Love was on the Ballot

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Marianne Williamson, my first pick for president of the United States.

I’ve never paid so much attention to American politics as I have this past year. 

The current president of the United States, at best, has me rolling my eyes. At worst?  Terrified. 

I believe this is a critical time in history, not just for the United States, but for the planet, for humanity. This is why I’ve had my eyes glued to the screen during the Democratic debates this year, and why I find myself searching the internet for the latest news bits and poll updates nearly everyday. 

In 2016, when my choices on who to vote for to become the next president were narrowed down to just two, I was bummed. I felt like my vote was just to pick the lesser of two evils. I hated that feeling. I was not excited about either candidate. I didn’t feel like our country had any chance of moving forward. It felt like we were about to spin the tires or backslide. 

When a friend asked me who I would like to be president, three years ago, I gave it a good think. 

There are two ways to look at this question. 

First, there’s the practical, societal-force-fed way of thinking about it: Which politician, who actually has a shot at the nomination, would I like to be president?

But, then there’s the second option: In an ideal world, if I can clear my mind, sit in the forest for a while, and remember that I’m having a human experience on this planet, then all of that other “stuff” falls away. Who would I trust to run this country? Who would lead with love? Who would look out for everyday people, for the climate, for general respect? Of the 7 billion people currently walking this earth, author and activist Marianne Williamson came to mind. 

I would like Marianne Williamson to be the president.

And, oddly enough, two years later, she announced her candidacy. 

 

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It has been a journey watching Marianne run for president. I’ve met her before. I’ve sat in on some of her lectures where I used to work, I’ve had her sign my books and chatted with her briefly. Her messages are powerful, both on the campaign trail and off. I found myself agreeing with nearly everything that she said. My values are right in line with hers. She was a dream candidate. 

Unfortunately, in this reality, dreams seem threatening, and the establishment made a joke of her. This was bound to happen, but it was still a bummer to see that the country wasn’t ready to put someone who (literally) wrote the book on love to run the free world. Again, I get it…I live here in reality too, but I loved being able to dream for the last year, knowing she had her hat in the ring. 


On Friday, she announced that she was suspending her campaign for president. However, she already had two more events scheduled for the weekend in New Hampshire, both of which I was planning on attending. Since she didn’t cancel either event, I made the four hour drive up to this critical voting state to hear what she had to say. 

Since I’ve been out of the country for the majority of her run, it was really nice to be able to meet other people who are putting their support behind her. Her final campaign event took place in a bookstore right off of main street in a very quaint, New England-y town. I sat amongst the crowd, listening closely to each policy she would have put into place, and as she inspired the crowd to take the baton and continue forward with the energy and ideas that had been created over the last year. 

It’s sad, really, to see her go, but there was an energy in the room that gave me a little hope. It’s time to back a progressive candidate. In doing so, many of the ideas of Marianne Williamson will continue forward as the election draws closer. 

And so it is.

 

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The Decade in Review

I’m sitting in my living room watching the daylight fade away at about 4:00 here in New York. The sun is making it’s final stand for 2019, which means that, not only is the year coming to an end, but the decade is as well. With everyone else out of the house at work, I’ve had the afternoon to do a fair amount of reflecting. This can, honestly, be a little dangerous, but I’m glad I’ve had some time to look over what the decade of 2010-2019 was for me.

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Fittingly, to add to the occasion, this also happens to be the 300th post to this blog. So I’ll be kicking off 2020 in a whole new chapter here as well. Although this blog has only been around since the end of 2012, it certainly has played a role in my creative outlets throughout the decade. There are more than 200,000 words making up these last 300 posts on this website. Kind of cool to see the statistics of it all.

This decade has brought a lot forth for me, so I thought I’d break it down a bit:

Travel

Being that this is, often, a travel blog, I thought I’d show gratitude to the places that have kindly taken me in as one of their own since 2010. The places that I’ve had the chance to call home include:

  • Nome, Alaska
  • Molokai, Hawaii
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Georgetown, Guyana
  • East St. Louis, Illinois
  • Rhinebeck, NY
  • McMurdo Station, Antarctica
  • Leros, Greece
  • Athens, Greece

I’ve also had the ridiculously large privilege of being able to visit the following countries, beginning the first week of 2010 with a college trip to the Republic of Panama, which ultimately turned me into much more of a travel bug than I ever thought I would be:

  • Panama
  • Costa Rica
  • Kenya
  • Uganda
  • Guyana
  • Suriname
  • Aruba
  • The Bahamas
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • Greece
  • Mexico
  • Bulgaria
  • Scotland
  • Cabo Verde
  • Portugal
  • Wales
  • England
  • Austria
  • Bosnia

I wrapped up my time in Greece just two months ago and, seeing as my passport was created at the end of 2009, headed to the post office almost right away upon returning to the U.S. My passport was due to expire in December and the idea of not having one made me too nervous to delay getting a replacement. My new one is now in my possession and ready to go.

