Passover in Piraeus (#3, 4/23/2016): Hanging in the in-Betweens
I looked around for Maher’s tent but I couldn’t tell it apart from the others. Bse his mother waved to me from another row. Amanda opened the flap and invited me in. I took the time to look around, have a better view, it was actually four tents connected by a blanket overhead. Sleeping bags were rolled and tucked at the sides. I handed a plastic bag to Bse, in it were the items Maher requested, as well as a new blanket and sun screen and Amanda, Trea and I cover ourself with the white cool cream. I hang out with the girls a bit longer , enjoying play time browsing snow-white storybook in Greek and launching straw helicopters. Maher returned and received the rest of the items I got. We had lunch, black plastic trays supplied by the relief organizations. No cooking happens on the camp. No one has utilities, or fire sources. It was baked beans in tomato sauce and an orange. I wasn’t hungry but Maher insisted. He said they get double rations at both camps E1 and E1.5 so there is plenty. Dipping a piece of bread into the red sauce, I ask him what their plans are. He doesn’t know. He’d like to go to Germany but the border is closed now.
I heard from other folks here that Germany is their preferred destination. I bring the bread to my mouth and chew. Should I tell him that four days ago I visited Essen in Germany, my sister who lives there spoke to me of felt intolerance, of closed isolated camps? On the other hand, I have been told camps in Munich are more welcoming and better run, and that people there are supportive. I have my own friends in Germany who are actively working on the ground there with the refugees and doing terrific work. Beyond these opinions, I returning to not knowing, to the only thing that is indisputable — feelings — the mix of hopefulness and sadness, care and wish to support. I scoop some more beans and ask him if he has a girlfriend. He gets a big smile on his face and says yes, in Iraq. “She want’s me to come back.”
Maher goes to take a shower, ‘Chatrewa!’ — see you all later, and I head out. I meet some friends from Codepink from the US, women in 60’s, and 70’s who came here to see the place. I cross the road where the Afghan tents are, a kid runs straight to up to me, puts up his palms and we do some rounds of clapping games. I lost. I take out crayons and a young man sits before me. Seems like he knew the drill, maybe he saw me yesterday? — Mouhammad reaches to the crayon box and picked two colors without me saying a word. I felt amused.
I took the rest of the day to take things in. I walked to camp E1, a bustling large area. A European volunteer giving a soap-bubble toy to the kids “I want to see a line!” and the kids buzz around her repeating “line! line! line!” Volunteers playing rope with kids, serving water, registering people. I thought of these volunteers, many of who are individuals who just landed here and sign up for chores. I see the part of me that would like to do that, contribute with the daily needs. Then I think of the whole camp, the huge complex operation of keeping a place like this running — who cleans the port-o-potties? how often are they pumped? There are Facebook groups that connect volunteers here. There are initiatives to find and renting housing in town (Petra donated some money to an LGBTQ group for that purpose); another group is helping people get their digital photos off their phones and onto cloud services. I am now by the far end of E1. Two boys Yasser and another Muhammad point at my crayons. We hang. Beside us large boats shuttle vacationers to the Crete and other islands. I can see them looking down at the tents below. I imagine what they may feel too.
Today was very much about bearing witness to a larger, slower, picture. I reflected on the energy of the day before and appreciated the flow of the highs, the lows. I look around and see a man sleeping in the open, covered by a blanket, kids playing rope, a pair of women sitting in the shade sharing about their day, a young man in denim suit has his arm around a young woman with sparkly purple hijab lean against a broken car, a toddler playing with sand and a tin can under a hanging rope of red, pink, blue clothes drying in the sun. All of them teach me — I feel a sense of ease and perspective and appreciate that most of the time, even in a place of deep uncertainty, confusion and complexity, its just that — appreciating and hanging in the in-betweens.