A Whirlwind of Emotions by Molly Hock
The past four days in Northern Greece have passed faster than I could have imagined. Our days were filled with shopping to meet the needs of families, sharing yoga with the girls, visiting friends from our last trip, warm hugs, hearing heart-wrenching stories from back home, and offering solidarity. I am now at the airport, ready to travel to Mykonos for a conference. As to be expected, my days in Northern Greece were a whirlwind of emotions.
My first impression was amazement by the vast improvements at the Eko gas station camp where we spent the month of February camping. Instead of being greeted by an overwhelming smell of burning plastic and people sleeping on the asphalt, I was welcomed to a plethora of aid, and more stabilized shelters. Not only did each person have a tent, most also had tarps, shade, a stash of waters, and extra blankets. It was no longer a few volunteers at a time, but now there are more teams than I could keep track of. Even with the improved conditions, the suffering continues. The people are growing tired of being treated like animals, and many are giving up. I can’t tell you how many families I met who are ready to return to Turkey, or even Lebanon. The situation was so bad in the first place that the people were willing to risk their lives to make it to Europe, and it has gotten to the point that they are eady to return. Is this the goal of Europe? Is this the reason our world leaders continue to watch the people suffer? What kind of life are we as a global community offering to these women, children, and men? There is no opportunity, extremely limited education, no jobs available, and a general lack of information on the future. Over and over I was told, “this is not a life”. Through all of this the hope for the future has dwindled. My friend told me he would rather live on the streets and beg for food than to continue living without dignity, without a future. He feels he is seen as an animal, not as a human being. A Syrian family we met has decided to take the smuggling route back to Turkey by land. Another family paid 8,000 Euros, (their entire savings), to travel here from Lebanon… And they are now searching for ways to return. How many more lives will be lost as people continue to give up, resorting to traveling in dangerous conditions? A refugee hung himself near the area we have been staying in yesterday. Nine day old babies are lacking food in the new camps, as there hasn’t been any aid provided for babies. Children have had lice. Since the recent closure of the camp at the border, refugees are in transition throughout Northern Greece. Through this transition they lack the means to care for themselves.
At least one camp went days without water, some went days without toilets. The repulsion of the limited toilets available in some camps is inhumane and jeopardizes the health of refugees, volunteers, and military personnel. The military has limited volunteer access in areas, worsening the situation for the people. I would love to return to these dark camps to provide love and light through yoga and meditation. I shared my first class with a group of about twelve girls at Eko, which was such a blissful experience. I shared a brief explanation of yoga and how we use it to connect our mind, body, and spirit before the giggles set in. We laughed and laughed as the girls tried something they have never done before. We slowed down the class toward the end when we went into the final relaxation. We finished with a short seated meditation. I opened my eyes to check on the girls, and my heart instantly melted. The girls were so still, so quiet… They looked like they had been meditating for years. As soon as I finished with a ‘namaste’ the girls asked, “how many days you here? Can you come tomorrow?”. I struggled to contain my joy, and the quickly realized I didn’t need to. We all hugged, laughed, and took photos of one another. I knew at this moment that this is what I want to do. This is my calling.
Before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to my Syrian family. I find comfort in knowing that I will be back soon, but it hurts me to be apart from Little Ahmad.
After the conference Zoe, Kyle, Otis and I will reconvene in Istanbul to finish the work Sam and Zoe have started with the school and women’s center. As an organization, we will continue to find children to fill the classroom at Al-Noukhba School in Istanbul, we will complete the women’s center, and complete any further logistical work. God willing, we will return to Greece to continue bringing light to this period of darkness. To help these people feel human again, to remind them that there are people who care for them, to provide them with activities to make them feel fulfilled. We will see what Turkey holds, as the deal between the EU and Turkey plays out. I have trust in this process, knowing that the road ahead will unfold itself.