For two weeks in October I was a volunteer helping refugees on the island of Lesbos in Greece. Since the beginning of 2015, 500,000 refugees have tried to gain entrance to the EU through Greece. Most of them have come through Lesbos, sometimes as many as 3,000 a day. My job was to load buses that would take them from the north of the island where they arrived to the south where they would be registered. The work was stressful and heartbreaking and was completely carried out by good intentioned volunteers. This is a journal entry I made from one of those days:
I screamed at a mother today. She walked duck-legged and squat amongst the legs of men to hide from me. I spat. Saliva left my mouth when I howled, kissed the sun and left my throat barren and scorched. I can no longer speak. She looked at me but didn’t move. I needed her to move. Her children trailed her like ducklings after a duck but like toy ducklings on a string following a toy duck. I didn’t see 1,500 people today. I saw one stare, one beg, one cry, one truncated arm emerging from behind a mash of shoulders and torsos with sweaty fingers holding bus tickets that were pointless to show.
“No autobus! No autobus now! Back! Back!”
The call was “Please! My family!” My pre recorded voicemail message was “I don’t care.”
I stopped seeing the babies.
I used my hands like a conductor instead because Farsi was an out of tune song played by the tongues of begging Afghan boys with the black keys they called their teeth. The song title was “Shoe fly don’t bother me ’cause I can’t help you if you can’t help me”
“Fuck you” only translates if you say it six inches from someone’s face.
When the fight broke out I stood and stared. The line dissolved into streams of hunched bodies diving under nylon cords meant to keep order. I didn’t stop them. I couldn’t speak so who was I to say they couldn’t run? I watched a fist flatten a nose and a father full nelson a son into submission.
My only job was to get people on the bus. That’s all I cared about. I didn’t know when the next bus was coming so I Iet people flee aimlessly into the noonday heat.