Leaving Lesvos for Macedonia

If I’ve learned anything over the past couple of weeks, it is that this crisis is fluid. Everything about it is constantly changing. Who is coming. Which routes are most populated. Who is monitoring refugees. Who is helping. Who is hindering. I envision the whole issue like a huge amorphous mass of people and problems and challenges, but when you get out your microscope to examine the mass more closely, you find every single person has a story. Whether it is a refugee, a volunteer, a policeman, a bus driver, an NGO staff person, we all have unique pasts, presents and futures we bring to this. It’s like trying to hold Jello in your hands. Impossible.

Yesterday three from our team (me, our medical coordinator Bill, and our regional director Basel) flew into Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, rented a car and headed north to find Idomeni, the Greece/Macedonia border crossing where upwards of 15,000 refugees are reported to be waiting to pass through. Back in August 2015 the New York Times wrote an article about Idomeni that describes a place vastly different from today. The last time Thessaloniki was on my radar screen was over 20 years ago when it was the “big city” ex-pats working in Albania went to for critical services and resources. What goes around, comes around. We have come here for the next three days to conduct a needs assessment and evaluate whether or not SCM should move its operation here, send a satellite team here, or stay on Lesbos.

deserted-idomeni-0826
Courtesy of NY Times August, 2015.

As we drove north the 100 kilometers to get near the border, we saw refugees walking along the highway, trudging in the rain and cold toward the place where they will be waiting, and waiting, and waiting yet again. Most of the refugees will have come to this area via an Aegean boat crossing, the Mytilini-Athens ferry, and then by bus, as far as Polykastro.

Our first stop was the Park Hotel in Polykastro which has become the de facto nerve center of the unattached volunteer army that is flooding into the area. In fact, we met three volunteers on our Mytilini-Thessaloniki flight, all heading to the same place to shift their work to the latest massive hot spot of need. The debacle at the border here has really exploded in just the last few weeks, so this is an excellent example of how dedicated and motivated humanitarian workers can organically organize themselves into functioning work groups doing great things. According to Anna of Off Track Health, the current working approach has two branches, one medical and one distribution.

The medical team is coordinated into two shifts (10-3 and 3-8) that deploy to two separate camps: Idomeni and Eko. They currently have a donated Swedish ambulance and are expecting another to arrive within days. The ambulance team is usually made up of two docs, two nurses and two notetakers. The vehicle drives to a camp, parks and sets up shop in a designated area where none of the larger medical NGOs (Doctors without Borders, Doctors of the World, Red Cross and Praksis) are working. Each unit (doc, nurse, notetaker) takes a side of the ambulance and provided on demand care, primarily for cold and flu. One doc told me that she saw 100 patients in a three hour period and that is typical.

The distribution team spends the day driving to the camps and handing out food, dry clothing, rain gear, tents, sleeping bags, etc. It is a constant battle against the wet, the cold, the hunger for these families. In the mud and the chaos, there are babies as young as one day old and elders into their nineties. How can this be happening in the 20th century in EUROPE?!

When I asked if the medical teams need Farsi and Arabic interpreters, the answer was “Arabic only.” Why? Because a few days ago, the Greek government brought in buses and forcibly removed the Afghans and bussed them back to Athens. Step one of deportation. Yep. They have made it this far, are inside the Schengen area and are being forced to backtrack.

Today we head to the camps to see firsthand the volunteer opportunities for SCM.

Why not let them through?

About a week ago, I received a thoughtful e-mail from a close friend who is really trying to understand what is happening with the refugee crisis in Greece and the region at large. His questions are perceptive and worth delving into because I believe quite a few people are being wondering the same things. So, this post will look at his questions, and I’ll try to explore answers to them. Here goes:

  1. “I hear the Syrians are paying thousands of dollars to get a ride in an over loaded boat and pay extra for a life jacket.  Is this true? Maybe the $1000s covers the entire trip from Syria?  If so and if the money is being extorted from mostly helpless refugees and handed to opportunistic smugglers, there must be a better answer! 

The going rate has been about $900/person in the winter. It was higher last summer. I don’t know whether or not they pay extra for life jackets. It probably depends on who the smuggler is and how demanding he is. I know for a fact that there are mountains of life jackets on Lesvos, so many, many refugees are wearing them when they cross. Remember, the smugglers have some overhead: boat, motor, life jackets (if they provide them), transport of refugees to the launch site if they provide that, payoffs to authorities in Turkey, kickbacks to referral sources.

