Will and I are constantly asked why we walk everywhere on the island. It seems that every one of our fellow volunteers offer to drive us to our destination or to find someone that will. On Saturday, May 20, we reaped the rewards of walking everywhere.
We were bored that afternoon and knew we had the rest of the day to kill before trying to get back on a normal sleep schedule after working three straight overnight shifts. We decided to explore the area north of our apartment along the coast, and we set out for the evening stroll.
As we left the area near our apartment, we ran into three Moroccan refugees planning to have an evening picnic right on the shoreline. They invited us to stay, eat and relax with them, but we told them we might swing back by after our walk. We continued on without thinking too much of the encounter and figured they would be gone by the time we returned.
We walked for an hour or so and planned to grab pitas for dinner before packing it in rather early. As we neared the Moroccan picnic, they did not hesitate in telling us to join them. It was as if they gave us no other option.
We walked over to the picnic that was set between two neatly aligned rows of palm trees and sat about 10 ft. from the water’s edge. The Aegean Sea looked like glass, and the water perfectly reflected the cotton-candy-colored sky that flirted with the tops of the Turkish mountains across from us. It could not have been a more perfect scene.
We all gathered on two UNHCR blankets around a pile of sheep meat that had been grilled on a piece of sheetmetal. They also laid out tomatoes, onions, lemons and bread to provide even more flavor. There was Coca-Cola and Alpha Beer a plenty to help wet our whistles if desired.
The three Moroccans — Muhammed, Aziz, and Hamzik — Could not have been more generous. They continued to encourage us to eat and drink as much as we wanted, and they event threw a second round of meat on the “grill” accompanied by three long red peppers
As we got to know each other around the smörgåsbord board of food, our initial friendships began to deepen through communicating in broken english and spanish. The evening quickly moved from inviting two EuroRelief volunteers to dinner, to becoming immediately close friends sitting together enjoying life.
Muhammed said they all come to this spot once a month with different food to help forget about the camp, their situation, and to simply enjoy life a little bit. They created the retreat to foster friendships and relationship amidst the terrible situation.
The three Moroccans didn't know each other before coming to Lesvos, but they consider one another brothers. They have cultivated bonds through this escape that will never be broken.
They proceeded to create a larger fire from fallen palm branches that lit up our nook with a warm glow. Muhammad asked if I had some jazz music to play, and soon we were relaxing to “I’ll Slip Away” by Menahan Street Band and Charles Bradley. Aziz stood up and started moving to the music in front of the roaring fire.
The night was full of laughter and real, intentional talk. Muhammad was the most vocal of the three, and he made some incredibly astute observations wrapped in graceful thoughts about life and the moment we all sat in.
He talked about the idea of discovery and how good it is to meet new people from many different cultures so that you can discover the world and the many different people that inhabit it. He also commented about building formidable friendships that will last and have value because people are valuable.
Will and I began to tell him that we walk everywhere because we want to immerse ourselves in the culture and continue to meet people. We cherish relationships, and you can’t truly do that if you’re zooming around in a vehicle. He agreed and recognized that was the very reason we were all sitting together.
“America is thousands of miles away, and my home is thousands of miles away,” he said. “It’s unbelievable that we share a meal on this island. Here we are.”
Their zeal for life was shown in every way that night. They truly care about people, and they were generous enough to invite two total strangers to share a meal in their special hideaway. We continued to share memories and moments long after the food was gone.
It was beginning to get late, and Will and I told them it was time for us to go. Their generosity was unrelenting as they said to let them know if we needed anything at all. Seriously, anything. We left the palm tree alcove simply in awe of the experience.
This moment has easily been one of the most noteworthy of the trip. It showed me humanity. Muhammed brought up the notion that all five of us were human and we are fighting together. Yeah, they are refugees and we serve them as volunteers in the camp, but we all have a human heart and soul that long for the same things.
Who would have ever thought that two twenty-somethings would share a meal and some life lessons with three Moroccan refugees on the coast of the Aegean Sea? That night showed me a wonderful side of humanity that I don’t believe I can adequately communicate. And this, my friend, is why we walk.