Samos Day 3, Part 2 (Nov. 2015)

Day 3 in Samos, Part 2

So then it rained, and we all got wet. The end.

Or, in a little more details: I ended my last post as a few of us volunteers were grabbing a bite to eat in a restaurant around midnight. We were the last car to leave, just waiting to pick some food up for a refugee family. But as we left the family we discovered none of us had the key to the car; another one of the volunteers had gone back to the hotel with it. We’re a bunch of very tired people these days, not the kind who always remember car keys. So after making a few calls to our group – the first few being to very tired people who have forgotten to switch their phones on – someone starts driving back to pick us up in town. Meanwhile, we meet a couple of young adults from the ferry earlier. The police had checked their papers and not let them on the ferry – now they were trying to find their way back to the port from the police station. We offered to give them a lift.

So we stop by the port, and then the rain – which had just started as a drizzle – got worse. And the wind picked up dramatically. A giant red cross tent had fallen over. All the other tents in the camp were being pushed about, and as the were tied to wooden pallets, there were large bits of wood flying everywhere. We pulled out some people from their tents. Many of them were reluctant to come with us – bear in mind, it’s 2 am and they haven’t slept much in days. And as we’re gathering people from the outside tents, a couple of the more experienced volunteers & NGO workers make the decision that the large, steel frame tent, which houses another 30 or 40 families in their own individual tenst, is not safe in this wind. It’s bolted down into the concrete, but the frame is shaking violently this way and that in near-hurricane gusts. So they start yelling for everyone to come out, which makes a lot of people in the tent very grumpy. But they grudginly drag themselves awake and leave, family by family. A few folks are taking their stuff, us volunteers telling them to hurry. It was the only time during this trip that I felt concerned for my own safety. We all were: if that tent came down, it wouldn’t be good. And in addition to that, when there’s a giant gust of wind it takes debris with it. But eventually everyone is evacuated. They found a baby on its own last – the family had just rushed out, and they weren’t sure who had brought the baby out. But everyone got out, and gathered in an area that looked basically like a bus shelter. Actually, maybe it had been a bus shelter.

Everyone is squeezed in there, and it’s raining and not really very safe. Volunteers are arriving from the hotel, having dragged themselves awake from our hotel. We cram the families into the few buildings we have, and also fit four or five of the most vulnerable into our tiny distribution center. Some actually manage to fall asleep in there, which is impressive and shows you how tired these people are. We’re not sure exactly what to do, so after moving what debris we can we pass out food. We still have half a giant pot of cold soup, plus several loaves of white bread. We hand out what we can, going back and forth to the (literally) huddled mass of people. Many of them are fairly sanguine about things: this is only the latest adventure among many, and there’s a sense of “oh, well, what can you do.” with many of the men and women, especially now that we have the kids and elders mostly in some sort of shelter. Some are very, very appreciative for the two pieces of white bread, and for the fact that we’re getting soaked in the rain going back and forth. Of course, we have a hotel to go back to, so we can afford to get wet. There’s no guarantee for them that there’ll be a change of clothes waiting. Every time we go back and forth from the distribution center, the door blows open with an ominous we’re-not-in-Kansas anymore bang. And oh yeah, the power’s out too. We have a couple torches, thankfully.

In other words it was a long couple hours. Someone who lived on the island told me it was the worst wind he’d ever seen there. But eventually the rain and wind subsided enough to give the all clear for folks to go back to the big tent. Most of the tent are completely soaked, but we hand out all the blankets we have at the port and people make the best of it. I’m a bit worried about people catching hypothermia. But there’s nothing much that can be done until the morning. We head back about five or six. On the way back – which takes longer than it should because tired brains don’t do navigation terribly well – the horrible thought of the detention centre enters are mind. There are tents open on the hill there. Are they ok? Did they have anyone during the night? We’re not typically allowed in at night there as volunteers, but we’re thinking of driving back there – another half hour – until another volunteer says they’re probably fine, they have enough cabins there for everybody to squeeze in if they need to evacuate the tents. So we make the decision to stay – well “decision” is the wrong word, pretty much we all fall asleep. But he was right, everyone at the detention center was basically ok. They are up at the top of the island, further from the ocean, and the wind didn’t hit as bad there. So even some of the tents lasted through the night, which wasn’t the case at the port.

We also had the horrible thought that someone would attempt a crossing in the middle of the night. But then we convinced ourselves that no one would in those conditions. Turned out we wrong about that. Norwegian sea rescue picked up five people swimming in the ocean early that day. They survived, but they had been on a boat of about fifty people. It’s a bit much for me to process at the moment, to be honest, so I’m just treating it as didstant news for the time being. It’s easy, of course, to get angry at the smugglers who sent them across in such a forecast. But it’s also true that if there were a proper regular ferry boat making the one-mile crossing, we’d have another 45 people to take care of today. But the governments won’t agree to that; they risk not being reelected. What can you do.

Love to you all, and love to all those hoping to get somewhere that might be home. ΚΑΛΗΝΥΧΤΑ

About bobjanisdillon

Unitarian Universalist minister, poet, husband, father, three-chord guitar wonder.
This entry was posted in Samos journal - nov. 2015. Bookmark the permalink.

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