Surely if the men in camp didn’t want or need what we’re giving out, they wouldn’t use their valuable energy climbing to the top of the camp to get it? They wouldn’t join yet another line, when they already spend so much of their lives in one - for food, for asylum, for everything. So today, when we had a never-ending line of men collecting their clothes pack, and a never-ending line of men newly registering so they can come back tomorrow for their bag, I’ve got to believe that they really need and want what we’re giving. That is… a simple change of clothes - new jogging trousers, t-shirt, sweater, underwear and socks. Just a change of clothes.
Ruhi and I were on checking-in duty today so we got to say hello, bonjour, salam, to everyone.
We both did a double-take when a Brummie accent replied hello! Standing in front of us was an Afghan man who told us his wife and children are in Birmingham, where he lived for many years. Then one day he was deported and hasn’t been allowed back. He was the business man of the family with a successful building company (he employed 15 people), but the UK won’t let him back in on a visa as his wife doesn’t earn enough. So here he is, in a line for clothes, in a refugee camp in Greece. Stopped from being a dad. Stopped from being a husband. For what reason? Heart breaking and shameful in almost equal measure.
As Ruhi was cheerily saying ‘Hello. How are you today’ to everyone, the replies to this question got steadily harder to hear...
‘Samos no good’
‘Me very hungry. I have nothing. Not enough food in camp. I have to find my own way.’
‘I have pain but there no doctors.’ followed by shirt or trouser leg adjusting to show us bullet wounds or burns...
She stopped asking. We just had no reply for any of them.
The appreciation is humbling. Don’t get me wrong, some guys will barely make eye contact or say anything to us. They resent living a life that makes them rely on our charity. And I get that. I think I might even feel that way if it was me in their shoes.
But for others... For example one young man, with especially good English, said he’s writing a rap song for the volunteers. He took time, wanted to tell me that he’d never heard of volunteering like this in his home country and couldn’t believe when he came to Samos that we would leave our own homes and families behind to come and help strangers.
Then there’s the frequent ‘thank you my sister’, given so sincerely. Even when he’s just asked me if we have any shoes, or a belt, or a little food, and I have to say no, because if I help one I have to help a thousand.
The fairness of queues and lines can be the difference between a safe distribution and things going badly wrong. So as well as arriving in manageable numbers for their pre-ticketed date and time slots - on the excellent advice of our friends at Refugee 4 Refugees who are resident on Samos - everyone is given a new number when they arrive and join the line (just like we use at home but with slips of paper instead of electronic systems). This seems to work brilliantly.
There was just one heated upset in the line yesterday. It was short-lived but it served to remind me that we’d purposely invited over 100 men of every nationality, who are tired and hungry and frustrated, into a smallish space, and that if anything were to kick-off it wouldn’t be safe. Especially for them. In that split second I better understood the vulnerability and volatility of Camp life for everyone living there day after day. Calm one minute and a fight the next; living in constant fear.
Two beautiful highlights for me today were the fresh wild flowers waiting for us from community volunteer Mansour first thing in the morning. And later in the day when energy levels were flagging, US volunteer Christa and a young man from Cameroon starting dancing brilliantly together to pass time!
Bright, beautiful moments that brighten even the darkest days.