In national travel news, I also managed to get myself to nearly every state in the U.S. I didn’t manage to visit Oregon, Louisiana, Mississippi or North Dakota between 2010 and 2019, but I’m pretty sure I touched every other state at least once.

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Relationships 

With travel comes relationships, which are far and away my favorite part about visiting new places. For me, human connection remains one of the best reasons for being alive. Thinking back to the beginning of this decade, it’s amazing to think about how far we’ve come in terms of connecting online and disconnecting in person. I feet like I spent a large part of this decade trying to navigate our changing world, making sure that I’m still able to maintain face-to-face contact and have fully human connections. That being said, I’ve seen how this simple gesture has grown more difficult.

I began the decade without a cell phone, and I actively did my best to avoid having a phone for as long as possible. When I could no longer resist not having a cell phone, I avoided getting texting and would only use hand-me-down flip phones from family members. My two years in Alaska, my year in Guyana, and my time in Antarctica were all perfect opportunities to unplug. Unfortunately, when living in the continental United States, unplugging has grown more and more difficult. When my digital camera bit the dust in 2017, I eventually got a smart phone since it was capable of taking photos that were nicer than any camera being put on the market anymore.

All of this is simply to point more directly at the fact that I love to talk to people in person. I’ll take your stinky breath over a keyboard any day of the week!

In this past decade, I’ve had relationships of all sorts. They can be categorized a little bit like this:

  • College Friendships
  • Community
  • Small Town Friends
  • Work Colleagues
  • Fellow Volunteers
  • Residents of orphanages
  • Backpackers
  • Travel Companions
  • Neighbors
  • Road Trip Companions
  • More Community
  • Students
  • Nuns
  • More Community
  • More Nuns
  • More Orphans
  • More students
  • Hiking Buddies
  • Beach Bums
  • Group Circle Attendees
  • The trifecta Work/Friend/Roommate Combo
  • Acquaintances
  • Strangers
  • More Fellow Volunteers
  • Residents
  • More Students
  • Family

And on and on and on…

None of this is to discount the difficult relationships that have occurred in the last decade, either. Those are more likely than not my greatest teachers. But I’m outwardly grateful for the hundreds of people who fall into the categories above.

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Work

Along with traveling to all of these weirdo places, I was also granted the chance to have some pretty cool jobs. Although there were a handful of jobs that almost broke me a time or two, for the most part, I’ve only worked jobs that I’ve been truly in love with. A lot of times, it was the people that I was with that made me love what I was doing, but there were many times where the work was honestly enough to keep me going. Working as a radio producer and DJ from 2010 to 2012, I often found myself putting in extra hours at work or burning the midnight oil simply because it was a place I liked being and going above and beyond was fun for me. It was also the kind of job where, the more you worked, the more results you had to play out over “the air”.

Each time I was in a school, in Kenya, Guyana, the Midwest, or Greece, I would often find myself getting chills over how excited I was to be in the classroom with eager students. Most of these jobs were, initially, just wishes that I had made, and all of a sudden they were coming true right before my very eyes. It’s interesting how life works like that.

On the negative side of things, there were a few jobs that I found myself in that I refused to allow to get to me over these last ten years. One lasted about a month, the other lasted just over two months. In both cases, the work was soul draining. That sounds dramatic, but, for me, I was very much struggling at these two particular times to get my head on straight and be okay with where I was in the world. In both cases, the work was not benefitting me and, worst of all, was detrimental to my fellow co-workers as well as the planet. I stayed in both of these positions just long enough to learn everything that they needed to teach me, and then I learned the beautiful lessons that can come with RUNNING AWAY.

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Money

Talking about finances is not something I do very often; however, since this is something that often comes up for people around the new year when they’re setting goals for themselves, I thought I’d tack it onto this post.

