Mission update: the English Class for Adults

Which projects are we currently running? We’ll regularly post a Mission update to keep you informed about our projects. Today we tell you about the English class: what do we need to keep this specific project running?

In our fully packed cabine (about the size of a shipping container) about 40 motivated men and women are gathered for the English class for adults. The number of attendants is so high that even outside the cabin an English class is given. Curious passers-by keep stance and look, interested to hear where the cheerful chatter comes from. For the inhabitants of camp Moria, the English classes offer a chance to learn something new and take their minds off Moria for a bit. The classes are offered three times a week by refugees, for beginners and advanced students with Arabic, Farsi or French as their mother tongue.

Around 40 motivated men and women are waiting for the start of English classes in our packed ISOBOX, which has the size of a shipping container. The number of attendants is so high that even outside our cabin a small group is following a lesson. Curious passers-by keep stance and look, interested to hear where the cheerful chatter comes from. Here, people both study and laugh a lot. For the inhabitants of camp Moria, it offers a chance to learn English and take their minds off for a bit. The English classes are offered three times a week by refugees themselves, for beginners and advanced students with Arabic, Farsi or French as their mother tongue.

“English classes are incredibly popular, everyone wants to learn English!” says Marleen, volunteering for Boat Refugee Foundation.

What resources are needed to run the English classes?
It is important to make good and creative use of the available materials. Marleen: “We offer a curriculum of six weeks that teaches the students a basic level of English, step-by-step. We currently use sheets and exercises found on the Internet as lesson materials. Our teachers use those materials incredibly well and we see the students’ levels of English increasing every week. To improve our project and curriculum we would benefit from English lesson books that we can use for an improved and clear programme structure.”

Moreover, our teachers are the core of the project, offering the classes with a vast portion of positive energy and humour every time. With a grin on his face, the teacher writes on the whiteboard:

No pen = no notes
No notes = no education
No education = no husband/wife
No husband/wife = loneliness

Laughter rises from the classroom and the students copy the words to their paper. We receive the much-needed pens and other resources from volunteers and donors. “Last week for example, one of the volunteers donated one hundred notebooks to the English school. We offer them to students when they attend their first lesson. By now, only half of the notebooks are left!” Fifty new registrations in one week: that’s how popular English class is. Each notebook now belongs to someone working on his or her future by learning English, even though they are still residing in Moria.

The wide interest in English classes shows how much perseverance and resilience many refugees have. English class is a place where people set their eyes on the future, and wander their minds off Moria. They do so with a lot of motivation and humour. This makes the English class incredibly valuable.

Text: Tessa Kraan
Photo’s: Kenny Karpov

Press release: start medical mission in refugee camp Moria

On May 1, Boat Refugee Foundation started a medical mission in Greek refugee camp Moria. Over 120 people came to the medical clinic with health complaints on the first day.

Situation worsens every day

Camp Moria, located on Lesbos, has been overcrowded since 2015. The camp was initially set up for around 2500 refugees, whereas the current number of inhabitants is approaching 7000. A daily average of 53 people arrive in the camp. There is a dire lack of sufficient facilities and health care.

“We notice the situation getting worse every day” tells Fons Strijbosch, medical coordinator for Boat Refugee Foundation. He has been on Lesvos for several months to prepare the medical mission.

No access to health care

The various aid organizations and authorities working in the camp meet nearly every day to discuss the situation. The organizations that are currently already offering health care in the camp work at full capacity. Despite that, there are hundreds of patients on a daily basis who do not have direct access to health care. With the dedicated help of volunteer doctors and nurses, Boat Refugee Foundation will from 1 May ensure health care during evening hours.

Safety for the team is our first priority

“We know the camp through and through because of our previous medical mission and our current psychosocial support mission”, says director Annerieke Berg. Tensions in the camp may rise quickly. It is incredibly important for all aid organizations to ensure well-functioning procedures and safety protocols are in place. Berg tells: “We will always do what we can, but the safety of our team is at all times our first priority.” The first medical shift ran smoothly. Over 120 people presented themselves at the cabin with health complaints. Around 100 patients were seen by the medics during the shift.