  1. If it’s known where the people are coming from and going to, why not let them take a ferry and use the money they don’t pay a smuggler to pay for their own start?  Obviously, Greece and the EU does not want such a flood of people all at once, but if the EU, Greece and Turkey are not actively stopping the migration, why not take a position and method that is more effective? It seems there is a decision that is not being made.    If I understand the facts, Greece and the rest of the EU need to decide to stop the migration (and that means ignoring compassion) or allow the migration and collect the fees that would be otherwise lost to smugglers for use as a jump start where ever the fleeing person lands.  Once a decision is made, and I hope it is the later, Greece and the EU won’t get ALL the burden, NONE of the money and little control … as happens now.  To make people go through this dangerous, open ocean, admiralty law ruse makes no sense.  It kills people, injures people, and causes chaos, all while funding the bad guys. The only thing it accomplishes is it screens out the people who don’t REALLY want to get away from the war.  There must be a better way. Why not try to engineer this so it is more safe, screens immigrants and helps them keep their money for launch in their adopted countries?”

Wow. This is such a novel approach that no one seems to be talking about it. Why not? Why can’t we facilitate smooth and safe transport of migrants across the Aegean?

Greece_Map_Europe

  1. If we make the crossing legal, we may not have anyone wanting to cross. In other words, if you make immigration through Greece legal, many migrants may stick to the land route through Istanbul and north into Bulgaria or Greece. This is not an argument against it, just an observation.
  2. For those of us from areas of the U.S. along the Mexican border, the conundrum probably sounds very familiar. Should we build a bigger wall or allow more freedom of movement from Central America into the U.S. in an effort to be more humanitarian and acknowledge that the current situation germinates crime, human trafficking, and sanctioned abuse? So far, political realities have prohibited any truly progressive solution.
  3. If the EU allows unrestricted entrance into Greece, according to the Schengen agreement this means entrance into all EU countries except those not participating (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia). If you live in a country that does not have socialized health care and other social services, that may not seem like such a big deal. But for countries like Denmark that are relatively small and provide free health care and education to all citizens, when applications for asylum are up 50% as in 2015, it is a very big deal.
  4. Let’s not forget those terrorists and criminals. Every time a terrorist commits a crime inside Europe, anti-immigration sentiments are fomented. Politically, a humane strategy like the one suggested above (ferrying refugees across the Aegean safely) will never float (pun intended) as long as ISIS and the Taliban and Al Qaeda continue to terrorize innocent people. Even if the data show that we are not at risk of dying in a terrorist attack, fear is stronger than reason.

These are just a few arguments against the logical solution suggested above. Unfortunately, the efforts and funds being spent to defer refugees appear to be emphasized more than effective screening mechanisms that would keep out the real danger: criminals and no-good-nicks. Mark my words, this will come back to bite all of us in the years to come much more than refugees will. Guaranteed.

And on the seventh day she was supposed to rest

After six days working in Moria, today was intended to be a rest and prep day for me. A bit of quiet from the noise and chaos and activity of the refugee camp and preparation for our reconnaissance excursion to Idomeni on the Macedonian border on Wednesday. Instead, I woke up to pounding on my door and “Boat incoming!” from our medical team lead at 6am. Fortunately for us, it was a very civil hour with the sun coming up and the ambient temperature mild. We were dressed and heading out in our medical van within 10 minutes. The boat loaded with over 100 refugees had left the Turkish coast in the early morning hours and began to sink somewhere along the six mile journey.

Greek escarpment 3-7-16
Greek escarpment on Lesbos in the foreground, Turkish coast in the background.

It was intercepted by the Greek Coast Guard which disembarked the passengers at sea and then transported 60 of them to the Molyvos harbor (where our team was waiting to meet them) and the remainder to Skala south of us.

Molyvos harbor
Molyvos harbor-this morning’s coast guard ship is docked.

As the Iraqi and Afghan passengers came onto the pier, we wrapped them in metallic warming blankets, and the medical personnel did triage to identify the few who needed medical attention: one woman experiencing severe anxiety and another who was about five months pregnant and having some complications. This group was relatively lucky as they were only minimally wet and slightly chilled. After the debacle yesterday in which a boat sank and 25 refugees drowned west of Didim, just off the Turkish coast, this morning’s boat landing was smooth and safe.