Financially, I came out of college with student loan debt. However, as of three years ago, my loan was completely paid off. Although I’ve been broke as a joke for the entirety of the 2010’s, and the amount of money I’ve made is likely laughable to anyone who would be doing my taxes, I am an American who, after everything is said and done, exists in the black. My net-worth is above $0.00. I’m pretty proud of that, considering the student debt crisis.

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Volunteering

Finally, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if it wasn’t for all of the glorious opportunities I found to be a full-time volunteer. I spent the majority of my 20’s bopping around the planet doing cool stuff because of volunteer programs that make it possible for people to exist in exotic places while doing meaningful work. I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I catch a glimpse of all of the stuff I was able to cram into ten years. And although, as mentioned above, I may seem a little looney to the average American who has likely been paid a lot more for their time in the last ten years than I have, I know my life has been so enriched by the opportunity to focus on everything else that an experience has to offer, aside from money.

That being said, I do have the financial goal set to make at least $50 a year for the next decade.

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And there you have it, my brief “Decade in Review”.

The best part about dropping all of these words onto this blog is that they’re a reminder of all of the stuff in between. It’s so easy to point out the places on a map that my feet have touched, to talk about the jobs and volunteering that I’ve done, to quickly mention the people that have mattered to me over the last ten years, but there’s obviously more to it than that. Ten years is a good chunk of time. When I look back on who I was in 2010, that person is gone now, he’s completely regenerated. And, when I think about who I may get to be ten years from now, I know that that person is going to be a brand new fellow as well. This is part of what keeps life interesting, I suppose. All of the “good stuff” is what exists in life between the cracks and spaces of everything I just spent 1700 words talking about.

So, my friends, thanks for having a read. Happy New Year, Happy Decade, and thanks for checking out my 300th post!

I’ll see you in the new year for the beginning of the next 300!

 

And so it is…

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News From the Refugee Trail: October Edition

This issue of Refugee Trail is being written from the sweet comfort of the U.S. of A. I’ve been home for over two weeks now and it’s time to recap whatever the heck just happened over the month of October! We’ve just had our first snowfall, the first snow that I’ve seen since the “snow-pacolyse in January 2018, the last time I was not dodging the Northeast winter in Greece. I just got off of a video call with a number of my friends who are still stationed over in Leros, so I figured now was as good of a time as any to write.

To Close or Not to Close

October whizzed by like most of the other months in Greece did, but this time, I can see now that I wasn’t really viewing it as my last month. I was looking at it as a continuation of the months of August and September. Although I was always aware that my time in Greece would come to a close at the end of the month, and I was well aware of the date, it never felt like it was ending.

One of the most important things happening at the school in early October was the decision about whether or not to close the school to new registering students. We had been open for a month and, initially, thought this was an adequate amount of time for people to get themselves acquainted with the area of the city that we occupy and begin attending classes. Something that caught us off guard; however, was the large number of people that continued to come to the school each day, looking to begin classes.

If you’ll recall, initially, in August, I thought that I was going to be teaching the intermediate level English classes for the people who were juuuuust about ready to start taking the certification exams. September taught us very quickly that this wasn’t going to be doable at all, since most of the people walking through the door were looking for the very basics, the beginning language classes.

With the number of students looking to take Beginner English so high, I began teaching two beginner classes, allowing students the option of attending class at 10:30 or 11:30. Within a couple of weeks, both of these classes were full, but not overflowing. As October wore on, the number of students began to slowly decrease, which, based on what I’d seen in Leros and in Athens, was completely normal. By the time I was departing Greece, there were about 15 students in each class, for a total of 30 out of the 40 possible seats. The system was working well.

The perplexing nature of why people decide to stop coming to school never ceased to amaze me in all of my time with Echo. On the surface, you can’t help but think, “why would you stop coming to class if you don’t have anything else to do?” But, the reality is so much more than that. Athens presents different challenges than Leros, too. People are living city lives, with city problems. Given that they’re refugees, they’re also living “mainland” life, no longer confined to the Hotspots on the islands. The mainland gives them the option of waiting out the asylum procedure for years or making a run for it into Albania and through the Balkan route toward the rest of Europe. City life also presents more opportunities for work, different schooling options, and just a variety of challenges that don’t exist on slow, sparsely populated islands.

