Coming to Skala Sikamineas, I did not think I would be interacting directly with refugees or in a refugee camp as I did one year ago. I figured that I would only interact briefly with refugees while assisting a landing or helping them in the refugee transit camp called “Stage 2” in Skala. I was incorrect.
I spent my fifth night in Stage 2 with another volunteer, being a presence in case anyone needed a blanket or had an emergency. This is not typical.
Usually, refugees stay in Stage 2 for no more than 24 hours. Here, the receive dry clothes, shoes, water, tea and sometimes a meal depending on the time of day. Sometimes they stay the night, but that’s only if the bus that will take them to Moria, the main camp on the island, doesn’t arrive until the morning.
In the case we had this week, a landing occurred in the northwest part of the island, Efthalou, that was carrying around 35 people. They were transported to Stage 2 where another group of around 80 new arrivals from the south shore of Lesvos were also being transported. The group of around 115 refugees stayed for three nights.
The bus coming depends on the day, the capacity of Moria and the overall feeling of the Greek police/coast guard. For reasons no one could really make sense of, the bus wasn’t going to come for a while. We were told “tomorrow” three times, and finally, Wednesday morning it arrived.
I write all of this to set the scene for two awe-striking moments in the same single night. My overnight shift was my second time volunteering in Stage 2, and many of the refugees remembered us. We had made friends, played volleyball and soccer, and chatted with a number of them. We arrived Tuesday night at 10 p.m.
As we were running around trying to ensure everyone was taken care of and had what they needed, a group of young men was standing together, and we decided to join them. Everyone introduced themselves by answering the three basic questions: What’s your name, where are you from, and how old are you?
As we went around the circle, we realized we had seven entirely different nationalities: An Iranian, a Kuwaiti, and Iraqi, a Somali, an Italian, and an American. Each of us either spoke different or multiple languages, and our communication, while at times disjointed, appeared to be a beautiful symphony of culture and unity.
Each of us had massive smiles on our faces as we realized how many different people were in this one, small circle, and it gave me tremendous warmth in my heart. How astounding it is to be surrounded by people from countries you may never visit and places you may have a stereotypical understanding of only to have that stereotype abolished.
We chatted for a while, and we continued our work — handing out a few more blankets and jackets as everyone headed to sleep. We stayed up until 2 a.m. talking with two Kuwaiti boys — a 16 and a 15-year-old.
We headed for the distribution tent that held our two, thin sleeping pads and multiple UNHCR blankets. We prepared our beds and tried to sleep the best we could, knowing the morning bus situation was uncertain.
As I lay on the floor trying to sleep, I again realized that we were sharing in such a minuscule experience with those at Stage 2. We didn’t have comfy beds or a private room to get quality, rejuvenating sleep. We slept on the floor of a dusty, hard tent just as everyone else did.
That experience enhanced my perspective of the refugee crisis. People don’t even begin to minutely understand the situation until they are there. I believe that goes for anything. For me, sleeping just as everyone else did that night gave me just the tiniest of views into the experience they have.
I am in no way trying to say I understand their situation and get it now. I will probably never be able to say that, and I hope no one else is able to becuase it is a horrible crisis. All I’m saying is that experiences like that open us up to address our own issues, sterotypes, and perspectives that probably need to change. I would hope all of us would welcome instances like those — of perspective and life change.