Time is a funny thing. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like there is enough of it. Other times, there can be too much of it. It can get away from you. It can heal you.
As an American, I’ve spent a large portion of my life thinking of my existence in the increment of years. Perhaps, due to my upbringing, I was always destined to think of time in this way. Once a year, my birth is acknowledged. As a child, school started and ended according to a twelve month calendar. When you sign a lease for an apartment, a one-year commitment is fairly standard. Things just happen in years. Even after breaking away from the “conventional” a little more than your Average Joe, I still seem to think of things in years. I’ve done multiple stints volunteering for one year at a time. Even now, while I’m not committed to anything beyond tomorrow, I’m still thinking of the time ahead of me in terms of a year.
Maybe I’ll be in Europe for one year total. Maybe I’ll only be here for a week, and then that time will be added up with whatever else is ahead of me, until I reach a year. And then I can neatly file that chapter away as the proper amount of time.
I say all of this because when I landed on the ground in Athens, I realized that thinking of time in terms of years is a privilege I never thought about. Over and over again, it occurred to me, I’ve heard different refugees both in Athens and in Leros talking about their lives in terms of months or weeks, never years. It struck me as odd because I realized that the way a person measures their life is actually kind of significant.
I can look ahead and behind me and think of years. I spent two years living in Alaska. I spent one year living in Guyana. I may have a year ahead of me in Europe. But a refugee doesn’t know that. Their life is fractured in such a way that they don’t get to sum things up so neatly. For many of the people here on Leros, they go to the police once a month and their legal papers are stamped with a date indicating that they are legally allowed to remain at the refugee camp for one month more. After 30 days, and this date comes around again, they go back to the police and receive a new stamp, granting them another 30 days of life.
One of the refugees I spoke to in Athens, he was given a job helping to translate between Arabic and English in the north of Greece. This job just happens to be temporary, so in a few weeks, he’ll have to look for something else. This short amount of time also immediately impacts the amount of time he can live in his current apartment. And when his job concludes, he’ll have a few weeks to find another job before he would otherwise have to leave his apartment.
Another refugee has taken temporary asylum in Athens, just for a few months. In this short span of time, he has to continuously move from Airbnb apartment to Airbnb apartment as there aren’t any places available to rent any longer than just a few weeks at a time. When his initial asylum is up, he’ll have to be interviewed by the polices again to see if he can stay for a few more months.
I don’t think these brief stints of time consciously register as negative or positive initially to the refugees, but I would imagine that it must get difficult after a while to not be able to plan a significant amount into the future. Time must grow weary on the heart that does not know when to resume arranging a life.
So, perhaps time does heal everything, but in what increment do we have to measure it in, in order for healing to take place? Are weeks and months enough? Or do years need to be set aside to recover from escaping ones homeland, shepherding your children across dangerous waters, and then waiting out an unfair (understatement) asylum system?