Since leaving Greece in March, I’ve kept in close contact with four of the refugees I met and worked with while on the island of Leros. These relationships have, at times, felt extremely fruitful and at other times lacking, simply in that they exist over the internet. We exchange text messages mostly, but have the occasional voice calls or video chats to one another, despite how frequently we are interrupted by poor WiFi connections.
I’m proud of the efforts each of the individuals have made with me to stay connected. We’ve worked hard to bridge both the geographical and lifestyle gaps that exist between us. These four young men have kept me connected to Greece, to Syria, to Iraq, to an ongoing crisis in the world, and have made me feel more involved in an area of the planet that needs help than I otherwise would have been while living out the last six months in the comfort of the Hudson Valley in New York State.
Staying closely connected to the global refugee crisis hasn’t just kept me grounded this summer. Having these four people consistently in my life since January has been inspiring, and I greatly value the words we exchange with one another over the internet. We discuss everything from the ins and outs of our daily lives to dishing out full-on explanations about certain differences in our culture. Like, for example, what one wears to a wedding in the U.S. is called something different than what someone would wear in Syria. In Syria, more lavish clothing is called “Kraveta”. There were many points in the summer when I’d be buried deep in the rat race of work and everyday life, that conversations with my friends on this tiny Greek island were the highlight of my day.
This is why it was jarring when, all at once, one of them seemed to vanish into thin air.
I watched as the application I used to be in touch with Jay indicated the growing amount of time that was passing since he had “last been online”. It didn’t take much investigating to find out what had happened. As is the case with so many asylum seekers living in camps in Greece, some decision about his case was swiftly made by the authorities, and he was scooped up from the camp and put in jail, where he was waiting for his deportation back to Syria.
While he was in jail, I heard nothing from him. The time continued to pass by and it started to feel almost as if I had imagined him. He was a ghost. Gone. I kept thinking back over some of the conversations that had taken place between the two of us over the previous months. What more could I have said to this man who was being held hostage before getting shipped back to the dropping bombs in Syria? Did he at least know that I cared about him?
My cousin’s wedding crossed my mind. It was the reason I had returned home from Europe in the first place back in April, and the first thing I was able to share with the refugees upon my return. I sent them a photo of me in my wedding attire. Jay said I looked “fancy”, which made me wonder if the wedding attire in Syria was drastically different from what I was wearing or if there was some similarity.
When Jay vanished into the abyss, I was left wondering about more than Kraveta. How did it come to pass that my Syrian friend on the other end of my phone was suddenly gone and now I was left wondering about him? Where was he? What was he doing everyday? When would I get to talk to him again? Would I get to talk to him again? And when would I learn everything I needed to know about the fancy attire that is Kraveta?