Picknick outside the camp

Every week on Monday a pick-nick is organized for Afghan women, and on Wednesday for women from Syria and Iraq. We have two cars at our disposal, which allows us to take eight women. One of them is a refugee speaking the language of the women ánd speaking English fairly well. Every week other women get the opportunity to join. This Monday we picked a beautiful spot next to a Roman aqueduct. A beautiful, peaceful place, full with blooming flowers. There is enough privacy for the women to feel a little more free.

When we arrive at camp Kara Tepe to pick them up, they are already waiting outside. Some greet us a little shy, others greet us by hugging us. Some women have joined before on a trip and know us from this activity or from the Womens group. They all say their names, but too no avail. I really try to remember them but I simply can’t. The sound of their names is so unfamiliar for me that it takes little time for me to forget them again. In the car they are happy and they play us their own music. The atmosphere is that of a school trip: happy and a little cheerful. During the car trip they use their phones to take many photos from the view and of each other. They are excited. I am glad. I really hope they can feel cheerful for a little while.

At the aqueduct they wander around a little, make garlands of flowers for everyone and enjoy the surroundings. They take many pictures: selfies, photos of each other, the surroundings and also photos with us, the supervisors. We brought a camera with which we can take pictures of the women who want this. Not all women do. We don’t take photos from the women with our mobile phones. This is prohibited to protect the privacy of the women. With a separate camera the women trust that the pictures won’t be shared on social media. After a few days the women receive a print from a photo of themselves ánd from the area we visited. A memory of a nice moment during their stay on Lesbos.

We pick-nick together, during which they make sure we eat enough as well. After that we dance to the music they brought. As supervisors, we only facilitate this trip. The women together turn it into a beautiful afternoon. After two hours we go back home. ‘Home’ for them means a cabin in camp Kara Tepe. When we are almost there, they yell: ‘No, no, not to Kara Tepe, Kara Tepe is not good!” And I can’t do anything else but stop and with a sincere hug say goodbye to these women. And they respond: “Thank you, it was very nice!”

Text: Anne Wostmann

My first hours on Lesbos

It is 6.30 in the morning and I have finally landed on Lesbos. For weeks I’ve been looking forward to work as a volunteer for the Boat Refugee Foundation. I was really curious how it would be: the camps, the refugees, my housemates and especially how I would experience working in the refugee camps. Would I be capable and able to manage everything?

On the small airfield of Mytilini, the main city of Lesbos, I’m waiting for my suitcase. I can already see someone standing outside with my name on a piece of paper. It is a fellow volunteer who is picking me up at this early hour. Would that be characteristic for the atmosphere in the house, for how people look after each other? I hope it is.
Together we drive to the place where all the volunteers live, a large, old red-colored house, built in the Greek style of the island. The house, called the ‘mansion’, has room for 18 people. In size and appearance it could’ve come straight from a Pippi Longstocking book.
When we arrive the other volunteers are still asleep, so on our toes we sneak through the large house with the old wooden floors. Every room in the building is used. Several of the rooms are used as bedrooms, but there’s also a dining/meeting room, a living room, a small kitchen with only cold water, three bathrooms, a sterilization kitchen used by the medical volunteers, and a large attic. The latter is only used for laundry but if you use your imagination it could also house an ancient treasure or secret. The attic has a roof terrace attached to it, with an amazing ocean view. I will probably spend my leisure time on the roof, reading a good book.
Because it is still early and I travelled for a great many hours, I’ve decided to go to sleep in the bedroom I share with four others. The house is quiet at this hour. On the road next to the house I can hear cars passing by.

After an hour I wake up in a completely transformed house. As quiet as it was earlier, it is now full with life and activity. The narrow hallways, the bathrooms and the small kitchen suddenly are flooding with people who are making breakfast, on their way to the shower or just making conversation. I constantly see new faces and hear new names to remember.

At breakfast I engage in conversation with two other volunteers about last night’s shift. Their stories give me the impression they have been on the island for a while already. When I ask them about, I’m surprised to hear they have only been here for three days. Three days are more than enough to offer plenty of food for discussion about the camps and the refugee crisis in general.

Because we all live together in the mansion there is the time and space to have fellowship when desired. There is also the opportunity to spend time alone or go out by yourself. I have only been here for a couple of hours and I already have the feeling I joined a warm and caring family. I’m curious to see what the following weeks will bring me and what I can mean for the refugees, working together with the other volunteers.

