Camp of contrasts

Contrasting and bizarre Moria with your thousands of people. What a confusing rollercoaster ride you have given me as a new doctor. Let’s start with an obvious example: Lesvos is a beautiful island. The people are friendly, the sea is beautiful and the days are bright and sunny. But this sea is the same sea where everyday so many refugees still risk their lives. The bright days are followed by ice cold nights. Is the friendliness available for all?
But still, with a little sunshine on your head, a drink after work and enjoying hamburgers in the volunteers’ house, some moments do feel like a holiday. When you are not on duty there is time to explore the island or visit the hot springs. A place where for a moment the refugees are far away. Literally and figuratively, because no refugees are allowed at the hot springs. Or you can do some shopping. Especially bags made out of life jackets are a huge hit among tourists. With a nice ‘safe passage’ stamp for those who might have a heavy conscience. All proceeds go towards the refugees, but still…

There are many contrasts inside camp Moria too. With every blink of an eye you discover a new contrast. A fun volleyball match taking place right next to the long line of people waiting for some dinner. The most unlucky ones stand in the food line looking forward to yet again an evening with rice and beans. The more fortunate refugees go outside of the camp and get falafel or fried chicken in one of the self made restaurants a few savvy Greeks created.

From the long line of patients waiting to see us most leave satisfied with some paracetamol and a throat lozenge (for many ‘papers’ and ‘Strepsils’ are the first English words they encounter), but then a woman who was raped by her traffickers slams you back into to the raw reality. Take the translators who work with us day and night, who are very committed, play card games and with every new shift ask you if you have had a good day. Each one of them as smart as the next, not one over 25 years of age, who inside the camp taught themselves new languages apart from their mother tongue and even speak a good bit of medical English. The type of young man that at night after a long shift will make the rounds to check if all is quiet inside the camp and that we are safely left behind. You almost forget these young men live inside this camp too. We can sleep on camp beds, while they retire to their tents. Young men who have fled because of the war in Syria or from the Taliban in Afghanistan. It hurts to know that deep inside they are thinking about going back, because you will only die once there, but in Moria you die each day, over and over again.

Contrasting, bizarre Moria, with your brave people who despite all hardships never forget to whisper a ‘thank you doctor’. I hope we can make a small difference in your lives. With some paracetmol here and a band-aid there, it doesn’t seem much. Please know that no matter where you are from, no matter your background or your trauma, you are always welcome to spend a moment with us.

Text: Stephanie van Straaten
Photo: Bas Bakkenes