I spent the rest of the early afternoon walking into Molyvos for fresh air, quiet thought and communing with the local sheep.

Sheep 3-7-16

Success stories

 

Today was Saturday at the Moria refugee camp. What that means is that today was just like every other day. For me and for the “guests,” each day is the same except that I am now beginning to really recognize and remember people I see day after day. In case everything I have been writing has been too sad for my readers, I took a moment and dug around in my treasure chest of images and memories from the last two days to find a couple of success stories. Here they are:

The Conundrum of Palestinian Syrians: Yesterday I was approached by a lovely young woman (about 25 years old). Let’s call her Fatima. She was wearing a simple head scarf, long sleeved shirt and long skirt. (I will write more later regarding women’s apparel and religious customs.) She needed help and was clearly very upset. Her story is fascinating from an academic perspective and sheds light on some of the political complexities that impact each and every refugee passing across this island. This woman and her family are coming from Syria. But, they are not “originally” from Syria. Her identification card from Syria reads: Syrian born Palestinian. In most cases, this means that sometime after 1948, her ancestors fled Palestine because of the creation of the state of Israel. They fled to Syria. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency , there are over 526,000 Palestinian refugees living in Syria. Yep, half a million. So my new Syrian friend is Palestinian in ethnicity but born in Syria. When she and her elderly mother registered in Moria yesterday, her registration papers read: Palestinian. Bad news. Palestinians are NOT the refugees of choice these days if you are trying to cross the various borders between Greece and Germany. She needed to appeal her case to get the documents changed to read “Syrian” and not “Palestinian.” Between her English, my Arabic and our sign language, we understood one another. I escorted her to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) tent where I was hoping to find someone to assist. We were fortunate that we found someone who was sympathetic and especially helpful. Not only did she offer to communicate the information to her colleagues, but she also suggested my friend go to the registration office after the current shift ended in order to find someone more “receptive” to appeals. Everything is about who you talk to and who you know in a situation like this.

After walking Fatima back to the barracks, I sat with her and her mother and nursed a cup of tea while she told me her story: Over three months ago, she fled Syria accompanied by her mother and her own three small children, the youngest of whom is under one year. They walked for FIVE WEEKS to get to Turkey. Then they slept for TWO MONTHS in the woods near the beach until they could find a smuggler and get everything together to make the voyage by boat to Lesbos. Her husband is dead. She has one adult brother in Germany. She has two adult brothers in prison in Damascus. She and her mother had to leave them behind.

When I described the situation to fellow volunteers last night, they were not optimistic that Fatima would have any luck getting her documents changed. The peril of the Palestinians is well-understood by this group of volunteers including a doctor who runs medical missions to Gaza and the Jordanian directors of our NGO. I was pessimistic about Fatima’s future. But … wait for it… today I found Fatima in Moria and asked about how the interview with the registration office went. Success! She has new documents that read “Syrian” and will leave for Athens next week. I’m so very happy.

Ability and Disability on the Refugee Road: This morning I had another opportunity to learn about the complex web of services helping the refugees through a personal encounter with an unusual family. We have had a small family staying in the barracks for several days. They are a group of five Iraqi Kurds: Mama, Papa, a disabled five year-old son who is partially blind and paralyzed, a three-year old son, and a blind and developmentally disabled one year-old daughter. (For more about the Kurdish issues in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, read here .) On top of the fact that these two parents, Kharim and Delvine, have made it this far across land and sea from Iraq carrying three special children, they have run out of money. Out. Of. Money. All gone.

My job at 11am was to get them to the office of Mercycorps International (headquartered in Portland, Oregon!). Mercycorps is one of the very few agencies that can provide financial assistance in cases like this, but Kharim was worried about trying to get his whole family there on his own—a strange country, possibly no one speaking his language along the way, and complex concepts to wrestle with. So, I hired a taxi, and we all went together. Once we found the office, I entertained the children while the parents were interviewed and…wait for it…success! They were given enough financial assistance to purchase ferry tickets to Athens and to help buy food along the way. We taxied back to Moria and re-entered the camp chaos with smiles on our faces.

Sometimes it just takes a little help to put the pieces together to make it to the next step of the journey. They were the lucky ones today. They got that help and found success.

How to be a refugee in a transition camp in Greece

This was Day Three for me in the Moria refugee camp outside Mytilene in southern Lesbos. Each day has become emotionally easier and physically harder. Now I know the camp routine more and am even recognizing families who remain there for several days.