 

For more information about this article, please contact Margriet van der Woerd, press officer Boat Refugee Foundation: pers@bootvluchteling.nl

Photo: Willem Lemmens

 

Mustafa (7) beats Moria, without hearing

A colleague of the foundation told me several weeks ago about a mostly deaf boy at the school in Moria who depicted a bomb explosion; most likely the cause of his handicap. Immediately I felt sorry for him. Even with all of your senses working well, it’s hard to get by in this camp. Everything is new, chaotic, dangerous. I thought about how eerily I found it to sleep in a new place with earplugs in. Without sound, it’s hard to get a complete picture of your surroundings. And what if there’s danger? Your ears can’t warn you! This boy is put into new (threatening) situations with new people all the time and he can never take out his earplugs. I felt a mild wave of panic. He must feel so lost, I thought.

Until I met Mustafa (7) in person. It’s a Monday morning at the school. I want to help him with some math, but I only have be distracted for a short time and he’s already finished. And boy, does he know how to communicate that. Big eyed, he pulls my sleeve and furiously points to his paper. This is the first, but certainly not the last time I see the strength in this child. I gets to me. And it makes me curious: what is the story behind this little lion?

I decide to find his mother to look into this. This was one of the most special days of my life. I would like to share it with you.

Proud parents

One Wednesday afternoon, together with an interpreter, photographer Kathelijne and I look for Mustafa’s container of roughly 20 square metres. He lives here with his mother, father, two sisters and another family of five. Once we arrive they greet us warmly at the door. The warmth of the refugees here continues to move me, as it does now. With help from the interpreter I explain to them I am writing stories about people in Moria for the website of Boat Refugee Foundation. I tell them I think Mustafa is a special child, that I would like to write about him and ask if mother would like to answer some questions. And if Kathelijne is allowed to take some pictures. Mustafa’s parents are glowing with pride and are eager to help. I thank them profusely and tell that I would like to go to a more quiet spot just outside Moria.

Suddenly the entire family disappears inside.

Surprised, I look at the interpreter: have they reconsidered? He laughs and shakes his head: ‘They are going to make him look good.’ Five minutes later they come out again. Mustafa is dressed to the nines. His expressive face has been washed, his hair has been combed with gel and he is wearing a dress shirt. It was endearing to see him so neat – almost shiny – among the junk in Moria. I haven’t got any children of my own, but my friends regularly send me cute pictures of their children in the most beautiful outfits. I now realize that for parents in Moria it’s just as important to show how pretty and adorable their kids are.

Everybody seems ready to go, but if we ask mother and Mustafa to come along with us, he sits on a rock with his arms crossed in front of him. It doesn’t take long to understand he will only come if his sister Rajaa (9) comes with us. Understandable. I would also be scared to get separated from my loved ones in a place where they are my only anchor. So Rajaa comes along.

‘I did everything to make him happy’

We walk towards a peaceful olive grove with olive trees, grass and flowers, a small distance outside Moria. Here we can have a quiet talk. Mustafa and Rajaa are running around and pose mischievously for Kathelijnes camera. Mother, the interpreter and I sit down on a blanket. When everyone’s comfortable, I ask my first question: ‘Can you tell me a little bit about Mustafa?’

Afta – that’s what Mustafa’s mother is called – immediately opens up: ‘I have to start at the beginning. When Mustafa was two, our house was bombed and he lost a major part of his hearing. After that, he had psychological problems. He was afraid to go out. He was depressed.’

I asked Afta how she knew this.

She puts her hand on her heart and says: ‘I’m his mother, you feel those things.’

I choke up.

‘How did Mustafa become the boy he is now?’ is my next question.

Afta tells how she was able to help her son recover with much love and attention. She taught him how to communicate with body language and took him outside to slowly start playing again with other children. ‘I did everything to make him happy.’

After a short pause: ‘He is doing fine now. He is cheerful and everybody likes him: the children and the volunteers here.’

I can relate to what Afta says. For many children, life in Moria is hard. Within the little class rooms they often fight. With his handicap, Mustafa might be a target for bullying, but the opposite happens. Instead, his class mates are kind to him and try to help him. Although that help is usually not needed. Recently, when I tried to point him towards the wrong class room (by now he was in the advanced class, which I didn’t know) he looked at me with indignation and continued to vigorously point at himself and at the correct door, until I let him enter.

