another, but still. I had promised to visit the kids from before. The oldest girl, still not a teenager, ran up to me and gave me a caramel. ”Why?” I asked her, ”Keep it!” She explained: ”You gave us candy yesterday, so it’s my turn to give to you now!” How sweet is she. We played some board games, and looked through their toys and picture books. She gave me her bracelet, and a box of rice pudding. ”It’s for you,” I said, ”not for me”. ”I already have one,” she replied, ”It’s for you”. On the wall they had put up drawings on a neat line. ”We got these from kids in Spain, they sent to us!” the girl explained exited, pointing at pretty drawings with hearts and butterflies. ”I drew this one,” she pointed. Three persons crying in the center of the picture, other people lying down in pools of blood. I wonder what she has already seen in life, this beautiful child.

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My warehouse shift was 17-22, and it was quite calm. It seems like we have most things in order. I decided to rinse through the male trousers box – the box itself is quite full, but it mostly consists of suit trousers and too big sizes. Jeans is a rarity, although many people want it. I grabbed a headlamp and jumped down into the box to separate the suit trousers from the rest. When I say box, I mean a big box. I’ve been imagining sleeping in these, I think it would be much more comfy than our paletts. From  there, I could also give instructions to our ”visitors” when they were looking for certain items. I liked it. Northern Lights was there with a rather big group. ”Who has the night shift tonight?” I asked, and three people answered. ”Do you want to tag along?” they asked, and I hesitated. It was probably not very necessary, although they were happy for me to drive, but also it’s almost my last day and I just want to do everything. ”Yes,” I said in the end.

After my shift ended, I went to Park Hotel to talk with another of the coordinating persons there, and then to the lovely Chinise shop to make our order. I mean, what other shop would be open at 22:30 during Easter? One of the volunteers from Northern Lights also came to buy some things. I decided to get a headlamp and a raincoat for myself. ”Take it,” said the shopkeeper. ”I want to pay,” I said, but she refused. Why do I always lose?

Around midnight, we drove to Hara again. I was afraid that it would once again be a mess, as it had rained, but it wasn’t too bad, not at all as crowded as last time. We did our distributions, and went home after some hour. I had enough energy to brush my teeth.

Good night!

Jess

Dentist, müsli and flipflops

I didn’t go with the Hummus Team today! I was at the dentist; it was actually quite nice. I was mostly standing outside and talking to the patients waiting – also recognizing some people from the day before.

A dentist student named came in the afternoon, eager to help. Sure I said, and went for falafel. I was immediately caught by some of the kids who used to be at the bread distribution in the mornings. They all spoke great Turkish, so we could communicate, yay! They were climbing around on the train, eating müsli provided by IFRC. For some reason, it just looked like… not for Europe. More like, somewhere with famine and you know, organisations dropping boxes with food. But then again, I’m living in a very privileged part of Europe (not referring to Turkey, but to Sweden) so I think my references are skewed anyways. “Come play with us!” they chanted. I stayed with them for a little while and promised to come back the following day, and visit their home in the train.

I then walked over to A’s tent group, since I didn’t go there during the previous days. ”I have to visit some families,” I told him last time. ”Everyone is visiting families, people only visit families. What about us?” I sighed. It’s true, I think. But also, I understand why families get more attention. It’s just difficult. But anyways, we met up and spoke for some minutes before I had to head back to the dentist container.

“Let’s count flip flops!” back at the warehouse, we sit with a report from UNHCR playing around with the data. I like this; it looks structured. Also it’s interesting to see the numbers of people in camps, compared to capacity, and so on.We ended up with some enourmous number – around 27’000 people in our vicinity, to whom we want to provide different items. Uhm. We cut it down to 8300.  (Idomeni not included)

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When darkness hit

I once again planned to not stay with the Hummus team, but to instead hang out with the dentist. But once again,  there was a huge and messy line, even on the men’s side. So once again, I ended up staying. This was probably the messiest time that I’ve been there. There were these intense quarrels erupting, not so unusual, but there was also a lot of pushing and squeezing. I ended up at a big blob with a lot of children and baby carriers in the middle, and people were pushing in all directions. I jumped into the line, but for the first time it was actually not possible to keep them still holding the rope pulling towards the wall. People pushed, climbed, crawled, I don’t even know. Babies and carriers were carried over our head.

