I spent a last night in Athens wondering what I would find upon arriving to Lesvos. Then it’s finally time to board on that plane to Mytilene. I flew for holidays, conferences, funerals, never for humanitarian work. You never know whether you’ll be up to the task until you face it. I stil don’t know. I’m tired but am now very attentive and look around, trying to grasp any important information. I notice that I take the plane along with the local football team (Kalloni FC) Its manager draws some strategies for next game. Or about the last one, how do I know. He writes in Greek so it looks like mathematical formulas to me. I also spot a Greek Red Cross employee, wearing an all-red uniform, you can’t miss him. He’s two seats in front of me, I would like to talk to him but there are too many footballers between us. The flight only lasts 30 minutes. The sceneries are beautiful from above. Up until Lesvos. When you arrive above the island, you see red/orange spots on the beaches. Those are life jackets. As the plane ascends, the bright spots grow bigger. I spot one of those derivating in the sea. I can’t figure whether it’s only a jacket. Nearly 40 people drowned again last night. Apparently their cries for help awoke people on the island. Now that I have a good camera, I could use it to zoom but I’m afraid of what I would see if I point the lens towards the red spot. I take all that in, but don’t manage to shoot anything. This is real now, this is happening, and all around the red spots lies the beautiful island.
When I arrive at the airport, a commuter bus awaits us…and drives us 30 meters away to the only airport building. I rented a room in a hotel near the main refugee camp on the island, the owner advised that I take a taxi when I arrive. I jump in one who, as soon as he sees me, rolls his eyes and puts his radio louder. I won’t get my first interview of a Lesvos citizen right now. As we drive along the sea towards Mytilene, I see some locals waiting and looking at the sea. For refugees? No, they came with their fish cans and wait for the fish to bite. At other spots, I see some life jackets. Their bearers aren’t far. We enter Lesvos’ main town, and there they are. The same people we see in Berlin. Only they don’t look as exhausted as when they reach Germany. They sit on the pavement, they stroll along the port. They are Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians. Single men, families. I’m almost surprised not to hear interpreters from the LaGeSo telling them how to queue. As we go around the harbour, I spot boats and a line of people queuing. That looks like pictures that Fatima and Abdel, Syrian friends of mine in Berlin, showed me about their “trip” to Europe. Indeed, as we drive nearer the spot, I see the very same people I usually see at the other end of the journey getting in. Again, I have my camera in my hand, but I’m too preoccupied to take any picture. I see them, they look ok, though tired, and I wish I could tell them not to bother coming, because of the harrowing journey that awaits us. Two men are sitting on a bench, one of them chatting on his smartphone near his mouth. He might be in touch with relatives. I recall how hard it is for them to stay in touch with them at all once they come to Berlin. Again, I would like to jump out of the taxi to warn them not to expect too much from Europe. But I suppose we’re relatively bomb-free, so far, which is a major advantage.
As we leave the port towards the hills, to reach Thermi, where I’m staying, I see other refugees on the road. They look like random backpackers, and again, they don’t seem as exhausted as they do after the Balkan Route. One would naively think that the hardest part of the journey was the boat. Two men spot the taxi, and wave at him to stop. The driver purposedly ignores them. I tried to ask him a couple of questions as we were passing by refugees in town, but he just grumbled. I suppose I’d better not protest. Still, I can’t help but seeing the sad irony of history repeating itself. Migrants, unwanted by everyone, most people turning a blind eye, camps set up where people are handled worse than animals. As we drive, I also notice an anwful lot of holiday houses, with their closed blinds, in what seems to me like a hostile display in front of all the people in need of a roof.
At the hotel, I’m finally cheered up when I meet the housemaster, Spiros, who also volunteers in Moria camp. He shows me to my room, which has a view on the sea. How could I ever sleep knowing what happens there at night? But the view is idyllic. I tell him I haven’t registered anywhere yet, he offers me a ride to Moria the following day. I ask him if other volunteers are staying at the hotel. Yes, plenty, more than fifty. I’m happy for the refugees. Personally I don’t like hanging out in groups but this time round am glad not to be on my own. I drop my backpack and decide to go into the village to look around and pile up on some tea bags and basic food for breakfast. It’s a ten minutes walk along the sea There is no proper beach, but along the path I still spot some trousers, packpacks, and children clothes. This time round I’m able to use the camera.
When I arrive to the shop, I spot four people, one of them wearing a T-Shirt with a big “Volunteer” sign. I come forward and introduce myself. They came with six other people, rented a house nearby, will go beach watching in the night. I ask if I can tag along. They’re not sure, they can’t take the decision but they’re going to ask. Apparently, one has to stay a minimum of two weeks. They will text me anyway. When I come back to the room, I notice my neighbours are home as well. I go knock at the door, they are English. One of them has been there for three months, his girlfriend for two weeks. She bought a one-way ticket. I enquire as to what they’re doing here, and tell them I just arrived. “Just go to Moria” is their answer. I will do just that. Then the guy says “These days there seem to be a lot of volunteers coming who don’t know what to do with themselves�”. I decide not to take it personally and tell him I have been volunteering for the past six months. I know why I came, I know why I didn’t register with any organization, though I’m in touch with the main ones on the island. I finished working the same day I flew in Greece and will resume a few hours after landing to Berlin again. Still, I find it sad that here, again, it’s about who knows best and have done the most. I will rather rely on Spiros, and hope the Swiss team I met earlier on in the shop will get in touch. They will set off around 3am for a night shift. It occurs to me that I forgot to bring wellies. I suppose I don’t care that much about my shoes anyway, but hope I won’t ruin them on the first night.
The Swiss team calls me back, they don’t need additional help. In the meantime I found two other volunteers with whom to take off at 11pm, for my first shift at the sea.