Last month, I was having dinner at a friend’s house and was given a chilling reminder about where I am in the world.
I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the confusion that exists within me due to the stark contrast between the beauty of the island I live on and the disturbing politics that play out before my eyes in the form of how refugees and asylum seekers are treated.
My friend invited an intimate group of people over to his home for the evening. I’ve been to his house a handful of times before and am always impressed with the vegetarian spreads that he and his wife put together. On this particular evening, there was a vegan among us, so most of the food was even accommodating of him, which is preferred for me anyway. Delicious vegan food is not readily accessible on Leros, so I felt like I was really being treated. There was a pasta dish, homemade bread, a variety of dips including humus, a couscous dish, and both a Greek salad and a legume salad. This was my first time being at their home during the summer months. While the place is cozy in the winter, because it’s summer, we were able to spend the evening on their terrace which overlooks the castle that sits on the hill in the next town over and the outline of lights on the horizon, the lights of Turkey, less than 15 miles away.
Dinner commenced, we ate, they drank, I got some wine poured on my lap, I stubbed my toe to the point of bleeding. Overall, there were just little atrocities happening among the conversations about the Hub and the refugees and the situation in general on Leros. It was an evening among like-minded people, so the conversation was smart and positive. Then, in the middle of our posh meal, our spoiled glasses of coke and white wine, our view, my friend called out into the night and tossed his pointer finger into the air, indicating the horizon, “THAT’S A FLARE!”
We all turned to see what he was pointing at. Sure enough, a glowing red light was slinking its way down the night sky, vanishing after a few moments. I couldn’t stop staring at the darkness. I know that, often, a second flare can follow a first.
The contrast kills me. Here I was, enjoying a rather exclusive dinner, and then a flare sails across the sky. Farmakanisi, a small Greek island half the distance to Turkey from where I live, is the island that all of the refugee boats aim for if they want to end up on Leros and live in the camp that we have here. The flare was being shot up by a boat that was just arriving on that island and making their presence known. There’s nothing on that island. It’s just a rock in the middle of the sea. The people would likely have to wait until morning before any help arrived for them. I looked down at the glass in my hand and thought about what was going on just a few miles away, what that flare meant. It signified so much. It was simultaneously a cry for help and an invitation for celebration. The people landing on Farmakanisi had officially made it to Europe. They wouldn’t be caught by the Turkish Coast guard and returned to that unsafe country and thrown in jail. They clearly were not through their long endeavor, but they had successfully made it through one of the most difficult processes, especially since they likely paid thousands of dollars to a smuggler just to get them in the boat.
The cry for help though, the second part of what the flare meant, is what gets me. Here I was on a veranda, looking at the view, and just through the darkness, there were people crawling out of a tiny non-seaworthy vessel onto the wet rocks of this small chunk of land that just happens to be claimed by Greece, that just happens to be called “Europe”.
Sure enough, there were 33 new arrivals at the camp the next morning.
What is wrong with the world?