Monthly Archives: April 2016

Kalo Mina

Now that I am officially back in New Orleans I wanted to say another really big thank you to everyone who donated and supported me going back to Eidomeni.  I am also SO thankful to the Refugee Solidarity Movement Thessaloniki, my Eidomeni BFFs, Oikopolis, and of course my personal support friends/family in Thessaloniki.

As I posted while I was in Greece a lot has changed in the camp.  The future for the 10,000+ people in Eidomeni is uncertain as well as for the 50,000+ in all of Greece.  The only constant has been the incompetence of political planning and organization.  I guess all we can know for certain is that the system will continue to disappoint.

On a positive note, I amazingly feel very satisfied with my time there.  With the help of my previous volunteer friends I met in November and new more incredible like-minded people I met only this month, all together we were able to provide relief all around.  From over 1200 reusable cups, to hundreds of sticker books, balloons, markers, clothes, and bus tickets, with other volunteers I was able to directly be of service.  Some of us would even say the obvious, “Just imagine if every one person, helped every one person here…” and I did see that happen a lot this time and it was a beautiful thing…but at the same time, disheartening because there are just so many desperate people.

When I arrived the RSMT (Refugee Solidarity Movement Thessaloniki) was beginning to discuss new types of services to provide.  The tea tent idea had spread and plenty of independent volunteers were taking the reigns for this duty.  Luckily, I was able to distribute tea with the group 3 times before it was decided to take a break and start brainstorming.

Of course the idea is to provide more possibilities for independence.  Whether in crafts, sewing, teaching, dance, or music, RSMT is prioritizing to create productive activities for the refugees.  This is what is in the works for the next couple of weeks.  I am sad to be missing it however, it has never been more clear to me that MY priority is to be a part of the plan eventually.

Therefore, I am in the works of legitimatizing a long term stay in Thessaloniki.  Even though by the time I am able to return, Eidomeni will probably be completely evacuated and refugees will be sent to the various camps within Greece.  During my time there, camps were popping up every where.  Especially in various areas around Thessaloniki.  This is where the RSMT are focusing for these efforts because the smaller camps (3000 people) are more stable…most of the time.  As I continue to be in contact with this group, I’ll be updating on the process.

I could not have asked for a more perfect layout of my stay in Thessaloniki.  As my first night I arrived happened to be Craig’s (Organizer for RSMT) birthday party, where I reunited with and was introduced to all the amazing people who participate in this group.

Then of course my last night (which I actually postponed…hey, I needed those two extra days in Thessaloniki!) was the 3 year anniversary for Oikopolis (the non-profit that basically is an umbrella for many groups working out of Thessaloniki.)  Everyone was there.  It was such an incredible event and really nailed in the feeling of where I belong.

 

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Protests vs Markers

This little guy. Hit in the head with a rubber bullet on Sunday, he was back again testing the limits by being this close to the confrontation today. I had some balloons and gave one to him. He continued closer to the fence, but far enough not to be in danger. He had blown up the balloon and kicked it. It rolled through the grass as he picked up some small pebbles and threw them towards the chaos. Then he marched over and with such force stomped on the balloon. POP! Typical boy stuff.

He came back over to us and we asked him more about what had happened to him Sunday. At first, he had joined the guys in the protest. Then after he saw our faces of disapproval changed his story to say that he was an innocent bystander.

All of our misunderstood words and lectures about how he should stay safe and not participate or get close to this kind of thing were thrown aside. However, after some silence, I thought I’d try one more thing. I opened my bag and pulled out some markers.

“Do you like these?” *Eyebrows raise* I had caught his interest. I gave him a pack of the markers (I brought 5 packs just in case…) and we examined the unique colors and pretty legitimate quality.

“One end is small, like a pen…”

“The other big!” he said with an authentic smile.

I felt as if I was in a parallel universe in that moment. Tear gas is being tossed yards away and we were focused solely on the coolest markers ever. Luckily that morning, amazing Oikopolis people had found me a notebook (perfect for a young dude like this one) so he was all set.