I ask Afta about her bond with Mustafa. She answers with a big smile and sparkling eyes: ‘We are very close. Mustafa is a real mama’s boy. He is special to me, my only son. He is really a good kid. He always wants to protect his sisters, even though they are older and able to hear.’

Then her smile is replaced by a look of concern. ‘I worry about my children here in Moria. It’s dangerous for them, the circumstances are terrible. We live in one container with another family, they have older boys and they make a lot of noise. But that’s ok, they are good people. When we fled Iraq everyone said it would be better here, but it’s worse. Nobody listens to us and we have to wait a long time. We have been in Moria for three months now and our interview isn’t scheduled before the third of June. I want a better life for my children.’

‘I understand’, is what I say. In the meantime I wonder if I can really imagine what it must be like to live in Moria without any prospects, after all this family has already gone through. Probably not.

‘What’s it like for you?’ I ask her. She tells me she finds it hard. Her husband has trouble walking, which means Afta runs the household practically by herself. She washes, she gets in line for food every day and takes care of the children. I look at her and hope that, despite the language barrier, she can feel my sympathy. What a strong woman.

We are quiet for some time and together we laugh about Mustafa and Rajaa who happily run around among the flowers. The huge contrast is glaring.

I ask my last question: whether Afta knows what Mustafa would like to be when he grows up. She says he wants to study and get his own house, like every other child. And that the doctor in Moria has said that the damage to his hearing might be corrected.

I hope it can be.

I thank Afta for her openness and ask if she has anything to add.

‘I have prayed that there would be someone to listen to me and then you came. Thank you, I feel better now.’

Goosebumps.

Would you like to help Mustafa, Afta, Rajaa and other families in Moria?

We try to assist families in Moria, such as Mustafa’s family. For instance by running the elementary school where Mustafa and Rajaa learn Arabic, English, Math and social skills. Would you also like to do something for these families? You can, by donating. Every euro helps.

Text: Suzie Geurtsen
Photo’s: Kathelijne Reijse- Saillet


You really contribute something as a volunteer

‘Working as a teacher in the Moria School of Hope can be very challenging but highly rewarding. At first it was difficult for me to find a balance between being strict and showing empathy. You know what many of these children have been through and understand their behaviour, but at the same time you have to be firm from time to time to provide them with the structure they need so much. What I find amazing to see is that despite everything they have been through and despite their current situation in Moria camp, the children still come here to school to learn and play. They walk through the mud, the tents and the barbed wire to get to our community centre, as if everything is normal. I remember seeing a father walk his daughter to school on her first day, carrying her school bag and nametag and handing them to her at the door. With a kiss on the cheek he let her go into the community centre. For me this is a reminder that above all, these people are simply parents, looking after their children, trying to give them the best life they can. I also think it is astounding that people who are currently living in Moria camp are willing to volunteer as teachers in our school. Despite everything that is going on in their lives they are happy to teach in classrooms that are often quite challenging. Their strength and kindness is amazing.’

This is what teacher Richeal from Dublin answered when I asked her about working in Moria for the Boat Refugee Foundation (BRF). It was hard for her to summarize her feelings, she said. I reassured her that I would get the gist of her answer. But I was so moved by every sentence that it was very difficult for me too.

Richeal symbolizes for me what I noticed immediately about the work of BRF when I arrived on Lesvos as a media volunteer. This foundation uses talented volunteers and offers them the opportunities and freedom to be a unique part of the mission. During their stay they add their own, unique experiences, skills and expertise. With all their hearts. This leads to well thought-through programs and high-quality support. I saw Richeal working at school and we talked about her input in the curriculum.

‘Hello, how are you today’

On a Wednesday morning a few days after my arrival, I went to the BRF’s community centre in Moria. This is an iso box (a kind of container) with three small rooms. From this centre the foundation runs their psycho-social mission. The primary school is part of that mission. Refugees, who worked as teachers in their home country, teach children aged 6 to 10 every weekday morning in the Moria School of Hope. These teachers are supported by BRF volunteers like Richeal. 

