This morning, our day started with the distribution of water at the police station. Upon arrival we are immediately surrounded by people who want water as it has been unbearably hot here. Today we included the park that sits behind the police station. What a desolate place this is. People ‘live’ here by sleeping on a piece of cardboard, they don’t even have a tent. They have a very meager outlook on life, you can see it on their faces. They are without hope. We saw a group of men sitting together, cooking a meal that looked pretty good.
Another group of men is sitting playing cards, seemingly oblivious to what is going on around them. A small scuffle starts about a meter away and someone is punched in the face very hard. For a second it seems the situation may escalate, but everyone quickly calms down. It smells bad here. The scent is similar to that which you smell in slums. On one side of the park, MSF has set up their bus to give medical aid. I see a woman suffering from cramps as I approach to give her water. I think she is about to give birth and her contractions have set in.
On the way to the police station we see Rashid (I think that was his name). Rashid is a Syrian refugee that has helped us hand out water for the past few days. He has contributed greatly in making everything run very smoothly because he speaks fluent English and Arabic. Besides that he is always happy and very courageous. At the same, though, he is realistic. Today he came to thank us for our help and let us know that he has finally received his papers and will be travelling to Athens with the ferry. Moved by this I give him a hand and a pat on the shoulder. I am so happy for him and congratulate him. If someone deserves this, he does! At the same time I’m also sad. Where will he end up? Will he be OK? I hope so.
We also say goodbye to Angela and Sam, two English tourists that have been helping us daily. We’ve been through a lot together, so this goodbye was not easy either.
The atmosphere is relaxed today. There were a few confrontations but these were quickly appeased. It’s not easy living in these conditions, in this heat, and with so many cultures.
We spent the afternoon doing mostly practical things: picking out clothes, preparing the bags for the immediate relief of the refugees arriving in boats the next morning, and bringing all the clothing supplies to a central location. Afterwards Nelleke and I went shopping for muesli bars, carrots, juice boxes for the children, razors, and other basic needs. We had a shortage of women’s trousers but were able to fill that need now.
All day I regretted not taking a picture with Rashid. I decided to go to the ferry and look for him before his departure. When I got there I couldn’t believe what I saw. Hundreds of refugees were waiting to cross over to Athens. There was a huge line of people. I found Rashid quite quickly and took a picture with him. After chatting with him for a few minutes I decided to walk down the line to see if I knew any other people. Various people waved at us, they all know who we are. I feel a sadness coming over me. You start to care deeply for these people and hope that things will work out for them. But we cannot control what happens to them, all I can do is hope and pray for them.
I watch until most of the refugees have passed the ‘immigration’ post… on their way to a new future, wherever that may be.
(By Jolanda Kromhout https://vrijspraak.wordpress.com, | Translated by Selma Rooseboom)