”It’s finished, it’s finished!” another volunteer shouts while walking down the line. We had decided to pull out, as it had become too messy, beyond what is acceptable. “If only they wouldn’t come tomorrow,” E’s little sister sighed.

I stood in the door to the dentist for the rest of the day, I think it’s good language practice. Usually, we would write people’s name up on a list for them to be seen, but the list was already full. So, my tasks was more to prevent people from entering the box, so that the dentists could work without being too much disturbed. ”Today, finished,” I would say in Arabic and point at the list, ”Tomorrow, 10 o’clock, morning, okay?” How beautiful. Then, I saw it as my task to entertain the people waiting outside as much as I could. They are all in pain, of course, this must be really hard. And I cannot give them biscuits (my world is upside down now).

”We’re friends,” a teenager from Syria tells me, pointing at the patient who just entered the container. “Oh, friends from Syria?” I ask. “No,” he replies, “Syria BOOM, all friends dead”, he gestures. What do I say…

I met up with one of the girls after my shift. She was very quiet. ”Whats wrong?” I asked, ”nothing,” she replied. We walked towards the car. “C (another volunteer) left yesterday. You’re also leaving soon,” she said, with tear-filled eyes looking somewhere far away. I know. ”You are all leaving.” All the volunteers are leaving, at some point. Only they are staying. ”I’m sorry,” we hugged, and talked some more. “What will you do? Are you going home?” I asked eventually, and she shrugged. “What do I know? I would prefer to die”. She is such a beautiful person, it hurts.

I drove to Hara in order to drop off the Northern
IMG_8789Nights vest that I accidentally kidnapped yesterday. I did also want to see the camp in daylight, although it didn’t feel like a good time after way too little sleep and maybe a bit too much emotions. Anyways, it was too late. I met D, and we walked down to the hotel. A young girl from Afghanistan ran up to us. She had a backpack on, and looked like any school girl. ”Do you go to school?” I asked her. ”Not here,” she replies, ”I want to, but there is not school”. My farsi is not sufficient for much conversation. ”Where is your family?” I asked, and she decided to bring us there. We said hi, and left.

An one lady called for us from one of the tents – she spoke quite good English. “I have diabetes,” she explained, “my sugar is high. The food we get here is not good for diabetes. We get so much rice. Some medicines makes my sugar go high. But no one cares”. I asked if she had been to the doctor, and she said that she did go, but they didn’t do much. I don’t know what I can do either. Another family told us that they need clothes. They need things for their baby. They don’t have any money, they don’t have anything. They would prefer to work and earn some money to buy their own things, but that was not possible. “Also, there are so many Syrians and Iraqis here. Everyone cares about them. No one cares about us.” D listened, nodded, and gave them a number of suggestions of things to do. At the end he said “If you don’t get those things by tomorrow, come find me. I’m always here”. This boy makes my heart break into a thousand pieces. He is so much better of a human than I will ever be.

We went back to the car. “The children is what makes me the saddest. What will happen with them? They don’t go to school. They don’t have anything. What’s in their future?” he asked rhetorically.

How can I live in this world? How can I leave, and continue with my life when things are like this? And it’s not even about me, haha, is this funny? I cannot see a future, what is the future? The darkness is too big.

I will not specify how much I’ve cried.

I’m back at the warehouse now, we will do some purchases and discuss some financial things. Maybe that’s good, for a change.

Good evening!

J

”Is this something to fight for?”

