Lifeboats Where There Are None: Day 5 – “Two Weeks of Actual Humanity”

I come here for two weeks of sanity every year to be around like-minded people, to be around actual people with empathy. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make every year, coming here.

Day 5 has wrapped and I’m happy to say I’ve officially cleared the halfway mark of this course!

The intensity continues, but we have the evening off from lecture, so we only had to be “on” from 8:45 until 5:00 today. This is why I now find myself sitting in the evening glow of this early Welsh summer day instead of trying to pound out an update in my bed before directly falling asleep.

I was sea-going this morning at 8:45 once again and, unlike the last two days, the sea was really calm this morning. Of the six boats, there were only five instructors so, once again, my little team of two was overlooked and not assigned an instructor by accident for our daily morning check-in. I’m trying not to take it personally. After that was sorted, my partner and I prepped the boat, making sure we had all of the essential equipment we would be needing was strapped down to the hull and gave the engine a practice try. We then lowered all of the boats to the sea as we do each day and were off for another morning of boating on the Bristol Channel.

Today, we learned how to rescue a “man overboard”, how to direct the boat in reverse, how to idle next to another boat in an effort to gain information, and how to do figure-eight patterns. When it comes to maneuvering the boats, I feel like I’ve got a decent handle on it. I’m not bad at getting the boat to specific spots quickly, and I’m pretty decent at scooping people up when they fall overboard. Trying to make the boat go in reverse proved to be the most difficult task of the day for me, but I’ll keep working on it.

Each day, as all of these other misfits and I slip into our wetsuits and throw on our bright yellow helmets and vests, I can’t help but think ahead to what doors these two weeks here may open for us and what they will actually bring forth in our lives. We’re doing practice scenarios for rescuing people in distress at sea. This means that, indeed, we may one day actually have to save drowning people from the water. At the very least, we’ll be trained to do so.

Even after nearly a week of being here, I still find myself uneasy. Floating out on the Channel, glancing around at the other five boats speeding around in the waves, I feel out of place. This isn’t my comfort zone, and my body is consistently reminding me of that with this odd feeling in my gut that won’t go away until l’m off of this campus. That being said, how long can one last outside of their comfort zone? How much discomfort is too much? These are important questions to consider before people should be thrown into refugee camps for undetermined lengths of time.

This afternoon, we had two short sessions. The first focused on how to use a radio, which was self explanatory and boring, as the instructor pointed out himself. The gist is, you say as little as you can when you have to talk on the radio and really, you should not talk on the radio unless you absolutely have to. The second session was focused on using Psychological First Aid, meaning how you interact with people initially who are experiencing or have experienced a traumatic situation. The session lasted a bit over an hour but could probably have been taught for ten or twenty. There is always so much to cover when it comes to mental health. For the most part though, refugees receive NO psychological assistance throughout their tumultuous journeys, and neither do the volunteers who come over to do this difficult work.

Halfway through. Still in the game.

Although operating on a ridiculously full schedule, my heart is still back on Leros. I’m mentally checked-in here, but my heart is on that island. It’s been a really sad realization knowing that my time there will end, and all the ooey gooey-ness I’m feeling in my heart for the place right now while away from it will increase ten-fold when I actually leave for good. Tough to think about, but it’s a familiar story for me at this point, one I’ve both heard and told before.

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