Richeal has been on Lesvos for two months and she is the so called ‘focus person’ for the primary school. That means that she is responsible for this part of the mission. She is leaving in a week, although she is not going home. She wants to continue to do more volunteering, preferably with refugees who are further on in their asylum procedure, in order to get a more complete understanding of what this group of people, close to her heart, are going through. She wants to volunteer in Italy, because she wants to learn Italian. After that, her sabbatical year is over and she will return to Dublin, where she teaches in an Irish-speaking primary school. For the past few years Richeal has been teaching 4 to 5 year olds in the school. These children speak English at home but they are taught every subject through Irish in school. Therefore, Richeal must only speak Irish during her lessons. Communicating with children in a language they are not very familiar with, is something she is used to and she uses this experience while teaching in Moria.

That was very clear that Wednesday morning. Calmly, and using hands, feet, and facial expressions, she made sure the children of Moria were lined up nicely to enter the community centre. ‘Hello, how are you today?’ was heard by every child as she shook their hand on entering the school. Most children replied with ‘Fine, thank you, how are you?’ and a wide smile.

It was a strange sight: the line of laughing children, standing in the mud between the broken tents and barbed wire. If I ignored the surroundings it looked like an ordinary school, just like that of my nephew in the Netherlands. When I talked about this with Richeal she expressed that this is one of the main goals of the school. “This school has to be a happy, structured place like any other school, where the children can feel safe and get to act like children for a while.”

She also explained that it took a while to turn the pushing and pulling at the door around. Many children had never gone to school, have been living without structure for a long time and experience tension and aggression around them all the time in the camp. These factors can have a huge influence on the emotional wellbeing of these children. Their behaviour resembles that.

Richeal: ‘As this is the first school experience for a lot of the children, some have great difficulty with paying attention, working quietly, sitting still, sharing and working in close proximity to other children.’

More focus on structure and social skills

Besides providing a safe place, offering structure and teaching social skills became the most important goals for the school in Moria. Structure gives children a grounded feeling and is very important for a healthy development. Social skills are needed to survive here (and later on in society).

‘These skills are also taught in schools at home from a very early age’, Richeal says. ‘But learning and developing these social skills can be quite challenging for the children in our school in Moria because a lot of them are used to having lots of freedom to do their own thing on camp.’ That is why she increased the focus of the curriculum on these subjects.

She did that for instance by making a list, together with the other teachers, of behaviours that they felt were important to create structure and encourage proper social interaction at school. Things like keeping your hands to yourself, sitting up straight, raising your hand if you know the answer to a question and not shouting in class were some of the main behaviours they wanted to focus on. She put up pictures of them in the classroom and has the children practice these every day. The progress is remarkable! 

Practising these basic behaviours like sitting straight in your seat and keeping your hands to yourself might sound like small things, but the effect is huge. By giving the children structure and by setting clear boundaries, the children’s social skills and the general school atmosphere improves greatly. This gives the much-needed space to safely learn and play.

To be a child.

You can make a difference!

Do you want to put your experience and unique skills to work to improve the work of BRF in Moria? Please apply as a volunteer

Text: Suzie Geurtsen
Photo’s: Kathelijne Reijse Saillet

Restart medical mission Lesvos: we need you

Imagine this: at five AM, you climb out of your small tent. Shivering, back bent. You are hungry, but it will be a while before you are able to get food. You long for a hot shower, but the water is usually cold. And it is still dark; it’s dangerous then in the shower cabins. A girl you know was assaulted only yesterday. You are exhausted, physically, but also mentally. You feel the adrenaline rushing through your body, however, because your little one of 1,5 years has been sick for a few days now. Her head feels warm, she doesn’t eat well and she cries a lot. You really need be able to see the doctor today. The medical cabin doesn’t open until 8 AM, but you will stand in front of the door. Maybe this will increase your chances to get in. It soon turns out you are not the only one with this idea. When you arrive at the cabin at level four of the refugee camp where you ‘live’, you see a large group of nervous people. You estimate there are about 40 of them. You hear a middle-aged man moan, he sits on the ground and grabs his head. There is someone screaming behind you. When you turn around, you see a pregnant woman with a distorted face and her hands around her belly. She is alone. You walk up towards her and put your hand on her back. With your other arm you tightly grab your daughter. You kiss her warm forehead and and say a little prayer.