Rain again. We decided to not go to the food distribution, and instead spend the time at the dentist box. However, we still got stuck at the line. Not too many people, but still quite messy. I met E’s sisters in the line. The little one walked past carrying the food that she had just received. “For this? Is this something to fight for?” she asked rhetorically with her adorable smile. “What?” I said. She nodded at the messy line, where minor quarrels were going on, especially in the front. “This is what they are fighting for”. E clarified; she meant that the items which they are receiving (bread, tomato, egg, orange) is really nothing worth fighting for. “Even she understands,” E said, referring to her 8 years old sister. ”We are all crazy”

Finally, we were off to the dentists. One of the young boys joined me along the way. “I helped them but I didn’t get any food!” he said with a grumpy face. I explained to him, that he has to come early and talk to one of the volunteers who coordinate the distribution. He speaks very good Turkish. “We lived in Turkey for five years,” he explained. “Did you go to school?” I asked. “No,” he said, “my younger brothers went, but I worked. Sewing jackets, those kind of things”. I looked at him, “How old are you now?” I asked. He is 13 years old. He was eight when he first came to Turkey.

We didn’t stay for too long at the dentist’s; twoIMG_8830.JPG hours maybe. We quickly dropped by A’s tent, but he wasn’t there. We spent a while talking to his friends instead. One of them, the one who spoke the best English, had his family in Germany. He wanted to go by
smugglers. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea,” I said. He explained that he didn’t have much choice. “It’s okay for the others,” he continued, gesticulating towards the other young men in the group, “They don’t have family. But my family is there, I have to go”.

We were walking back towards the car when a young girl ran up to us. “Can you get us plates and spoons?” she asked. “Okay,” I said. I had never seen her before, but oh well. I headed towards Lidl to buy some things. Easter is coming up, and pretty much all stores will be closed for a looong time – pretty much until I leave. Then, I dropped by one of the Chinese shops in Polikastro; sometimes they give better prices. Two other volunteers were there, trying to buy underwear. The shopkeepers only speak Chinese and Greek, not English, so I helped out with some translation. That’s my other voluntary task here.

”Your shoes are wet,” the shopkeeper told me when I was about to leave. Well yeah… ”Grab a new pair!” she suggested, gesturing towards their shoes-section. ”It’s fine,” I told her, but she insisted – ”You’ll get sick!” I told her that I would change when I came home; I have another pair… Of sandals. ”You’re taking a pair now from here, it’s a gift,” she said resolutely, ”you choose one”. Ehh, that’s awkward. In the end, she handed me a pair. ”You’re socks are wet too,” she noticed, and grabbed me a new pair of socks.

Just some of the stuff that was bought: IMG_8769.JPG

34 x flipflop; 50 x soap; 24 x body cream; 18 x sunscreen; 96 x tooth
paste; 63 x shampoo; 12 x razors; 21 x washing detergent; 10 x shorts; 16 x bras; 12 x caps; 15 x spoons, etc…

I was also looking for some nitrile gloves, but they didn’t have it here. Instead, they referred me to another Chinese shop up the road. I drove off, well, it’s kind of nice for me to practice Chinese as well in between the Turkish and Farsi and Arabic. The shop keeper in the second shop was extremely sweet, offering to go together with me to look for the gloves as they didn’t have any in at the moment. We eventually didn’t find any gloves, but we had some nice conversations. ”You’re so young!” she told me. Well, about that… They asked what I was doing and where I was staying, and where quite startled to find out that I was roaming around alone, sleeping in a warehouse. ”Come stay with us!” she suggested, ”We sleep here in the store. We have a room in the basement, I stay there all summer when it’s too hot upstairs”. I thanked them for the offer, and explained that it was fine in the warehouse – actually quite convenient.

They themselves, have opened the shop for refugees to come and charge their phones, drink some water, and find products at more friendly prices. ”During the holidays, I will go to Idomeni and cut the hair of the kids,” the woman told me. ”We also try to help the volunteers here, to find the goods that they need, and giving as low prices as we can. We’re not making money of volunteers and refugees. This is our way of humanitarian work. We wish that we could do the things that you do, volunteer out there, but we cannot leave the shop. So this is our contribution.”