Text: Eva van Beek

I want to be able to say it will be alright

It is Saturday night, I just came off the phone with people back home who are ready to go to a birthday party. Other friends are going to a party in the city centre. And I am going to one of the most degrading places of Europe, to Moria. What a contrast. But I’m in good company, joining up with two friendly doctors and a nurse. I will be the crowd controller tonight, which means I receive people who want to see a doctor, write down their information and try to make conversation with them.
The night starts off quiet. Like all the other times, I notice that people are glad to have our presence in the camp. Not just for a doctor’s visit, but also for a bit of conversation and for someone who listens to them. Thanks to the translators, we are able to have conversations and for there to be mutual respect. As usual, someone is getting coffee and tea for us while the night slowly becomes darker and busier.

Then, all of a sudden I hear a lot of noise and I see a group of men running towards me, carrying an old stretcher with a young man on it. He does not look good so I alert a doctor for the stretcher to be brought inside the medical cabin. A few of the men go in to the cabin along with the translator. But there are too many people inside for such a small cabin, so after some discussion most of the men went outside along with the old, now broken stretcher. I close the door and take a seat on the big rock in front of the door, enabling me to control who goes in and out. I am the crowd controller for a reason.

I start to write down some more information of the patients waiting in line when I realize there’s an unnatural silence around me. I look up and see at least twelve pair of dark eyes looking at me. And I see so much emotion…fear, recognition, panic. Behind me in the cabin, I can hear that the medical team is working hard. I feel powerless because I am not able to do anything. I want to be able to say it will be alright but I don’t know that. And if it will be alright, it would not mean anything for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

These people are here for months on end, some even more than a year following a difficult journey and what happened to them before that. I would want to say that they will be well taken care of but I can’t do that either. The doctors at the camp try their utmost but the facilities at hand are not sufficient. Not just in the camp but even further inland, the facilities are insufficient. I would really like to say something but there’s nothing to say to men who don’t know how their friend, brother or cousin is doing, a seemingly tough and strong young man. But across from me are sitting the men who are worried, who have to inform their friends and family if something really serious has happened. I can’t say anything, I can only just be. So that’s what I’ll do. A kind of contact without words, that is the only thing I can do.

After a while, the door opens and the doctor emerges, saying the young man is doing better. It will be alright. He had a panic attack, a common thing for people in the camp. Fortunately, nothing life threatening has happened but it still has a big impact; I can feel the relief around me. A few men leave and they thank us. After half an hour, the patient is also allowed to leave while being supported by his friends. He still looks a bit shaky but he is already making jokes, so that’s a good sign. He thanks us as well and an appointment is made for him to return the next day. That will enable the doctors to check in on him, one of the few things they can do (and at the same time it is a lot). And then things are quiet at the medical cabin again. After a while, someone picks up the old stretcher. It turns out that is the young man’s bed…

Blog: Manon Mol
Photo: Henk van Lambalgen

Giving birth in Camp Moria

The evening shift of the two doctors, one nurse and a member of the PSS-team (Psycho Social team) was quiet. There were 38 patients that visited during the shift, mostly having sleeping problems, stomach pains or just feeling sick. These symptoms are often expressions of underlying serious problems like trauma, depression and stress related to the events in their home country and constantly being on the run while seeking safety and security.

When the night shift team arrives at the camp it’s quiet at the medical cabin. A few patients come and go and at 2.00 AM all the patients have left. When the translators have finished their shift, they go ‘home’ to the cabin they stay at in the camp. The rest of the team lies down on the stretchers in the medical cabin, ready to be alert if an emergency presents itself.

At 4.20 AM there is banging on the cabin door. A young Syrian woman is standing in front of the door asking in limited English if a doctor can come with her because there’s a baby on the way. The doctor and nurses run with her, crossing the dark, noisy camp towards a cabin where there is a group of men waiting for them. Inside the cabin they find a young woman who is having contractions. They don’t know her since she has never been to the medical cabin during her pregnancy.

The girl turns out to be 16 years old and has been having contractions for five hours already. The baby is almost there already so the team has to act quickly while working with the girl and her friend’s limited English. It would’ve been so nice to be able to talk to this young girl in her native tongue, since the situation is stressful and scary. Unfortunately the delivery will have to happen without being able to include her, but still trying to respect her and the baby that’s coming.

On top of the language barrier there are no medical supplies to safely deliver the baby and so an ambulance has to be called in to arrive relatively quickly. The friend, doctor and nurses join the young girl in the ambulance. Will everything go well? Will the baby be born in the ambulance or will they be in the hospital on time? How will this 16 year old girl and her baby fare during the ride towards the hospital? The girl turns out to be so brave and strong!

On arrival at the hospital Greek nurses take over. Nobody is allowed to come inside with the Syrian girl, so nobody will be able to understand her and she doesn’t understand them. Without family or friends she gives birth to her son in a foreign country, surrounded by a Greek doctor and nurse.
The mother and son are healthy and are doing well. After a five day stay in the hospital they return to Camp Moria together.

Text: Anne Wostmann
Photo: Arie Kievit