Currently, this is the shocking reality in refugee camp Moria on Lesbos, due to a lack of medical capacity. It was probably difficult to picture yourself in that situation. You you, the doctor is only a phone call away and you can visit them for everything. A swollen toe, a weird looking mole, acute stomach ache: just call to check if it could be something serious, and your anxiety disappears. Is it an emergency? You can come in right away. It’s your live that matters! Standing in line hours in advance, we only do that when we want to be the first to get the new I-Phone, or when we visit a concert. The fact that people in Moria need to do this to survive is unimaginable. We think this is inhumane. Do you?

That is why we want to start another medical mission from May first. This project depends on available medics and donations. In this blog, we explain what the medical mission will look like. And why you can mean more than you think.

Always a doctor available for any problem

The goal of the medical mission is to ensure that a doctor is always available, for any problem. This doesn’t mean that we can solve all problems; we often refer people. It does mean that we want to be there for the people of Moria unconditionally. We achieve this by making sure they can see a doctor 24/7: we man or medical cabin between 4PM and 8AM, another organization offers medical care during the other hours. And by paying real attention to patients.

Our doctors take shifts of about eight hours in teams of four. Two doctors treat patients in separate consulting rooms. The other two medics will take intakes in the admissions room, to decide who needs treatment and who could be helped by the conversation itself. These medics also do the administration and make sure it stays quiet outside.

In one shift, our medics see about 80 patients. This is a lot, about twice as much as GPs do in The Netherlands. Usually, this enables us to see everyone visiting our cabin.

Impact medical mission reaches beyond our cabin

People in Moria seek help from our doctors for various reasons. Sometimes, these are matters of live and death. In December, a boy came to our cabin with an arterial bleeding in his neck, sustained in a fight. But mostly we see stress-related complaints, panic attacks and stomach problems. Many conditions of mental nature. We notice that people are often mainly looking for a sympathetic ear. A safe place with someone there to take care of them. Always and unconditionally.

This is not only important for the people coming to our cabin with complaints, but for all – currently 5000 – people in Moria. Every man, every woman, every child. Knowing you can be helped when needed gives a peace of mind. And a more peaceful Moria is a safer Moria. This way, the impact of our medical mission reaches further than our cabin.

“I am so happy you are here, that you pay attention and listen.”

Josph, 25 years, Congo

This is needed to start and run the mission

To start and run the mission, we need two things: medics and money.

Medics

We continuously need a team of ten doctors and nurses to run the medial mission. It is hard work, under often difficult circumstances and with limited resources. This is why we find it very special that so many talented people came to Lesbos to volunteer for the people in Moria. Often during holidays from their busy jobs back home. Very admirable!

Although people come to Moria to help, we often hear that they return home richer. Both professionally as well as personally. In The Netherlands, as a doctor you often work with strict protocols, being a small cog in a well-oiled, advanced machine. Here, attention for people is central, you don’t have all the necessary supplies by far, and you depend on you own assessment in every new situation. You make your mission to be a success together with your team: usually people from all over the world, each with their unique skills. You learn a lot from it. And to really mean something for someone else makes a person happy, as crazy as this may sound in this context. Many volunteers return to Moria, because they appreciate being able to help the people there.

“Moria has an inspiring atmosphere. I feel very useful and tend to lose myself in offering medical care to the people living there. This is how I find myself. Who is in good health, has hope. And who has hope, has the world.”

Lucie Blondé, 26 years, General Practitioner, Gendt

Money

The medical mission costs around 10.000 Euro per month. We need this money mainly for supplies and medication. This can be bandages, crutches, suture needles, IVs, antibiotics and painkillers. And for daily transport of named supplies as well as the teams to and from Moria.

You can mean more than you think

The problems in Moria are huge. This probably affects you, but it can also make you feel helpless. Maybe you think: ‘as an individual, there is not much I can do, it is no use’, You can mean more for our medical mission than you may think, however.

As doctor or nurse, you can really make a difference in Moria. Do you want to be that safe haven and push your boundaries?  Please apply here as volunteer.

Do you not have a medical background? Then you can still mean a lot for the medical mission by a donation. Your support enables us to buy supplies, medicine and transportation. It may sound like a cliche, but every Euro helps.

