Day 2 in Samos:
It was a fairly quiet night last night, which is not to say I got a whole lot of sleep. A few of us worked the night shift at the port, to be there for any needs in the night, and in case there were arrivals under cover of darkness (a preferred time for the smugglers’ boats as less chance of being turned back on the water by military). As it happened there were no arrivals and one departure: a ferry left at four a.m. and a few refugees family waved happy good-byes to us and trudged on board in the middle of the night. Little kids waited on the tarmac bleary-eyed, ready as they could be for the next leg of what for them had become the pattern of their life: from change to uncertainty and then back to change.
I was called into service once or twice. Someone had need of a tent, so I tried to find a donated tent that wasn’t broken (the first two I tried were) and then assemble it. I am not much of a Boy Scout in the best of conditions, but it turns out, at three a.m., I’m completely useless. Two of us volunteers, along with the poor exhausted chap whose tent it was to be, were able to put up a simple one-man tent in about – well, longer than I care to admit. I organized a few donations to be ready for the morning, and our group went back to the hotel around five. I was completely exhausted, but I left a bit reluctantly. I felt responsible for the people there, even though I wasn’t capable of doing all that much. But there is a Greek doctor who is basically on call 24-7, the coast guard alert him in there’s a landing and multiple people spring into action to put dry socks and clothes on the tired, wet, people.
I had spent the morning away from the port, in a warehouse sorting through donations. After not knowing what I was doing at all the first day. I was happy to have work to do with clear objectives – here is a wall of cardboard boxes filled with items, and here is how you sort them. I stationed myself at “shoe mountain”, a giant pile of shoes, and got down to work, labelling each useful pair of shoes with its size, and putting them in bags labelled for children, women, and men. Lovers of fashion, you may want to avert your eyes at this point: any pair of high heels was immediately thrown out. Fashionable though Europe is, high heels are not ideal for hiking through it.
I was also glad to be doing some of the grunt work, because some of the volunteers looked a bit shattered with exhaustion this morning. While most of our Lifeline Help group are only here for under a week, there are some hard-core volunteers who have upended their life and are here for a month to six weeks. After about a week they tend to have a bit of a far-away look in their eyes. The sheer scale of what’s happening here is overwhelming: refugees come and go within a few days, but there are always more, sometimes dozens, sometimes thousands. After I sorted through the pile of shoes another appeared in its place. Two sets of refugees, one of twenty and one of a hundred, arrived as the day went on and volunteers raced into action, grabbing bags of shoes, socks, clothes and toiletries.
They sent me out to do a few simple errands in town – which as anyone who knows me would attest, is a huge mistake – but after a few minutes of staggering lost around the gorgeous streets of Pythagoras’ home, I was able to get rubbish bags, tape, and coffee. After a five-hour shift, for a change of pace, several of us went to another warehouse, a larger one for our shipping container that’s due to arrive. We cleaned out a large space which had been full of dust and broken tile. It’s hard to find space to fit all the donations, but they get moved out fast. Hopefully, the day will come when we have more donations then we need, when there are no more refugees and the last donations will have just been a waste of time. I would be happy to be organising donations in vain. But that’s not happening anytime soon.
Back to the port and chatting with some folks I had met last night. Waiting for where we’re needed next. With multiple volunteers, figuring out who does what when is a mammoth task its own right. Everybody’s just figuring it out as they go along. If you’ve been here for twenty-four hours, somebody considers you an expert in something. And you have to at least fake expertise, because if you don’t take initiative otherwise it doesn’t get done.
The port was in a fairly upbeat mood last evening. I’ve heard the detention centre is a more desperate place – people can be in camps there for a week or longer, in uncertain status – but most of the people at the port are just there for a day or two. The tents are on wood pallets which is a bit more comfortable than the concrete floor to sleep on, but only just. Aid groups and the local Greeks take turns to prepare meals. There’s not a whole lot of food; we ran out of soup and bread last night just as everyone got fed. The security company that secures the port came with a bag of restaurant food that they paid for themselves, to give out to people. A refugee who’s been there a little longer than most – and who spends his days helping all the others there while waiting for his papers to come through – offered me a cup of the mint tea they make every night at port. It was delicious.
Eventually a group of us volunteers went into town for some dinner. It was the last night there for a couple of them, and we had a great meal. The next table over were a refugee family, evidently one of the families with enough money to go out to eat. A few of our table had gotten to know them previously, and our kids and theirs played together as we ate. A couple of daughters adopted a little baby at our table as their own, and were showing him around. As we were leaving, everyone from both tables wanted to take pictures of our collective group. We enlisted the waitress, who then also wanted to be in the group – she had gotten to know us all. It was just a wonderful boisterous evening, everyone tired but jubilant to be together. It got me a little wistful, asking myself why the world couldn’t be more like that: people eager to gather together in one photo, and play with each other’s kids, and enjoy life. Well, a little bit of it was, at least. Two tables, for that evening, at least.
I think we’re off to meet our shipping container today and empty it out – very exciting after waiting for it to arrive! Love to you all, and love to all those hoping to get somewhere that might be home. ΚΑΛΗΝΥΧΤΑ