As a result of all of this, coupled with the overwhelming task of learning English in general, it was never unexpected to have students stop attending class. It never got easier though, and I always found myself questioning whether I had done something horribly wrong or failed to explain a grammar rule properly in the previous class to warrant the decline in attendees. That feeling of dread never went away throughout the year, “Oh crap, this must be my fault!” Of course, who’s to say that English wouldn’t chase them away no matter how it was presented to them?

We decided to close the school to new registrations in early October. When we did this, it was almost like all of the energy in the universe conspired against us, because new people kept showing up looking to register. The problem was, every time new people were entering the classes, the teacher either had to backtrack to help catch them up, or leave them to their over devices in hopes they’d be able to figure it out on their own. We closed the school out of respect for our regularly attending students.

As the month wore on, I continued to be tired. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I was tired, but there was something inside of me that was just really ready to be finished with the responsibility of teaching other people the English language. It had been 11 months at this point and nothing was going to change. I could exercise as much as I wanted to, sleep as much as I wanted to, and eat as healthy as I wanted to, and I was still just constantly worn down. This feeling would go away when I was in the classroom, which was a relief, but anything outside of the classroom–prepping for classes, answering emails, sorting out student issues–it was all driving my growing pattern of tiredness.

For Old Times Sake

As my time in Athens was nearing it’s end, I was doing my best to take in the city. This normally meant just getting around in the neighborhood and weaving my way through the old city streets, but it was also not uncommon for me to unexpectedly find myself on some random hill protruding out of the beige city, with an Acropolis view. I also did my best to snag as much time as possible with some of my friends who were (and still are) scattered around the city.

One evening, for example, my friend Basel and I wandered all the way from our neighborhood to the touristy part of town on foot. My perspective was somewhere between local and tourist. I was looking at the city from an impermanent point of view for the first time in a year. We bought expensive smoothies from a tourist spot and then weaved through the mid-October crowds. I could appreciate the aliveness of the city on a Saturday night. The contrast of what is going on between refugee and tourist in Greece is never lost on me, still. People come from all over the world to see the city of Athens, the ruins, the Acropolis, but they have no idea that, just a few streets over, people are experiencing the most tumultuous years of their lives, just trying to get by.

Another time, when I wiggled out of work a few hours early, I met up with my friend Ebrahim, and we took two trains and a lengthy walk to get to one of the closest beaches to the city of Athens. It being mid-October though, we were the only ones looking to get into the water. This was fine with both of us though, as we recognized that the season was indeed changing, but still tolerable for swimming, especially the water. Knowing I’d soon be back in the brisk Autumn air of New York state, and knowing winter was coming for Greece, we both liked the idea of getting into the blue waters of the Mediterranean for one last hurrah. Ebrahim, in particular, has been a very beautiful person to have in my life, and I had no concern about losing touch with him, but loved the idea of having an afternoon with him, nonetheless.

I flew out of Greece on a Friday. The week prior, I was starting to plan how to hand over my classes to my successor. Part of my plan quickly became trying to figure out a way to return to Leros one last time before flying back to the U.S. for an indefinite amount of time. When I left in August, I had no intention of returning to the island, but someone randomly asked me if I planned to return one evening and then I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I really wanted to go back and put a pretty little red bow on the whole experience. So, I did. I handed my classes over two days early, scribbling out lesson plans and rules of the classroom to my replacement, and then I ran for the port on Friday evening, boarding the overnight ferry once again for yet another teleport-ish, magical ride to the island of Leros, crammed over there in the Aegean Sea nearby Turkey.

Read about my stint in Leros here.

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When I returned from Leros, the ship docked, I boarded the metro, bought a coffee, and walked directly to work. No sleep. Well, not really. I returned to the classroom for two more short days. My students were happy to see me, which is always a lot of fun to get a load of their faces as they walk into the room to see that I’ve returned, and I was able to begin the letting go process. Although, again, I’ll admit that things were different for me in Athens than they were in Leros. It was so much easier to connect with people on a heart level in Leros because, after class, they’d hang around, they’d mingle and ask questions, they’d play chess with you or volleyball. Leros was more community minded. In Athens, despite having numerous activities available, people tended to be more in the mindset of going to school and then leaving to return to their lives, or, perhaps, to study.

