One of the refugees recently moved out of the Hotspot camp and into his own flat in town. His card was “opened”, meaning that his documentation was allowing him to travel to mainland Greece. He was due to be transferred by the authorities to a different camp on the Greek mainland, but since he has been on Leros for so many months, he wanted to remain here. He has become comfortable in this little community, he knows some of the locals, he frequents the Hub and has become a friend of many of us volunteers, and the residents at Hotspot know him. So, he has community here. Why would he want to leave just to have to wait for asylum in a new spot in Greece?
By taking a flat, he’s removed himself from the difficulties of living in the camp, and also granted himself the opportunity to remain on Leros without any issue. Unfortunately, it’s not like all of the problems that a refugee encounters each day simply go away just because they’ve found themselves a home. For example, when moving into his home, the place didn’t have any Wifi, so he and his landlord went to the local phone store to arrange a hookup for him. When the clerk asked him for his tax number, he didn’t have one, since he isn’t a resident of Greece. His landlord, standing beside him, laughed at him and told him, “see, you are nothing” and preceded to give the clerk his tax number to arrange for the internet to be setup.
The situation was clearly awkward, especially since it was taking place publicly, but my friend, fortunately, had the drive and persistence to standup for himself. It ended with his landlord trying to tell him that he was making a joke, but he stood his ground, making sure that the man understood that jokes like that hit way too close to home and aren’t amusing. I was both proud and saddened to hear about how the situation had gone down.
This man, this sweet sweet friend of mine, has truly mastered empathy and compassion. When I saw him for the first time after his first night in his new home, his first night away from the crowded, noisy, smelly Hotspot, he said that he was only able to sleep a few hours, because he couldn’t get all of the people in the camp out of his mind, knowing that they were still in the same situation he had just been in for many months…
Sometimes, okay, most of the time, when I think about humanity, I think about how sterile we’ve become. In general, as a species, I think technology has put us on the fast track to disaster. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading there. We spend way too much time on our phones, glancing at text messages, reading e-mails, and getting distracted by the constant beeping and buzzing of our devices.
This is why moments like this strike such an unusual, unexpected chord in me when they happen. This man, who has just pulled himself away from an amount of agony that no human being should ever have to consistently endure, is only thinking about other people as he walks away. To put this in perspective, I would imagine myself running away from the situation, arms thrown high up into the air, in glee. This kind of thing, the way my friend reacted to his exit, makes me have to take a deep breath for a moment while my brain recalibrates what I’m feeling. How unique to hear about someone truly putting others before himself, losing sleep in his ocean of empathy for his fellow humans.
I want to be more like this guy.