Here’s what it is like for a refugee to successfully navigate a day at Moria:

  1. Arrive at the camp by bus, taxi or foot. When the registration center at Moria first opened in the fall, refugees were walking from the beaches to the center. This could be as far as 60 kilometers. Those who were fortunate enough to have retained their belongings when making the passage, then had to carry those belongings and any small children all the way to Moria. Refugee non-governmental agencies like ours are not permitted to transport refugees in their vehicles at all. Fortunately, UNHCR is now coordinating bus transport for refugees who arrive by boat. So, if you’ve arrived by bus, you will get out of the bus at the base of the camp. You are probably wet, exhausted and somewhat in shock. Your arrival could take place at any time of day or night.
  2. When you disembark the bus, you line up with any others of your nationality and are issued a ticket with a single-digit number on it. Throughout the day you will listen for your number to be called as it indicates you can line up to be registered. Everyone wants to register because the registration papers are what allow you to move through Greece and ostensibly on through the rest of Europe. The registration is in no way a residency permit or anything like that. But, you MUST have the registration to leave Moria without being arrested. If you remember the story of the Tunisian and Algerian men, their dilemma was the fact that they were unable to get registered and risked arrest and deportation if they left Moria at any time.
  3. Either before or after you are registered, you will wander around the camp, if you have energy, and can line up outside any number of temporary “huts” for free tea, food (only served three times per day), dry clothing, etc. Everywhere you turn, you will see families or large groups of people sitting or laying on blankets awaiting something.
  4. All those in Moria must exit their sleeping barracks at 8am each day. They must remain outside the barracks, but can stay within the camp grounds until they line up at 2:30pm to re-enter the barracks. During that 6.5 hour period, the international volunteers and paid Greek cleaning staff thoroughly clean and reorganize the barriers in anticipation of the afternoon re-housing.
  5. At 2:30 you and your family line up outside the barracks. The line snakes down the hill and waxes and wanes over the next two hours as re-housing takes place. If you are a single man traveling without a wife and/or children, you cannot be housed in the family barracks, even if you are traveling with an extended family. You will be housed in barracks slightly further down the hill.
  6. At 3pm you will be welcomed into the camp by the volunteer crew who figure out the complicated system of trying to house language and ethnicity groups together while separating registered from non-registered refugees. You will end up in a room of canvas bunks and floor mats where from 25 to 50 refugees will sleep under UNHCR-issued gray thick blankets.
  7. Eat dinner at 7:30pm in the barracks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are free and are generally something resembling rice and vegetables or curry.
  8. Fall asleep exhausted if you haven’t slept through the afternoon and evening.
  9. At any point, registered Syrians and Iraqis can be removed and sent to a satellite camp, Kara Tepe, where they will remain until they can come up with fare for the ferry to Athens ($50/adult, under 5 years free).
  10. Repeat steps three through nine every day until you depart Moria Camp.

A note about the volunteers: so far, I have met and become friends with volunteers from Sweden (three doctors who had intended to volunteer as medical staff but instead had to volunteer as humanitarians due to Greek regulations), Spain, Germany, Lebanon, Morocco, United States, United Kingdom, Norway and Jordan, New York, Atlanta, and Minnesota. They are as diverse as doctors, retirees, attorneys, paramedics, students, mountaineers and one very famous medical anthropologist.

A note about the refugees: so far I have met or seen refugees from the following countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Senegal, Eritrea, Somalia, Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria.

A note about serving others: in the past two days I did all of the things I described on my first day in the camp and also:

  • Carried six babies to their barrack rooms so their parents could carry toddler siblings or other belongings.
  • Made eight bottles of milk for hungry little ones.
  • Guided multiple families to various locations in the camps including registration, the medical tent, the food line, the showers and toilets.
  • Intervened when an elderly Syrian woman was too weak to walk and needed immediate medical care. Held her hand, wiped her brow and comforted her until we could wheel her to the medical tent to get her skilled care. Everyone should be especially impressed that I successfully asked her if she would like something to drink—in Arabic!
  • Mediated numerous disputes between families who were forced to share overcrowded rooms, despite their frustration and exhaustion.
  • Spoke via phone with a Pakistani man, who is currently outside Greece, as he advocated for his Pakistani wife who was in our barracks and needed special attention.
  • Kept an eye on an Afghani woman who is currently nine months pregnant and could go at any time.
  • Played with an Afghani little boy whose status is in limbo until he and his mother are able to resolve their citizenship snafu and leave the camp.
  • Helped settle an Afghan woman and her family in their tent in the Better Days camp outside Moria. They have left Afghanistan because the woman (who has a Bachelors degree in Business Administration) can no longer work outside the home without risking execution by the Taliban.
  • Greeted innumerable refugees in Arabic and even began to learn a few phrases in Farsi (to speak with the Afghans).
  • Met and housed an Iraqi family in which the husband worked for the American military in Iraq and had nothing but positive things to say about America. Unfortunately, his past association with the American military ensures he will not be safe in his own home country now and in the foreseeable future. Thanks, George Bush!