There were a few students, especially regulars who I was really enjoying having in class. There was one girl from Congo who would always laugh at me when I tried to speak in French. She was so good at English in class but then refused to speak English outside of class, opting to speak to the English-speaking volunteers and receptionists in French. I made a point of telling her that I wasn’t going to let anyone speak French to her anymore, just so she would have to practice. In my Intermediate English class, there were two guys in their mid-20’s who I loved to joke around with. One of them was almost consistently high, but he still didn’t mind when I picked on him. His friend usually came to class sober and paid a little more attention than his counterpart, but I knew that they both enjoyed when I picked on them or used them as examples to describe new vocabulary words. “Beard. Beautiful. This is a beautiful beard,” and I would obnoxiously gesture to one of their faces, poking fun. Those are the students I will miss, the ones who were striving to better themselves, and fighting through the curriculum, even when it was frustrating.

There were also many students that did not have too much of an impact on me. These were the usual cases of people who were too good for the level of English that they were attending, but didn’t want to challenge themselves and move up to a new level. I also was never a fan of those who called out in class or who never did their homework, despite my long explanations as to why homework was good for bridging the time in between classes. I won’t miss having to be that teacher.

Two days flew by. The next thing I knew, I was in the living room of my flat with my roommate, stuffing clothing into my backpack and making a pile of clothing that I was planning on “retiring” in Greece. I thought it would take me about ten minutes to pack, but being distracted by a number of different things, it took a few hours. By the time I was off to bed, there were only a few hours left to sleep before I had to head to the metro and off to the airport.

Between my classes on my final day of work, my co-workers made a surprise lunch for me and had a video made of my time with Echo, a slideshow consisting of photos and video clips. It was odd to be in the middle of a work day and then suddenly watching memories of the last year, but it was touching nonetheless. There were a few people around me who had seen me through a good chunk of the journey, but for the most part, the people appearing on the screen had all come and gone over time, volunteers and residents alike.

My final two classes of the day were completely normal. Nothing felt special about them, which I really liked. I was glad to end on an average note. The “A2” level class that I was teaching was particularly “normal” as they were desperate for me to do some grammar review with them. Having been out for the other two classes of the week while I was on Leros, the substitute teaching took note of the fact that some of the students had horrific grammar. So, I capped off my year of teaching English in Greece by trying to hammer some grammar into the brains of my unsuspecting students. The thing about grammar, is that it is so important, but everyone is always bored to tears learning it.

A couple of students snapped photos with me on their way out the door. And other than a quick conversation with my colleague who was sitting in the back of the class, ready to take over teaching on Monday, I more or less followed them out the door. I didn’t need to dilly dally in the school and get all nostalgic about what had just concluded.

For the evening, once the final classes had wrapped up and the school was closed, some of my closest friends, and all of my current co-workers came out for a goodbye dinner for me on one of the promenades a few minutes from our house. This particular location was selected so that we could sit outside and because they have delicious mushrooms, so naturally when we arrived, they had made our reservation for inside and they were out of mushrooms for the evening.

After a few hours and a few kind words from the founders around me at the dinner table, I said my goodbyes and my flatmate and I slowly walked toward home along with three of our friends who all live near to where we do. It was surreal knowing that that was the last time I’d be walking down the streets of Athens for a while. And it was especially surreal to be doing it with a group of people that had split their time with me over the course of the past year between Leros and Athens. Each of those people had had some serious ups and downs over the course of the year that involved both Athens and our little home of Leros. Each of them still had lives to live in this city when the sun came up in the morning, but my part of the story was over.

We eventually diverged from everyone and I slipped back into the Hub to get something that I had left behind before going to dinner. I was grateful in that moment, wandering around the darkened school with my flashlight, that the story was ready to continue without me. I’d had this big thought before while on Leros. No one should want to be irreplaceable. Sure, it’s a nice thought to feel like you’re needed and to feel like you’re adequate, but as a volunteer, and as a teacher, I’m much more interested in knowing that someone is capable of picking up where I left off, of taking the baton and running with it. These were my final thoughts as I looked over my shoulder at the darkened school behind me as I closed the door and stepped out into the street. The place was just an empty building two months ago and now, it was a school. A place where learning was taking place everyday and people were working, fighting to advance themselves. It was beautiful, and…it still is.

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A Greek sunset, to end the journey.

Posted in Greece, Refugee Trail | Leave a comment

A Return to Leros

I’m sitting at 7 Gates in Lakki, Leros for probably the last time for a long time. I thought this before, in August, of course; however, being just one ferry ride away this whole time, it doesn’t seem completely inconceivable that I find myself in this chair once again. This cafe has become one of the places in the world that I think of the most. It’s an interesting blend of feeling like I’m home and feeling like I’m on an adventure at the same time. It’s quirky and perfect.