Once he had the book and said his thank yous, he began to walk back into the camp miming to us that he was going to his “home” to draw.

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Sunday in Eidomeni

Yesterday, the Refugee Solidarity Movement Thessaloniki went to say goodbye to our friends in the camp. Many have been helping with the tea tent for several weeks now from crowd control, distribution, and making the tea itself. It was decided that this would be a visit to let everyone know that we were going to stop serving chai.

The efforts of the group have been amazing from when I was first introduced and participated in November and after, as I watched from afar, throughout the numerous changes within the camp to these most recent weeks. I am so thankful to have been able to work along side these incredibly selfless people. Not only do I feel a strong sense of pride for what was accomplished, but also I am so grateful to have met all the people involved.

Of all the things that make the Refugee Solidarity Movement Thessaloniki special one part I cannot stress enough is of the extraordinary people I’ve met and volunteered with. It really is an exceptional group of people.

I also want to give a shout out for the consistency and exhausting work that Craig and Sari (main coordinators of the tea tent) have maintained for several months. We all see the joy the refugees exude when we arrive. Thank you to these guys for keeping the momentum and strength (mentally, physically, and emotionally).

Things in Eidomeni are becoming more and more unstable. The worst part is the danger it places on everyone there. Misinformation has become one of the worst problems. Yesterday, we noticed pamphlets that were in Arabic that were calling for a protest Sunday morning at 9am. The rumor was that if there were enough people, 3000 to be exact, they would have to open the borders.

Many volunteers tried to discourage this belief. Posts went up on Facebook expressing the dangers that this type of protest would bring. However sadly, this did not change the minds of the thousands of desperate refugees in Eidomeni.

So today, a whirlpool of emotions as Eidomeni experiences more pain and heartache. Children being tear gassed by the Macedonian Army (I keep thinking, “WHO is giving these orders??”) rubber bullets being shot, and NGOs evacuating. Volunteers are staying behind aiding with anyone suffering from the teargas. Groups have already organized to provide new clothing that has been ruined by the teargas powder.

In the video below you can hear the teargas exploding…it made me jump the first time. How is this allowed against these people?! Who have NOTHING!

My heart hurts and my blood boils that this is becoming the ‘normal.’ We have pleaded, yelled, screamed, debated to keep these people safe. No one is listening.

So many have taken it upon themselves to provide what little comfort they can to the tens of thousands of refugees in Greece. From food, to tea, to clean clothes, to fresh water and showers, and so much more as was in the article I posted some days ago about the necessity of the volunteer efforts.

However, the real need is to give the refugees the opportunity to live a safe and happy life.

Isn’t that what we all deserve?

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I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

On my drive to Eidomeni on Tuesday I was listening to the radio.  Mostly, I am stuck with top 40s or Greek songs which I actually enjoy as being in the camp can be a type of work out.  What better music to pump yourself up than top 40s?

However, this afternoon while I was scrolling through the hundreds of stations I was happily surprised to find some Dixieland jazz.  The host’s voice came on afterwards and mentioned, “Νέα Ορλεάνη” and a sense of pride and appreciation for my homeland came over me.

As the voice faded out a slow but familiar piano began to play.  Immediately I recognized Nina Simone’s soulful instrumental style and voice…

“I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
I wish I could break all the chains holding me
I wish I could say all the things that I should say
Say ’em loud say ’em clear
For the whole wide world to hear
I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly
Well I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea
And I’d sing cuz I know how it feels to be free
I wish I could share
All the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars that keep us apart
And I wish you could know how it is to be me
Then you’d see and agree that every man should be free.”

With every verse, tears grew in my eyes.  It is a song that pertains to so much of the world right now and at that moment, for me, a song for the refugees.

This performance in particular says everything… “I already know. I found out. How it feels not to be chained to any thing, to any race, to any faith, to anybody, to any greed, to any hopes, to any anything. I know how it feels to be free!”

 

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