I arrived this afternoon in Athens to participate in the Not Knowing Pilgrimage in Greece led by Zen Peacemakers NL — an open invitation to plunge into the Zen Peacemakers Tenets of Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action, in the midst of the historic migration of people from the war-torn middle east, particularly from Syria, many of whom are Palestinians and Afghanistan, to Europe.
I have been participating and contributing to the massive-scale Bearing Witness retreats that the ZP, a non-profit international organization, has conducted in the Black Hills with the Lakota Indians, in Rwanda and in Auschwitz/Birkenau for 20 years, and I was interested to see this new form of smaller-scale members-led actions.
Petra Zenryu Hubbeling, the plunge’s coordinator who has originated the idea and been here for two weeks now, texts me bus directions to the apartment in the Piraeus. Standing space only, I look at the scenario passing by. Another alert comes: to my right halfway to Athens the bus shall pass the old airport where recently some of the refugees were relocated to from city piers. At first I see nothing but abandoned hangers, tin roofs and bare runways, then colors streak by and I see them — yellows, reds, blues orbs. A few lone figures outside, a child . Possibly others shielding from the sun inside the tents. I become excited taking photographs and I see that alerts some of the passengers on the bus.
As the bus enters the city , I see hills tightly packed with white House and red brick Byzantine chapels. As deeper into the urban city we get most of walls are covered with colorful graffiti, a slight distraction from decay and debris nearly all buildings show. Athens seems to unflinchingly show its distress.
The bus driver, a full bodied bearded young man with a thick accent tells me that I’ll be dropping off the next stop . We are now deep within the Piraeus metropolitan area. I disembark at Dimotiko Theatro.
I walk towards the apartment, enjoying narrow vistas of balconies climbing up hills in angles. I pass young couples, business men and a homeless person picking up a red clothing item from a dumpster.
The apartment is situated overlooking a dramatic marina, sailboats and restaurants lining the promenade. The only hungry are the pigeons cleaning the crumbs by the tables. Here folks sleep well at night.
At the apartment Petra and I catch up. We are down to Petra, Renee and I here, there were days six populated this one bedroom apartment. Others left either on schedule or before planned. Seems like the exposure to the suffering and helplessness of the refugees at the piers took toll on some volunteers. Some where burned out, some were frustrated with the unexpected results of doing good — one person brought toys to give to kids only to have them brawl among them for who gets what. I understand bearing witness here includes the caregivers, the volunteers, they, us!, too need attention and care.
Renee comes home. She describes a conversation with a Greek ceramic artist who has felt shame that she and the rest of Greece aren’t doing more for the refugees, and was sad her responsibilities for her own job and family don’t let her do more so foreigners like us come and help.
I hear that camp 2 has already been evacuated by the army, and that the situation there is changing daily. Many volunteers left, and others are in disarray. There are only two translators among the refugees, one of whom is an 8 year old afghan boy.
Tomorrow is the eve of Passover , when the Jewish people , of whom I am a descendent, celebrate the exodus from tyranny into freedom, of deep faith in the midst of great pain, both within one-self and without in the context of peoples and nations — its also a time for family gathering, warmth, and community. I reflect on the broad stroke of my human race, of movements of peoples and families, of clouds of faith and helplessness washing over the planet. This passover, I will celebrate with these folks here who have fled civil wars and lost every single thing they owned, those of five thousand years ago, those of today, and those of the future. I begin to accept that the tendency to divide and hurt is an innocent expression of our tragic ways to live, and that the yearning to be seen, to be heard, to be nurtured, to find freedom and agency, and to contribute, are universal.
Tomorrow Friday I’ll make my first trip to Camp 1.5 on the other side of town. With thanks to all those whose efforts set this up and with heart to those who need it.