I really didn’t think I would be back to this place during this stint in Greece, but when I was making plans for my final weekend in Greece last week, someone casually mentioned to me if I would be traveling back to Leros. The idea hadn’t crossed my mind, but once it had, I couldn’t let it go. The next thing I knew, I had lesson plans written out for Monday and Tuesday for all of my English classes, and was boarding the overnight ferry on Friday to make it to Leros by Saturday morning.

I set myself up with a one-room Airbnb about a thirty minute walk from town. This was a bit excessive, but it made it so when I left my place in the morning, I had to consciously pack and plan as if I would not come back again until the evening. I think it also kept me in town longer than I otherwise would have stayed, which made for more time to create memories.

This return has been…well, it’s difficult to describe. Things have changed, but they haven’t, and that is the main problem I’ve been observing over the last few days. The people that I knew, the people that I know, they’ve been here for the two months that I’ve been gone. They were also here for 7 or 8 or all 9 of the months that I was here from November to August. I’ve done this once before, I’ve left and I’ve returned. But the last time I left, I was gone for six months, so there were only a handful of people still here from my previous stint. Of these people, I didn’t know any of them well, so I didn’t have much to compare when it came to their situations, how they were before and how they were when I returned.

This time around, two months removed, I’ve returned to almost entirely the same crop of people. And they feel heavier. There is no other way to describe it, they’re two months further into their “journeys”, but they’re not moving. They’re stuck here. They’re waiting. And, as they wait, they’re suffering. They live in close quarters, they’re treated as less than human. This wears on a person, this makes you feel a certain way, and as you’re stuck in this position, it becomes heavier. I can now perfectly describe what exactly two months of the weight of a difficult life looks like on a person. Although this is an intriguing “study”, I wish I didn’t know.

Beautiful people, people with so much life in their eyes and pep in their steps, have shriveled. Their lights have, not just dimmed, but gone out entirely. People who used to smile don’t so much anymore; they crack fewer jokes, they’re less tolerant of the difficult situation they’re in and the simple interactions around the Hub. Some of their bodies have withered under the stress, others have gained weight in self defense. Everyone is a bit more on edge. I feel like I could literally see the sadness in their eyes. If sadness were palpable, I could taste it. My four days on the island felt heavy. Heavy, heavy, heavy. These are people that I care about, and I was baring witness to their descent.

The thing about seeing so many people going downhill, is that the recovery process is not an easy one. What they are going through is something that they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives, in one way or another. They’ll get better (hopefully) when they escape the situation that they’re in, but it doesn’t mean that they won’t have to forever “have” this experience with them as they go forward. That may be the most difficult thing to think about. Of course, even just writing that sentence is a direct example of my privilege, to be able to think about what it’s like to go in the direction of “forward”, to be able to think about what a difficult experience will mean in the future, while it’s happening. Ah, I really don’t know where I’m going with this.

The island itself has stayed the same, but I’ve never been here in October before, so I’ve noticed a haze in the air that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I keep referring to it as “gray”, the island seems a bit…gray-er. I don’t know.

Numbers-wise, the population of refugees on the island has only continued to increase each week, setting new records each time there is an official update. When I left two months ago, the population of the Hotspot continued to swell, but it has since blown passed the 2,000 mark and is now quickly approaching 2,500. With this large of a number on the island, hundreds of people have now been denied access to the Hotspot and are forced to sleep outside of the camp, with no official place to lay their heads each night. With the camp being far beyond capacity, every new refugee who arrives now has to buy their own tent and pitch it either on the beach near the camp or squat in one of the dilapidated hospital buildings that have not been in use for decades.

Looking at the camp, it’s nothing compared to what is happening on many of the other Greek islands. There are still just a fraction of the people here; however, it’s still bad. And cool days and cold nights are just weeks away at the point.

Posted in Greece, Spirit & Light | Leave a comment

Poem: Waiting

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There’s magic in it. The space between you and me. I like to call that “God” but I know you hate that word. Perhaps “Allah”, a decade ago.

It’s just a matter of air now, how much fits between us.

Freezing the moment, makes it sound bitter, cold, but frozen is desirable, it’s perfect.