I’ll be back at Moria again tomorrow. Today I sat down for an entire ten minutes from the time I arrived at 9am until I left at 5pm. There is a lot of good to do there and many ways to do good.

Three stories in a world of cement and razor wire

One: A Syrian boy tries to join his father.

We met Muhammad inside Moria. He is a fifteen-year-old young man who is with his mother and four siblings. He is soft-spoken, thin, with the start of a mustache and big brown eyes. He and the rest of his family are headed for Germany where his father is working and waiting for them. They have been in Turkey for 15 months where he could not go to school because everyone had to work to pool enough money for the family to survive. They saved until they had enough to pay the smuggler’s fees for the six of them. $900 apiece and half that for the small children. Unfortunately for them, the first smuggler snuck away with their fares without getting them to Lesbos. So, Muhammad and the family borrowed money to get them across on a second try. They have been in Moria for three days as they try to find a way to come up with the ferry tickets to get to Athens. Muhammad was quietly tolerant of my many questions as I tried to figure out what had brought him and his family this far. Then it was his time for a question. “Is it true,” he asked, “that there are no mosques in America and that Americans hate Muslims and one cannot be a Muslim in America?” Just as we in the West have been fed ugly and inaccurate generalizations about Muslims and Arabic peoples, he has heard those lies and rumors spread about the U.S. What does that tell us, I wonder? I assured him that there are stupid people everywhere; that there are some stupid people in American who are ignorant and opposed to Muslims; and that the stupid people are also the loudest people so it seems like there are more of them than actually exist. I don’t know if he believed me or not.

Two: Three young men leave their Countries of No Hope.

While visiting with Muhammad, we were joined by three men who are truly stuck like no one I’ve known to be stuck before. One was thirty years old, a father of three young children and a citizen from Tunisia. The other two were 26 and 27 years old respectively, single and traveling together. All three are in search of economic opportunities because there is no way for them to work and feed themselves in their countries which have become dominated by thoroughly corrupt governments. Unfortunately for them, their timing is abysmal. These three had heard that if they could just get to Moria on Lesbos, they would be able to secure registration documents which would allow them to continue north to Western Europe. Upon arrival three days ago, they discovered that no documents were being issued for Tunisians nor for Algerians. But it gets worse: if they leave the Moria area, they will be arrested by Greek police and deported. But wait… it gets worse: if they are deported, they will be considered criminals by their home governments and imprisoned. But wait, it gets still worse… when they are jailed, they will be beaten. Had enough yet? Because wait, it gets worse still…there will be retribution to be paid by their families and relatives in their home countries. Now what are they to do? So tonight will be their fourth night sleeping on the ground outside of Moria Camp. They are really and truly stuck.

Three: The family of Yazidis.

In the early afternoon, I was drawn into the story of a Yazidi family trying to get to Athens. The Iraqi Yazidis’ plight got a fair amount of press when ISIS surrounded a group of about 40,000 of them and began systematically killing them and raping the women. This was well-documented and just one more horrific example of a minority being persecuted toward extinction.

In today’s story, a young woman came to the barracks office with her 1 ½-year-old daughter. The mother was crying and it took gentle coaxing by our interpreter to draw out her desperate pleas. I was enlisted to distract her sweet baby girl as the volunteer tried to understand her tale. The young mother was suffering from a kidney infection, but that was the least of her worries. She was appearing in the office as the family envoy to plea for assistance. Her multigenerational family of twenty had made it as far as Moria, but now had run out of money after paying the smugglers and purchasing food. They had spent every last bit that they had and could not come up with ferry fare for the group to get to Athens. Unlike the young men in Story Two who had funds but no legal documents to enable travel, this family had legal registration documents but no way to purchase tickets. They were exhausted and depleted as they sat on UNHCR blankets in the sun against the outer walls of portable camp housing. The children rolled around on the ground while the adults sat dazed and dispirited with no more ideas for how to escape their plight. A more experienced and knowledgeable volunteer advised the young mother to take her problem to the UNHCR representative at the camp for possible financial assistance (though none of us were optimistic). I’m not certain, but I think she might have needed upwards of $1,000 to pay for the whole family to cross to Athens. Money but no papers, or papers but no money. Which to wish for?

