‘I don’t know how I’m doing’

How does it affect you as a person when you have been living in an overcrowded refugee camp for the past 18 months? And, let’s not forget, when you have seen the most awful things in your home country Syria? Because you drove your car in the streets, to pick up people who had been injured. One of which was your little brother…

Unfortunately, Nadir (23) knows exactly how this affects you. For too long now he has been living in camp Moria. One of our volunteers, Petra Langezaal (56), got to know him quite well. One year ago she was on Lesvos for a month. Nadir stood out. “He was a handsome young man”, says Petra. “He took good care of himself. His hair was always styled and he had healthy skin. Without prompting, he told me his story. About his little brother whom he found in the streets, among the violence of war. At every medical post Nadir brought him, they said his brother’s leg had to be amputated. Something Nadir tried to prevent. Luckily, there was a doctor who did want to operate on his brother, resulting in conservation of the leg. Despite his horrible experiences, Nadir was mostly cheerful. He seemed like a puppy sometimes, the way he would run around the camp and train his muscles on the tent poles. A wonderful guy who was very valuable to the team of interpreters in the camp. The interpreters are the indispensable link between the inhabitants and the employees. Apart from translation work, they set refugees at ease and are fully committed to their work for the volunteers. This way, we could our work properly and in a safe way. Terrific people, Nadir was proud to do this”, says Petra.

Yet that’s when it became November 2017. Petra came to Moria as a volunteer for the second time. And she met Nadir again. “I immediately noticed things were different. He had been living on Lesvos for at least 18 months by then. His skin and hair were pale and limp. Gone was the sparkle in his eyes, he was really anxious and threw furtive glances. He recognized me as well and when I asked him how he was doing, he looked at me and said: ‘I don’t know how I’m doing’…”

And Petra understood. She was also shocked by the conditions in Moria. She was hoping to see some improvement, but the opposite was the case. Inhumane. Overcrowded. Grim. “Living in these conditions with so many people for such a long time. That grates on you. It’s inevitable. Nadir is living proof of that for me. It’s all taking too long. There is little left of his dreams to leave the camp. ‘You know Petra’, he said to me. ‘If I were to get the message that I can leave, to go on to Athens… I don’t know if I would. This has become my world. I’m not sure if I can make it anywhere else.’ His hopes have been completely whipped out. And I don’t blame him…”

If needed, Petra wants to return to Moria. “But I hope I won’t run into Nadir again. Because he has found the power, once again, to believe in a new future.”


Text: Frieda van de Geest

Declared innocent

Today I want to tell you a personal story; a meaningful anecdote about life in Moria; a ray of hope in the middle of this nonsense. One week ago I was having a discussion with a wise young Iraqi man. We were both working at the library that day. Waiting for people to borrow books to read, we discussed peacefully Baudelaire, Picasso and Nietzsche. He had so much to teach me about these famous figures. Before fleeing his hometown, he used to teach philosophy. His private library was a hundred times bigger than the shelving units we call a library here. His life was not much different from ours. One day however, everything changed and his library is now an assortment of second-hand books in the refugee camp of Moria. Few months after he arrived in Lesvos, he became the librarian of the Community Center and he started writing his dreams on paper; coloured words flowing out from his restless soul.

This post could have easily been about our conversation, about one of his surrealistic poems. However, life is as unpredictable as the summer rain, and my writing today will take another turn. Indeed, our conversation suddenly stopped, like a broken dream in the middle of the night. A mighty man, empty eyes and faded gaze, showed up into our cabin. His breath smelt of booze; his trembling voice sweated alcohol. His face conveyed anger against the world; exasperated like a caged animal. He was hurling out French words probably in order to hurt us in a language we didn’t understand. He called us demons; stingy usurpers of the beauty of his country. He named us jailers; pitiless agents of his daily suffering. Unexpectedly, I answered him back, acknowledging his reasons and taking his side. Not only I reached him out through a common language, but I also dissociated myself from the colonizers, by revealing that my fluency in French was the result of my own migration. That ephemeral conversation did not solve his anger; that fragile point of contact did not reduce his exasperation. Still he left quietly and he found his way back home.

Yesterday was my library shift again. Experiencing a sort of a déjà-vu, one week later I found myself in that same library, talking with my same wise friend about his poems. Once again, the conversation was agreeable. What is more, the number of people who came in asking for books had increased considerably. Nevertheless, an unpleasant feeling invaded me. The drunken admonishment I have been through one week before was still echoing in my mind. I felt like I needed to be absolved from sins I had never committed. And it happened: the same mighty man that accused me one week before came in again. The anger was not washed away from his blood; the exasperation was not carved out from his eyes. Still, he was sober and lucid. He asked me for advice and he borrowed a book from the library. Yesterday we could not break the chains of his body but we succeeded in breaking the chains of his soul. I felt forgiven.

Neigh of Lamp

Behind the far hills
‏tree is crying
‏No one embraces her
‏Only the wind and the letters of the dead
‏Vibrating, falling of her cages
‏Wake up to her voice, blue rooster
‏Carrying a glass hammer
‏He is Running and falling ground
‏by the umbilical cord
‏It begins from a dry river until the door of God is closed
He is Standing at the door
‏He See a crucified fish
‏And an apple over an ox horn
‏Then He returns laughing
‏Like a child puts his first step on the tail of a serpent

My poet friend

Text: Emanuele Politi
Photo: Henk van Lambalgen

Boat Refugee Foundation ends its medical mission on Lesvos

On January 1st, 2018 Boat Refugee Foundation (BRF) has completed the medical mission on Lesvos. Changed policies in the camp make it more difficult for us to fulfill our mission in a responsible and safe way. Through overpopulation in the camp we can no longer guarantee the safety and security of our team and our patients. This mission is an expensive one and we want to spend the donated money as efficient as possible. The current circumstances make it impossible for us to continue the medical mission as it is supposed to continue.

We do realize that in camp Moria the need for adequate medical care is as urgent as before. Our medical coordinator therefore will stay on location to find out if and how BRF will be able to provide medical help in another responsible way in 2018, in cooperation with the Greek organizations Keelpno and ERCI. We gratefully look back on two-and-a-half-year medical mission Lesbos in which we could make a difference in the lives of so many people in need.

In the next months we will expand our psychosocial activities in camp Moria. Last December we opened our new community centre with a school and library. On a daily base there are lessons for adults and children. We also want to expand our training sessions regarding mental health, with exercises and tips for better coping with stress and suicidal thoughts.


More information is available from Evita Bloemheuvel, Press Officer BRF evita@bootvluchteling.nl