News From the Refugee Trail: July Edition

I’m in the home stretch, as of this writing. In a few days, I’ll be departing Leros and moving on with my time in Europe and “on the refugee trail”.

July has proven to be, yet again, another interesting month, filled with milestones and new experiences. The month began with my final three days of the course I was taking in Wales, UK where I was learning about how to launch lifeboats and rescue people who are in trouble both on land and at sea. I wrote briefly about each day of the course here on this blog, feel free to click back through the entries to get a little more detail about what I was actually doing.

When the course concluded, I spent two nights in London with one of my friends from Leros who had departed the island back in April. It was so great to catch up with her and to see a small piece of London for the first time. Having spent the previous two weeks in Wales and having experienced Edinburgh last year on my way home from Europe, I felt like catching a glimpse of England would be a good idea. Having just gotten out of my course, and knowing where I was headed back to, it was a unique time to be in a massive city, but I enjoyed my time there. It happened to be Pride weekend as well, despite it being July, so my friends and I were able to head down to the parade and experience all of the flamboyant rainbow sassiness over the weekend I was there.

Seeing happy, proud, colorful, excited queer people was such a relief to me. This experience of working with people mostly from the middle east for the last nine months has put me in the position where I’ve had to stifle certain areas of my life again and it was nice to be reminded of what healthy LGBTQ people are like. Even still, my mind was not far from all of my friends and students on Leros. And the refugee crisis has spread all over Europe, including into the UK. I thought about what some of them would think about the openness and honor that everyone was presenting in the city and in the streets. Worlds will collide, and cultures will blend. This is destined to happen.

Upon my return to Leros, I was overwhelmed with the number of hugs, smiles, and kind words I was met with. Having been away for two weeks, I think many of the residents were beginning to believe they would not see me again, even though I told them that I would return. Two weeks on Leros feels like two months in “real life”. My ego loved returning to the classroom and feeling loved and needed. From that moment forward, I’ve been drinking in every little moment, treasuring each person and each interaction. I also kept my eyes open all month for the uniqueness and perfection that exists on Leros. The architecture, nature, streets, locals, tourists, refugees, all of it has been amplified by my forthcoming nostalgia. July has been a very “woke” month for me, very present.

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One final Beach Clean activity with my pal.

With my departure looming, I’ve been paying more mind to how I spend each minute of each day. In the winter, when this experience seemed like it would go on forever and I needed to make sure I was protecting my energy in an effort to avoid burnout, I would often leave the Hub when my shift was over. This has not been the case for the month of July as I’ve stayed around the Hub well into the evening hours almost everyday.

There are just so many magical things that happen around the Hub each day that I wanted to spend more time absorbing. Even just sitting on the coach in the library and being around as volunteers and residents mosey through or sit down and swap stories with one another is so nice to witness. The Hub is a place where people’s energy has permission to shift and the lightness we as volunteers get to see from the residents is beautiful.

I also enjoyed spending time with some of the guys playing paddleball and volleyball, a luxury I didn’t get too much time to encounter during the winter months while I was teaching so much. It’s nice to just have fun with people. When you’re trying to teach English, people have a certain mentality and attitude about them. But while playing sports, the intensity melts away and the language barriers go down a bit. Unless, of course, it’s a competitive sport like football, then sometimes the intensity is amplified and fights break out. But that’s beside the point!

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The final team on the ground in Leros that I’ll be working with.

For the last few weekends, I’ve gone on some epic hikes to the other side of the island and done my best to get into the sea as much as possible. When I move to Athens next month, there will be a sea nearby, but it won’t be accessible daily and it won’t be all mine, I’ll have to share it with both locals and tourists. And so, I’ve taken the opportunity to hop around mountain tops and dive into pieces of the Aegean that other people just don’t seem to know about. July has been the most fruitful month of the nine that I’ve been here when it comes to connecting with both the people and the nature around me.

The number of refugees on this island and all of the Aegean islands continues to grow at an alarming pace. We’ve continued to hit record numbers each week and this month has been no different. The camp is now at double it’s capacity and 88 human beings are officially homeless as there is no room for them within the fences of the camp. Things are about to get very grim around here if a tent village begins to pop up because people have no other options. This has been the disastrous case on many other islands for years. I’ve already witnessed families sleeping on the streets of Lakki and found makeshift sleeping areas of blankets in small nooks on the sides of buildings. People who are arriving now are allowed to register at the camp, and can partake in the meals being provided to the camp, as well as the toilet and shower facilities, but they are not being given housing. This doesn’t come across as entirely atrocious as it hasn’t rained in two months and the weather is warm and comfortable throughout the days and nights, but summer in Leros will not last forever. The refugee crisis desperately needs more eyes on it, and more brains in the mix to help put more appropriate solutions together.

I’ll be on my way to Athens in two weeks. Until then, I’ll be taking in my last moments in this beautiful, unique corner of the Mediterranean.

About mattylife

"And no one is a stranger...for long."
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