As I learned these stories and observed the thousands of camp inhabitants today, I was reminded of something a friend told me some years ago: sometimes the most we can do for others is bear witness to their suffering, to stand with them so that they are not alone. We may not be able to change their situation, but we can bear witness. Sometimes that is doing enough because it is better than doing nothing.

Life as a refugee in Moria

The boats continue to go to the southern island landing spots which means that we’ve had no boats since my arrival. There are still around 1,000 refugees arriving on Lesbos daily/nightly, but they are not up near us. We are told this is because it is rather like a game of cat and mouse. The Greek Coast Guard ships are patrolling up near us, so the boats are crossing further south. That could change at any moment. We see the huge Coast Guard ships passing during the day and night—they are prominently visible.

More refugee boats have been crossing in the night. They start out completely dark, not wanting to be caught. Then, when they get close to shore, they use their phone flashlights to signal they are approaching and need assistance. Most of the time this system seems to work. When a boat has gotten as far as Greek waters, they are sometimes intercepted by the Coast Guard ships and the passengers are recovered and transported aboard the safer Coast Guard ship to the port at Petra or Molyvos. But, that has not happened while I have been here.

Today several of us spent the whole day at the refugee camp called Moria in the south of the island near Mytilene. This is the place where all refugees must register before they can go on to Athens. Depending on what time they arrive on the island, they stay one or more nights at Moria. But, I believe they can only sleep in the Moria barracks if they are families—no single unaccompanied men. We were strictly prohibited from taking any photos inside the camp. This is for two reasons: one, refugees from some areas, especially Syria, are very legitimately concerned that the Syrian government is using facial recognition software, and if a photo is posted on social media, there could be very seriously and possibly deadly repercussions for family members still in Syria; and two, because the camp is a former prison, it has razor wire topping the fences and is quite stark which might be misinterpreted by someone viewing a photo out of context, and they might assume the refugees are being detained under inhumane conditions. Both are very appropriate concerns from what I have seen and heard.

So, here is what I accomplished at Moria today during my 9-5 shift:

  • Folded about 200 UNHCR issued blankets and stacked them.
  • Counted 104 beds and 40 sleeping pads and redistributed them so that each of eight rooms had an equal number of beds, pads and blankets.
  • Rolled up eight “carpets” and stacked about 100 sleeping mats.
  • Sorted clean clothes left behind from dirty/damaged clothes. Clean ones may be recycled.
  • Handed out one bottle of milk to a four-month-old infant named Fouad who looked like a precious little elf with big black eyes. He was accompanied by his seventeen-year-old mother and 35-year-old grandmother. Yep.
  • Escorted about twenty families to their rooms for this evening’s lodging.
  • Tested my Arabic greetings on probably thirty individuals with mixed results. The Farsi-speakers were nonplussed. The Arabic speakers were so touched that I spoke in their tongue that I received kisses and smiles and repeated “shukrans (thank-yous).”
  • Heard three families’ stories which I will describe in my next post.

The other volunteers from our team may have been more generally positive about today’s work experience. To be honest, I found it utterly heartbreaking and was on the verge of tears off and on all afternoon. While I was tired from the work, that was not the source of my sorrow. I watched these families, these parents and grandparents, children and teens. I watched them stand in line, some holding duffel bags packed to the gills or trashbags of their few belongings while others carried absolutely no material goods—their arms full only with sleeping toddlers—they had absolutely no thing with them. Nothing. I watched families negotiate and in a few isolated cases argue about sharing rooms. I watched all of this and thought about how much further they each have to go and how far they have come and how their end-points are so tenuous and fragile and perhaps horrible. I watched all of this and I cried, wiping my tears away before I greeted the next person with “Sabach al-her (good afternoon)” not wanting to be anything but cheerful and welcoming to them. They are carrying their own sorrow; they don’t need mine.