On the Isle of Lesvos there are currently around 65,000 refugees stuck on the island. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, mainly for my own benefit to keep trying to get my head round the fact. The winter is, apparently, a particularly harsh one and this has been born out by the recent deaths from hypothermia. Many families have been moved into hotels and there is also a Greek naval ship at the port that houses some 150 men of a whole host of different nationalities. Everyone is waiting and waiting for a response to their asylum claim, for a response to anything really that will mean that they can move on with their lives. The naval ship sits in the water tantalisingly close to the ferry that leaves daily bound for Athens, where they would love to be able to go but can’t. Just wait.
While we were there we managed to do a distribution to the men on the ship. A joint effort between Hope and Aid Direct, The Truck Shop, Help Refugees and I’ve probably missed out some vital other people. One truck was kitted out with rails and coats were sorted and sized and hung up. Same with sweatshirts that were boxed up into different sizes and packs with hat, scarf, gloves and socks were prepared. It sounds easy but it takes hours and manpower and humour. Another truck was kitted out with stock to replace the rails as they emptied. The whole point was for people to be able to take their time and choose what they wanted, try it on and maintain some dignity and humanity in this whole sorry mess. We were not allowed to board the ship and doing distributions is not hugely popular so we parked round the corner and did what was meant to be a covert operation but was very busy.
As there was so much waiting to be had and it was cold, a member of the team, Bernie, had the genius idea of taking a burner down and some pots and making tea for people as they waited. This not only warmed people up and gave everyone a chance to chat but also took some of the angst out of waiting. The whole thing about having nothing means that when something is being offered there is an added tinge of desperation in case said offerings run out before you get to them. As we all drank tea together it meant that the angst melted somewhat and people then went on to choose some stuff with a more cheery and relaxed air. The atmosphere in general was one of laughter, chat and people’s stories that never ever fail to leave me utterly flabbergasted and humbled.
One young lad talked about his journey to turkey through Lebanon and he then walked across Syria. His travel friend was shot and killed as they went through Syria and he mimed having to duck and run as he made his journey. He is 20 years old. Two young men showed their injuries from the police. It seems to be an international sport at the moment, having a physical and every other manner of pop at the vulnerable. Each a story of resilience and courage, the very same resilience and courage that is normally applauded but that the media are telling us to fear. Every single person was courteous and funny and there was laughter ringing in the air despite the bitter cold of the night. It also showed that putting in an amount of preparation paid off in being able to offer a distribution that was organised and dignified. One young man said that it was the first nice thing that someone had done for him since starting his journey. It was a joyous evening that left everyone feeling as though we had managed to do something positive and that the aid had got to those who really needed it.
The stories were also shared with a level of resignation as each person told how long they had been stuck on the island – 3 months, 5 months, 9 months and with no solution in sight. Just wait. Waiting has been a feature of this trip. Hurry up and Wait. Quick rush to the border, scrabble about for documents and wait, sometimes really really wait. Quick hurry up and get everything to the warehouse and wait. Load up the trucks in a hurry and wait. Unload the trucks in a hurry and wait. A massively diluted version of what our friends from so many different countries are having to do. Hurry up and leave their homes and then wait. Hurry up and register and wait.
Hurry up and wait is also what we all have to do in the world at the moment. Hurry up and do something about the madness that is so very quickly surrounding us all. Hurry up and make our voices heard that the cruelty being carried out is not in our names. Hurry up and be super kind to our fellow humans and then wait to see what pans out. It doesn’t feel as though we have a great deal of time to mess about to just stand by and watch the circus that ‘leaders’ around the world are creating.
We left the island the next day and, as we were boarding the ferry, a number of the young men came out to wave us goodbye. They waved their thanks and I think that I speak for everyone involved on the convoy when I say that it was an incredibly moving moment. At least it was one hurry up and wait that had been a resounding success. The whole evening, and indeed the whole trip and movements happening across the world, can be summed up by the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”