My Job? Pulling refugees out of the Aegean

I know the contours of these mountain ranges like the lines of my own palms. Turkey mesmerises me as I gaze into it’s coastlines each morning watching for boats, the faintest white flash somewhere between here and there.

Mobile phones beaming light out to the unknown shores. Their light reaching us up on our cliff-top lookout as we flash back our headlights to bring them to safety. The modern-day SOS meets our mobile lighthouses.

Some days as the sun creeps upwards, a giant orange ball of fire spectacularly casting hues from red to pink across the Aegean sea, it’s hard to imagine that in between that paradise and this one, that so many are struggling in between. That people are shipwrecking, drowning and shivering. That in this tiny stretch of water that so much could be going wrong.

That fake boats powered by recycled single-use motors on their second round are carrying fake life jackets, wrapping up real humans that are hoping against all odds to survive this. That this long, perilous journey beats life where they came from. That in some twisted way, this is safer.

Some mornings my heart breaks over and over, as I realise the enormity this situation. That it’s not ending any time soon, that a boat full of living humans is a victory, but only a drop in the ocean as far as this crisis is concerned. The stories stop feeling like news, there are just so many it’s hard to keep track. I remember the face of the little boy hugging the teddy bear we gave him.

The ambulance full of kids we kept warm who asked to learn my name just so they could say ‘I love you Anna’ in their newly acquired language. The quiet, floppy but alive baby I carried for 10 minutes down the rocky coastline, hoping with piece of me for a happy-ending as I slipped and slid across slippery rocks and discarded life jackets and pieces of boats. That time was a happy ending, but under these conditions, they can’t all be.

People travel for new experiences, and those I’ve had many. I now understand the weight and feel of a tiny baby soaked to the bone in ice cold sea water. I’ve felt the pleasure of hearing a baby crying, just to know it’s breathing and feeling. I’ve witnessed the courage of countless people bringing their families to a better life. The terror of a mother who arrives on dry land not yet knowing if her children made it off the boat alive too. So many heroes that I loose count. The courage here floors me.

Each day I spend here, life means more to me. I open a little more, I soften. I try to return to the ‘real’ world from time to time, to work, to communicate, but somehow that world feels so much less real than this. Like something far away, that I left far behind. It’s only been a week but yet Lesvos feels more real than anything I’ve felt before.

I stare so intently, so frequently at this coastline yet I know nothing about what rests on the other side. Questions come to my mind about Turkey — what is it like? Stories circulate, accounts of late night missions through the forest to private beaches, held at gun point, forced into a tiny boat. For each story I hear, the people smugglers form takes more that of a demon. Each life has a dollar sign, slightly less if they go for the ‘bad weather’ discount. Feeding of f the desperation, recycling boats that were only ever meant to work once. If this is what a better life is like, I hate to imagine the hell they have fled. This island is a paradise strewn with those unfortunate enough to be born on the wrong side of an imaginary line.

Whilst emotionally preparing for this trip I expected intense feelings to come up in me, however it’s the anger that surprises me. Anger at the world for turning a blind eye to this, this unsustainable and unbelievable situation that has been going on for years now, and show no signs of slowing. Anger at the volunteers who turn up only in the light to get their token photo putting a hat on a shivering child, yet are nowhere to be found when people are washing up sick and desperate in the middle of the night. Anger at the world for being so fascist, so racist, so unjust.

Yet, amongst the anger and sadness that wells up in me each day, I feel so much love. I fall in love here every day and for that I am truly blessed. Love for people who take this courageous journey, love for volunteers who travel from across the world to give themselves for this cause. Love for the moments where I am sitting and laughing with my new friends here, and the moments of sheer relief when a boat comes in and everyone is dry and smiling, thankful to be here. Each day my capacity to love increases, and when I tell those kids I love them back, I really mean it.


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