Saturday, February 4th- It's 6 o'clock in Geneva. The alps form a ring of shadows at twilight. Boney M plays unmistakeably through the driver's radio as the bus charges ahead. My wheels are rusty and the emergency brake has nearly seized in place after an un precedented period of inactivity. Lo, it let up at the last moment and I'm now jerking & jolting, groaning & creaking back into a state of motion.
I leave behind me the better part of the last year on Lesvos trying to do something decent in a world spun violently off course. The first five months were so completely overwhelming that I was compelled to return as if to re-investigate the scene of some great calamity in which I was personally implicated. Actually, I felt more like a criminal who returns to the scene of the crime weighted with guilty curiosity. Details. Graciously hosted in the aging farming village (and aging farmer village) of Paleokipos, I shared the streets with a community has borne heavy sacks of olives on their wilted shoulders for so long that they still bend beneath the burden.
A 20-minute drive around the Gulf of Gera from Moria camp the refugee crisis here is a distant phenomenon, invented by NGOs who bilk the dangerously disconnected European institutions in order to line their pockets at the expense of the island's calm. Cynicism reigns in this detached place where tradition has no recipe for mixing with the orient. Here, I became fast friends with "Nick the Greek," the only English-speaker I came across in the village. He, too, is creaking beneath the weight of age and it would not be long before our conversations become insufferable rants about the crimes of politicians everywhere. I nonetheless admire his perspicacity and appreciate his perspectives on the villagers who he describes as "Mysterious and Evil!"
As usual, it's been a while since my last update. I've been
waiting for the right moment to talk about some exciting news but who
knows when that right moment will ever be.
I am writing from inside the gates of Moria. Pictures are
forbidden so I implore your imagination to design a small town made
of aid-tents and container-sized buildings with metal bars clinging to every window.
The hedges in this town have been replaced by three meter tall barbed fences. A spotlight, a loudspeaker and a security camera are fixed
on the corner-post of a small basketball court surrounded by razor-wire and sweltering unused in 40-degree heat. Camping tents line the sun-stroked entrance to a mound of utter desolation where the camp's inhabitants have now been waiting nearly 5 months for a chance to plead their cases before tribunals which have been recently re-staffed according to a new Greek law which all but precludes the possibility of acceptance.
I am here to present a project to a group of community leaders from each nationality in the camp who meet every week to discuss collaborative approaches to camp problems. I tell them about Mosaik support centre in 20-second intervals followed by slightly longer pauses where the room fills with murmurs as my speech is translated into a dozen languages. Mosaik stands as an affront to the retrograde hostility which has been meted out so ruthlessly over the course of my 5-month stint on the island. It is the collaborative brainchild of a handful of volunteers who embody the welcoming spirit this island represented before the mass detentions made it incredibly difficult to deliver this type of blind hospitality in good conscience. We serve migrants and locals alike in the centre of Mytilini, offering language training, legal support, art workshops, and music lessons in a beautifully restored manor whose 25 square meter stone mosaic sits under the shade of orange trees flanked by cafe tables and flowers. In the first 2 1/2 weeks of operation over 250 people signed up for courses which offer respite from the banality of camp life and an opportunity to take part in activities tailored to integration in Greek society.
Today at 8 o'clock the "Big Fish" left for Athens like it does every day. Cars and passengers and trucks got on the ferry like they do every day. Some of the passengers used fake IDs that they bought for a lot of money like they do every day. Like every other day, some were arrested or denied access to the boat, and some of them got the ride to the mainland that they had been dreaming of. And like every other day, one of the trucks which had been sitting in the port all day waiting for the boat to arrive had been broken into and had some people in the back of it who couldn't afford a smuggler and took matters into their own hands. Today there were three of them. They knew it was a refrigerator truck but thought that 12 hours in the back of a meat truck was a fair price to pay for a chance to sneak further into Europe. The friend who closed the door behind them and stayed on the island had left it unlocked so that once the boat started moving they could make their way up to the passenger deck. They had no idea that the driver would lock the open door when he did is routine check before boarding the ferry. They had no idea that there wouldn't be enough air in that cold space to last the length of the journey, or even the first 2 hours for that matter. Right now they are very luckily still alive because my friend is a rose and I am his rat.
I have a friend who walked 2 hours every day from Moria to get to Mytilini where he sat in a quiet corner of a cafe, nursed a coke or a coffee, and spent all day chatting with his family in Gambia. He couldn’t stand being in Moria and so these daily trips were his escape. He hated life on the island but was willing to wait out his asylum process rather than risk his chance for protection status by acquiring fake papers to make the trip to the mainland and beyond. Because he was given his ‘freedom papers’ which restrict his liberty of movement to the island of Lesvos, he resigned himself to spending his time like this. On Monday evening on the way home the police stopped him and asked him for his papers and he obliged. They looked them over, gave them back, and arrested him on the spot without cause.
Yesterday afternoon a former Lesvos volunteer who is now working in Athens contacted me to ask if I had seen or heard from him in the past days. I had not. When the police arrested him they also confiscated his phone so he would have no contact with friends, family, or anyone else who might be concerned about his disappearance. I went to the police station and told them I was concerned about a missing person and gave his name. “Oh, you’re looking for one of the prisoners?” the guard replied. Yes, he might be one of the prisoners. They looked up his name on a long list, four pages in landscape, 12-point font, about 150 names. His was one of them. The young police guard saw no harm in having me talk to him for 5-minutes, so he opened the window of an iron cell door and shouted his name. I heard it echo down a corridor as more people shouted it out until he was found. I have no idea how big the space is where these arbitrary detainees are being held but in my imagination there were between 100 and 150 people in 7 or 8 small holding cells. With all the time I’ve spent bouncing my voice off the walls of various rooms as a singer, I can say with certainty that the voices didn’t travel far, not more than 15 or 20 meters and the natural reverberations of the hard concrete room were absorbed by bodies.