If I could write a list, of all the things I’d like to do with you, the list would weave itself into poetry, and I’d have volumes of abundance, lining my empty bookshelves.

And the words would fall away. Because we’re both big enough to know that language has no place here. That long English A’s and E’s can collide in your ears the same way I choke on any Arabic sound beneath my teeth. And yet I feel like I meet you on the center of the page as Latin letters collide from the left with the Arabic from the right.

The story of you is the untethered wild horse, returning to it’s expected.

You are the return to the expected after a release from your captures.

20190314_180229Did you arrive, Habibi?

I’ve been waiting for you.

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News From the Refugee Trail: September Edition

This issue of Refugee Trail is being written in early November, being pieced together by notes I made throughout the month of September and bits my brain remembers now that another month and a half have eclipsed the events of this edition. It’s an interesting place to start, however, talking about what it’s like to recap experiences every four weeks or so. When I lived in Guyana back in 2014/2015, at the end of each month, I faithfully dropped issues of “GuyaNEWS”, my monthly recaps of what I had been up to over the course of the previous month. It was something that I was really on top of, as I found it kind of fun to map out the goings on of my time in that country. But there’s something to be said about age, and having a clear timeline. When I moved to Guyana, I was five years younger than I am now and I knew that I would be living there for one year. With Greece, I had no idea how long I’d actually ride out my visa. For some reason, this made it increasingly harder to pump out blog entries, especially these giant ones where I pressure myself to think back over the entire month. Anyway, this is my excuse as to why this post isn’t seeing the light of day until mid-Nomember and I’m going out of my way to slap a back date on it, making it look as if it was published on time.

Here we go with September:

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The opening crew and staff of the Hub Athens.

With August behind us, The Hub Athens was actually starting to come together a little bit. We had completed assembling a handful of rooms; the reception area and a lounge area came together first, making the place actually start to look like it may become something more than a dingy old building that hadn’t been used in years. Our date for opening was set, too, finally. After months of the date being moved later and later, a date was set once again and, this time, we stuck with it. On Thursday and Friday, September 5th and 6th, we opened our doors for registrations, with classes due to begin the following Monday.

Cue the circus.

On Wednesday, one day before we opened, I had to have surgery on my mouth. This wasn’t a huge deal, but it did leave me with stitches in the front of my mouth, gushing blood every time I moved too quickly, and holding an ice pack over my face whenever I wasn’t speaking. The “recovery” time, I was told, was suppose to be 24 hours, but I only had 18 hours at the conclusion of the surgery before I had to start giving multiple presentations to the students coming into our school for the first time. Nevertheless, I insisted on having the surgery and I pressed on.

Finally opening our doors was a relief. A few days beforehand, our order of new tables and chairs arrived and we were able to fill the classrooms to the brim with the items that turned the whole place from a tidy, clean looking haunted mansion, into a straight up school. The Hub manager and I were both relieved to see that we had not messed up the order, because, as it was up to us to place the order, the best thing we could do to estimate how many desks to get was to eyeball each classroom and use each other’s arm spans to measure the distances between desks. Basically, we were two adults in an empty room twirling around counting our body lengths as we went. Anyway, the desks and chairs arrived, they fit into the classrooms nicely, and all of a sudden our school was ready.

I have to say, even though it was only two weeks of setup, I desperately missed having actual students within the walls of a school. There’s something magically peaceful about overlooking a bunch of empty desks and chairs in a classroom. I’ve always appreciated an empty classroom, but the only reason it’s peaceful and something to be appreciated is because there needs to be people to occupy the seats at some point. So, I was more than ready to open our doors. An empty desk and chair signify so much hope to me, because so much can happen in a place of learning.

Registrations came and went on Thursday and Friday. We had no idea what to expect. We weren’t sure if we were just going to be ping-pong balls bouncing around inside of our great big empty school or if we’d be swamped with new arrivals and have people waiting in lines out the door. In the end, neither of those things happened. We just had a steady flow of people showing up, registering, and then sitting down to take their placement exams.

In Leros, back in January when we were flooded with new arrivals, we instituted a “Welcome Class” where students would register with the school and then sit down to learn about the school. One other teacher and I were in charge of this brief presentation in which we talked about the rules of the school, what was expected of our students, how our schedules worked, and how to go about properly using our vans. It was a simple yet effective idea that revolutionized how we took in new people at the Hub. Due to its success, we decided to do this same class at the Hub in Athens.