Photo header: Bas Bakkenes

Press Release | Restart medical mission Lesvos

On the 31st of December 2017, Boat Refugee Foundation withdrew its medical mission from camp Moria. It was not possible to run the mission on our desired level during that time, combined with a lack of sufficient funds. Unfortunately, we see now that the capacity of the current local care providers to ensure long-term medical care for the camp inhabitants is lacking.
For this reason, we have decided to restart our medical mission as per 1 May 2018. Based on thorough research and with good preparations in the camp, we are confident to take this step. The medical mission is better prepared; with solid finances, improved registration, guaranteed protection of the patients’ privacy and an extended team in The Netherlands and Lesvos.
We are looking forward to provide essential medical care to the vulnerable people in camp Moria.
More information is available from Evita Bloemheuvel, Press Officer BRF evita@bootvluchteling.nl

Do I deserve the things I have been through?

Everyone needs to make sense of his/her life. Good and bad things happen for a reason, that is the way our brain works, that is what our relatives, other people and society as a whole tell us. The sensation of losing control of the environment around us, to be twisted in the storming wind, thus casually becoming victims of one’s destiny is painful and scary. Does not matter what anyone did in the past, does not matter whether someone chose to fly away from one’s homeland voluntarily or not, not a soul in this camp was able to predict the odyssey one has been through. Quoting someone else: ‘If you think, if you judge it conventionally, you will condemn them to five thousand years of prison plus expenses. But if you understand, if you let your eyes rest on them for a moment, although not lilies they are still victims of this world.’

It seems like an easy message to send, particularly to those who have been raped and mutilated, tortured and enslaved. Shockingly, those who suffered the most are also the people who blame themselves the most. They feel ashamed of not having been strong enough to defend themselves. They feel guilty for not having been good enough to keep the promise they had made to their families. They feel foolish for not having doubted the evil person who betrayed them. Today, sat a man crumpled on the ground; he covered his head trying to dissociate himself from the reality he faced; flashbacks that never left him alone. He felt ashamed of something he was not able to tell us. Lost in the darkness of his mind. This silent cry resonated in the cabin… deafening.

Text: Emanuele Politi

Humans of Moria

Perhaps it’s the environment we are in wherein we are all working towards a common goal, you know that the conversations are real here in camp Moria. The interaction is special and most importantly when you share a laugh together, it’s real. People in camp Moria are regular people with unfortunate circumstances. Engaging in conversations reassure a sense of normalcy in an otherwise debilitating situation and a few people have managed to make an impact in my week here.

The first person I’d like to talk about is a little 10-year-old kid from Kabul, Afghanistan. The first time I met him was when I was trying to communicate to an adult in English with a lot of gesturing and then the kid said ‘It’s important to know English, it’s very useful’’. He then came in front of the community centre and showed off his ‘hula-hoop’….he was good! I tried, it fell to the ground in 2 seconds. We then chatted for at least 30 minutes. He apologised to sit and talk but he said he wanted to practice his English and again the topic of having a ‘normal conversation’ came up. He was very open about his life back in Kabul, to the extent that he was very matter-of-fact about being around Taliban and constantly hearing bombings. He also mentioned that his parents had passed away and that his older brother made the decision to move away. They apparently had a plan, which included learning English. This kid now speaks fluent English that he learnt in 1 year and also a little bit of German (sorry Deutch, as he corrected me). He said, his other 2 siblings were in Germany and that he couldn’t wait to get there and therefore wanted to read as many German books as possible.

He also said he wanted to be an artist when he grows up – painting and drawing and later he gave me something he created out of paper (see picture). I was literally at loss of words. This kid was so resilient, unbelievably smart and motivated and had this thirst for knowledge and the future. No one needs to normalize being around Taliban leave alone a kid.  When I was 10 my biggest worry was probably that my school uniform was not ironed.

Extrinsic motivation is limited in Moria, but clearly there is something internally driving this child and I can’t be happier about that. It is this internal motivation we need to harness and nourish, whether it is in the form schooling or just having a regular conversation. The knowledge that things could be normal and that people will treat you with the same amount of dignity and respect is extremely important in a situation like this. I will always remember this kid and I hope to see him flourish 10-15 years from now and perhaps be a proud owner of his paintings.

 

Text: Sindhuja Sankaran
Photo: Bas Bakkenes
*The boy in the picture is not the boy from the blog

‘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
‏Pleading
‏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