Something new

Forgive me. For better or worse it’s been years since I’ve had to contribute a thought to the internet without a 140-character restriction.

This inaugural blog post marks the beginning of my sabbatical outside of the United States. I’ve returned to the Greek island of Chios (sunset from one of the beach coves here above) to volunteer with organizations that support refugees in detention camps. This was my third day with Chios Eastern Shore Response Team (CESRT). I have a number of thoughts and memories from these past few days that might help others better understand the refugee situation here. Below are a few.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed seeing familiar faces in Souda camp. Objectively, however, seeing a familiar face indicates that this person has remained in this detention camp since the last time I saw them in early January. During my last visit, I had tea and played cards almost every night after dinner in Tent #1. Four from that tent have since moved on to mainland Greece. This is good and indicates that they are progressing through the asylum process. Three young men from that tent are still in Souda. “No good,” one replied when I asked him how he was. He’s sick of Souda and sleeps in the park some nights to get away.

Lovely. This is the best word to describe CESRT’s Children’s House in the city center. White curtains billow in diffused sunlight. The shelves are full of picture books and playthings. Pillows and cushions are piled in the quiet corner. I primarily joined CESRT for the opportunity to contribute to the Children’s House, which I heard about while volunteering here over the holidays. While I am happy to support women and children, I maintain the idea that it is equally important to support the men. Hearts bleed for women and children but we cannot ignore the largest demographic of refugees here: men.

Supporting an aid organization run by locals has been insightful. Toula, the head of CESRT and a local, is knowledgable of the local sentiment, culture, and protocols. As an outsider trying to make an honest contribution, I can be ignorant to the unintended, negative consequences of my efforts. There’s comfort knowing that I’m less likely to accidentally cause harm to the local community while working with someone who is integrated into this island population. A side benefit is that we interact with many locals. Last night, a couple of us supported a priest in his soup kitchen. A Spaniard, an Argentinian, and I prepared a ton of fish and rice to feed 500 Greeks who needed a hot meal. It was a fun experience.

A man tried to set himself on fire during tea service in camp yesterday. I heard secondhand that he had just learned of his family’s murder in Syria. This is another manifestation of the endless barrage of physical and emotional violence that camp residents experience.

More to come. Please bear with me as I work to get this entire site up and functional.