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