Working in a Refugee Camp – a few stories to share and a little road trip’n

This post was originally from October 3, 2019

On Tuesday we had to close the warehouse shop because of all the tension in the camp. We have the back room completely sorted now so there wasn’t anything more for me to do. I asked if I could go over to the Female Friendly Space and maybe help out there.

The FFS wasn’t fully opened because of the break-in the previous day but I was able to help Maria clean up what was left behind. The thieves took everything including the furniture. Now it is pretty much an empty space with virtually no supplies. I was able to spend some time with some of the ladies which was great. Just being in their presence and trying to share information is so rewarding to me as it means so much to connect with them at some level. Do you know what they call the thieves? Ali Baba! Ali Baba came up in conversation quite a lot yesterday!

I met one woman who is maybe only 18 (so basically a child herself). She came to Greece with her husband and her daughter but on the journey over, her husband was killed.  You wouldn’t expect upon meeting her that she has already faced so much heartache as she smiles with such a big grin. It was cute because I was hanging up posters on human rights. They were written in English and Arabic and she was immediately drawn to them. She read each human right aloud in Arabic. When she read some of the Human Rights she shook her head with so much sorrow as I know she does not experience these rights like most of the world.

I also got to spend some time with a few of the kids that came along with their moms. My favorite was a vibrant young girl who loved to sing and braid hair. I asked her if she wanted to braid mine but she thought I was crazy (as most of you know I have very short hair). Instead I showed her my handstands as I figured that would win my way into her heart. Later in the day she helped me place branches in the fence as we are still trying to fortify the wire fence so the men can’t see in.

For lunch this week I’ve been ordering from the ‘Falafel Man’. He is a resident in the camp who has the biggest smile and has his own ‘shop’. His story is also pretty unreal. I was told that on his boat over from Turkey he was with 42 other people. While they were on the boat it actually exploded. They all had to swim to the nearest island and  incredibly all 42 people survived!

After yesterday it looked like I was going to spend the rest of my volunteer time at the FFS. I even started to plan little art workshops that  I could do with the teens and ladies. But when we got to camp on Wednesday it was explained that the FFS would be closed indefinitely. Tensions are high in the camp and they don’t feel it’s safe for us to be in that space.  Lucy and I stayed in the warehouse organizing more stuff and Xenia and Maria were in the laundry.  Soon enough there was word that we might be evacuated. Apparently there was a fight that broke out between one ethnic group and another. A knife was pulled and a wooden bat. Xenia and Maria had to come into the warehouse and that’s where we spent the afternoon.

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yes, this is what we do when we are stuck in a warehouse!

Thursday we woke up and got ready like any other day but as we were waiting to be picked up we got word that we wouldn’t be going to camp that day. There was too much tension and they were worried about our safety. Three other NGOs weren’t going in either. I didn’t want to waste a day so I suggested we take a day trip somewhere. The problem lays with not only the destination but more importantly the transportation. How are we going to get there? We asked Mrs Fortini for her advise and she suggested a place called Kymi. It is on Evia Island (the same island as Chalkida). It looked to be a cute town near the sea. After trying to look up bus schedules and pricing taxis it seemed a little hopeless. The only option that would give us time once we were there would be if we rented a car. In Greece you need to have an international drivers license so I didn’t qualify. The only person who could drive would be good ol Lucy – the Britt who drives on the other side of the road. With much trepidation Lucy took one for the team and soon enough we were renting a car for the day.

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We got off to a bit of a rocky start with Lucy asking us to remind her which way oncoming traffic was coming. We quickly ended up driving down a one-way, the wrong direction but within a few minutes Lucy was a seasoned Greek driver, and even overtook trucks on narrow roads. I wanted to hold on to my ‘oh shit’ handles but this car didn’t have any. Instead I tried to gingerly hint that our car was really close to the far right and maybe we need to move over just a smidge. Truthfully she did an amazing job. The only stipulation was that we had to have the car back in the same condition we received it and we couldn’t travel over 200 km. The guy at Eurocar also suggested that we travel to Kalamos as it was said to have a beautiful beach.
Thankfully we had Siri and Google Maps. Siri helps a lot in most cases. She successfully guided us to Kymi and once we were there guided us up a windy mountain through the village. We followed her every direction and eventually when we were in the most random, far off spot that looked to be someone’s backyard, Siri announced that we had arrived at our final destination. That’s the problem about being a foreigner trying to find local hot spots. It’s like the blind leading the blind. All 4 of us had no clue what our destination was supposed to look like. All we knew was that Mrs Fortini suggested it.
We found a little restaurant somewhere in town and had lunch. From there we decided to make our way directly to Kalamos. Directly might be aiming a little high. Siri really effed the dog when she was directing us down the mountain. She would tell us to take the first right and we’d get there and it would be a narrow gravel path with a steep drop. Maybe a horse could use that path but definitely not a car. This happened several times until we had to do an Austin Powers turn (minuscule movements back and forth) on the edge of a mountain so that we could retrace our steps and head back to town.
Lucy was phenomenal and got us out of that pickle. Soon enough we were driving in the countryside past castles and windmills. Eventually we found Kalamos and it felt like we stumbled onto paradise. The water was crystal clear. When we swam you could see right down to the bottom. The beach had this cool rock formation that made a perfect cicular window that you could see onto another beach. It was wonderful. After a perfect swim I fell asleep and woke up to a sky that had turned a dark grey. Everyone was clearing out and it looked like a major storm was brewing. Sadly we had to pack our stuff up and then off we made our way back to Chalkida. Our drive back was a nail biting countdown of our odometer as we had to make sure we didn’t go over 200 km. As we pulled into Eurocar you wouldn’t believe how close we were?!!! We made it in at 199.2 km! High fives and fist bumps for everyone!

We survived our Greek road trip!

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some village fishing nets

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cute town of Kymi

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Kalamos

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what makes Kalamos even better is a Greek God! YASSSSS LADIES!

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We had to have the rental car back at under 200km…we made it by the skin of our noses at 199.2!

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