I have been in Kastellorizo for 3 days.
I have many observations and stories and thoughts.
Not everything has been dramatic or life changing. I haven't seen any bodies washed ashore. I haven't really seen any people who are sopping wet and hypothermic.
I've seen Hope, as a tangible, describable, visual thing.
I've seen Gratitude.
I've had really great conversation.
I've been saturated by languages. And bread.
And really warm company and really cold temperatures.
As I was sitting here, writing the first draft of this post in the restaurant I spend most of my free time in, I saw two young men wander up to the door and heard a knock.
I waved them inside.
They said 'hello. we need a bed.'
We (Adam, my volunteer friend) were a bit confused.
Usually, refugees come in large groups. To make more money, smugglers will put 30-40 people on small raft-style boats. This is why so many refugees do show up wet- water seeps in as they make the watery journey over the Mediterranean or the boat capsizing because of rough waters and weight limitations.
But these two young men were alone. And dry. And apparently, just needed a bed.
One said he spoke a little English.
Then said 'we are Syrian'.
Adam and I asked them if they had checked in with the coast guard- they hadn't.
They had bought a sea kayak in Turkey and rowed over.
Brilliant. Cheap. Stealthy.
We explained as best we could (with their limited English and my limited Arabic) that they could sleep at 'The Hall'.
The Hall is where most of the refugees who land on this island stay while waiting for their paperwork to process and the ferry to arrive. We lay out mats on the floor and provide blankets. It's not much but it's better than the street. And it's free.
We led the two men to The Hall.
There were about 17 other refugees already set up. They all greeted one another like old friends.
The two men said 'okay. how much for a night?'
I said 'it's free. zero dollars'
They said 'what?! why?'
I said 'everyone is trying to help.'
I felt weird calling these guys 'refugees'.
I actually feel really weird calling most of the people I've met 'refugees'.
I mean, they are refugees... They left their homes and their familiar city- now a bombed, disheveled, unidentifiable war zone. They are looking for a safe place to rebuild.
They are refugees.
they are people...
people who just need a little help right now.
Families and friends. Little ones who love to play soccer. Older, traditional women who will only take underwear from another woman, and even then, will scrunch it up so even her husband can't see tell what they are. Young adults paving the way for the rest of their family to follow on later in the year. Fathers who sit around and talk of the world.
Refugee right now.
I've learned a lot these past few days. I've been overwhelmed with emotion.
The Hope I saw was on Monday, when the twice-a-week gargantuan Greek ferry came and the refugees got on board.
I tried so hard not to. I felt ridiculous actually. I thought 'this is the beginning of their story; this is years of hard work and survival coming to surface; this is Hope'.
But I cried because I'll never see most of these people again.
And they kept saying 'Shukran' & 'Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!'.
And I wanted to yell:
'NO THANK YOU! You survived and I met you and I feel so fortunate that you showed me the perseverance of family and the beauty of escaping and moving forward! I met you and you changed my life and I hate how cheesy that sounds but it's true! So no, THANK YOU! For being kind and giving me a reason and a purpose and a real life defense when I'm surrounded by ignorance that says all Muslims are terrorists. You are human and I am human and thank you for solidifying that fact and smiling and existing'
So. I cried.
Happy tears. Bittersweet salty tears. Proud and Hopeful tears.
All over the place:
Eyes of parents after you play with their kiddos for even just 15 minutes.
Fleeing your country in times of war is hard.
Traveling with your family?
No, I kid, I kid.
But I mean, we've all been in the car with our mom and our dad and maybe some siblings and a crazy uncle and there is a lot of screaming and some snoring and on and on.
I can't imagine how tired these parents must be.
It's like a family vacation except they're worried about their lives.
So you play soccer in the streets and the parents look at you and don't say much.
But they look at you and say 'thank you'.
That is Gratitude.
AsThe two young men from earlier? They bought me the largest Swiss Role (chocolate with delicious fake marshmallow in the middle) I have ever seen.
I didn't want it because I'm 'healthy'. Except of course I took it, blushingly, and I ate the shit out of that Swiss Role. It was hella good.
It tasted like Thankfulness.
And Gratitude sometimes looks just like it does in the rest of the world.
Like a giant huge from a little girl wearing a pink jacket.
And you'll have really great conversation everywhere you go.
We, the volunteers, talk about the refugees and we also laughed and talked about eating Happy Treats and movies we liked and didn't like and life, the universe and everything.
It's a relief and a release.
And it's utterly necessary to mental wellbeing.
There are many ways to say 'hello' and I'm trying to remember them all. Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, Persian, Greek, English.
And there are even more ways to explain types of clothing and funny enough, usually the confusion happens between the Americans and the Brits.
(They call a tanktop, a vest. Wtf?)
And there is too much bread.
And there is never enough bread.
It's cold here. I look like a small bear in my Turkish jacket.
It's warm here. I can feel the love and kindness around me always.
More stories later.
Endless stories always.
I am moved by the world.
So no. Let's not talk about Syria.
Let's talk about people. And humanity.
And beauty and goodness and kindness and hope and gratitude and bread.
That is what this world needs.
Kiss each other and hold each other closely and look up at the sky and look down at your feet and breathe.
And eat a slice of bread for me.
Cheers, my dear ones.
ps: all my loves are going to the Kings v Blazers game tonight, so real quick, GO KINGS!