And so, for our opening two days, once our new students were registered, they’d gather in the classroom with me and I’d give them the lowdown about how our school works and what they could expect from us. I did about half a dozen of these presentations while recovery from surgery, icing my lip in between things I was saying to the new students. Unlike on Leros, I didn’t need a translator for most of the sessions because people were able to understand the English I was speaking, even if they couldn’t speak it themselves. I thought this was an interesting difference between the two locations. The only sense I could make of this was that, in general, people in Athens were probably more readily exposed to English and/or individuals on the mainland had more likely been in Greece longer, thus giving them the chance to pick up more language skills.

Looking back on it, I still can’t believe I managed to make it through those first two days, icing my lip in between giving out directions and trying to put on a happy face for our new students. The next week, as is not uncommon after surgery, I developed a relatively significant cold, which had me blowing my nose between every other sentence I was saying to my classes. On day one, in my first class, while trying to teach Arabic speakers the English alphabet, I felt sick enough to want to call off my first few classes. Of course, this didn’t happen, so I just pressed on and looked back comically on the first two weeks the school was open as the time that I had either an ice pack or a tissue smashed on my face every few minutes.

Weekends throughout September were an interesting thing for me. I felt permanently exhausted on every level, so I was always torn about what I should do. I kept up a very regular jogging routine, so even when it was already dark out and the park near our house was likely filled with all of the drug deals I should be avoiding, I would go out running. This, honestly, probably kept me more energized than anything else, but it made me sleep more restful, too. Physically, I was struggling with the lack of light in my bedroom. The space I occupied for my two months in Athens had one small window which was never in any direct sunlight, so I would often wake up and think that it was still the middle of the night. The way both the flat and the school were positioned, tucked in the depths of the city streets, I never felt like I was getting any vitamin D–probably because my skin was never getting any direct sunlight. I also couldn’t exactly put my finger on anything, but I think I was emotionally exhausted as well as I tried to navigate the emotions of leaving Leros behind and starting up another round of emotional work in Athens.

I was mentally tired, too, which was indicated by my general lack of desire to hop into the classroom each morning, despite still having a love for teaching once I was in the rhythm of the class. My general attitude toward two more months of teaching was a little more “blah” then the first nine months, but once I was back in the rhythm of things, once I saw that my being in my element was beneficial to my students, I liked where I was again.

With the conclusion of September, I found myself spiraling into October, my final month in Europe, for this stretch of time…

 

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News From the Refugee Trail: August Edition

This issue of Refugee Trail is being reviewed in late December. I started to write this post at the conclusion of the month of August, but it never saw the light of day. I thought I’d share what I had written now, although it is incomplete. Here’s what my four-month-younger-self was thinking about at the conclusion of that summer month:

I’m taking a gigantic, sweeping look at the last nine months and smiling ear to ear as I think about what my life was and all of the things and people that I was so fortunate to encounter. My time on Leros has finished, and August proved to be a very fulfilling (and full) month.

As the month commenced, I found myself in the middle of the transition period that I was hoping for. A new teacher arrived about a week before my scheduled departure, which gave me ample time to train her up on how the school works and how to manage a classroom at the Hub (which can be very different than basically any other school…in the world). She sat in on some of my classes and then I sat in on her classes as we swapped over from me instructing the classes to her instructing them. It wasn’t as sad to let go as I thought it would be. Although I care about each of my students, so many had come and gone in my time on the island, so it wasn’t as if I was handing over 23 of my babies that I had watched learn and grow for the better part of a year. A few were with me the whole time, but being as weathered as I was, it was a relief to see that I was leaving the classes in very capable hands.

My final days on the island are a blur to me now, but they were filled with meaning and I slowly closed down my life over the course of the final weeks I was there after returning from the UK. I didn’t feel rushed or irritated with the idea of having to wrap up a life, pack an apartment, prepare for transition, or anything like that.

When I left Leros on August 14, I flew to Vienna to meet up with a friend/former volunteer. We drove down to Bosnia to be with a second friend of ours and we spent a few days there before returning to Vienna. I then returned to Greece, arriving in Athens and setting up home in the neighborhood of Kipseli where I worked and lived for the remainder of the month and beyond. The majority of my time there, in August, was spent cleaning up the building that would eventually become the school I was teaching in.

More on these August stories to come…

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