Sometimes humans are kind of alright.

J

 

Just another day in Idomeni

I decided to not go with Hummus in the morning because I don’t want to pass on my supposedly upper respiratory virus to anyone at the camp. We mysteriously ended up at the distribution area in the end anyways, just to say hi. On our way away from there, an old lady walked up to us. She described her life back in Syria, where she was running a store. Her husband was injured in a bombing, and had lost his vision in both eyes with 6 months between. He was now in Germany with some of the kids, but the doctors could not do anything. The old woman asked us to help her, as she told her story, crying. I grabbed two International Rescue Committee workers to talk to her; I don’t think there is anything we can do here.

We went to the other family along the way – I had not been able to find them the day before, because the wind had caused everything to change. Apparently, they had been given a bigger UNHCR tent. I was happy to see that. When we arrived, the whole family of eight people was sitting together in the tent, having breakfast. I see them in the line at the distribution every day, waiting patiently already before we arrive. I gave them the lice spray that they had asked about before, and one of the oldest sisters sprayed the young girls’ hair. Let’s go, I told Maja after some minutes. But then, they suddenly started to play music, and one of the older girls let out her beautiful hair and started dancing around the tent while everyone else clapped the rhythm. Soon, we were all holding hands and dancing dabke around the central tent pole. Dabke makes me happy.

After some while, we decided to go to the other family, who wanted to go back to Syria/Turkey. We checked if they had spoken with the info tent, which they hadn’t. We went to the info tent to see if there were any Arabic translators there, but there weren’t. Only a volunteer who didn’t seem to understand very well what I was saying at all. She eventually said that there were usually no Arabic interpreters there, opposite to what we were told by the other volunteer. Very confusing. We left like that, and headed towards Polikastro to get some computer work done.

J

Turkish, useful Turkish

Another medical student friend – actually already doctor – came today, yay again! We went to the Hummus project, of course. The line was fine, I think. At some point, the girl who showed me her tent yesterday, lets call her E, said something, and I looked at her. “Turkey” she said, and all of a sudden we realized that both of us speak Turkish – one week after we first met. That’s happiness. Her Turkish is better than mine, but we can communicate quite alright. Many of the kids, and some adults too, could speak Turkish it turned out, and all of a sudden I was talking to quite a number of people. Cool. E said that she would come with us on our walk, and we set off for the family with the six daughters.

I gave them the phone, they inserted the sim-card and we all watched while holding our breath. It worked fine. “How much?” they asked, and I shrugged. After much insisting, I admitted – 19€. The father took out money from the purse, while I kept on saying “La!” – no.  They wouldn’t listen. Hediye, gift,  I said, and they eventually said okay. We were given tea and coke, and E translated between Turkish and Arabic while I translated between Turkish and Swedish or English for our non-Turkish non-Arabic speaking friend. Quite funny, but still worked well. We danced dabke again – ”Come, we dance everyday!” said one of the sisters; I’m not sure if she meant that they do, or if they wanted us to do it. When we eventually gave up after many circles in the big but still not so big tent, the small girls ran out and brought us wet towels to put on our shoulders. Brr. Then we were fed peanuts and oranges, and more tea.

Eventually, we had to leave. Ahlan w sahlan! Come here every day,” they said. We went on to the family who had invited me for lunch before, I wanted to give them some milk for the youngest kids. No one was there, and a lady sitting on the train told us that they had left for another camp. I hope they’ll beIMG_87521.jpg alright. We had some falafel on the way – another of these local businesses that skilled refugees have set up at the camp, and said hi to the dentists in the container. I will write more about them later. Eventually, we turned back to E’s tent. She’s in general not allowed to walk alone in the camp; the parents don’t feel safe with the tension and the crowd.

I have the nightshift at the warehouse; I found a mattress – like soft one – to sleep on right by the door! I hope I won’t sleep to well.

Good night!

Jess