I am not a volunteer; I am human

Every time I look back at my days spent in Lesvos a deep sorrow warps me and I can’t seem to let it go. Like a bear in a cage I roam around the corners of my life and can’t seem to find the direction to rationalise my frustration towards the sour turn the refugee situation has taken.

Only by looking back at distinct moments while on camp is the ultimate frustration replaced by an overwhelming tenderness, a woven basket filled with emotions of all sorts; joy, sadness, frustration, satisfaction, endurance, hopelessness, dignity, shame…

You see, it’s easy to try and build an idea about what it’s like out there. The photos the media drenches us with are self-articulate. But how can I put into words Wesa’s embrace after she mimed the loss of her eight membered family while on the two-year journey that eventually lead her into my arms? How can I forget three-year-old Amir’s impertinent allure after he proudly slipped on a pair of a size 25, brand new, blue and orange Addidas trainers which he refused to take off, even though they were a size too small for him? How can I still not find the correct eco to respond to Mohammed’s implausible question: “Is Germany full?”

These notions, however, may lend a hand to explaining why time stands still in Moria. Daily life there is unpredictable. Visions are hard to materialise; sole reason being that realities change by the hour, events happen by the minute, needs rarely seize to exist.

Yet within this physically demanding internal turmoil is also where the purest form of humanity exudes its potentials. This was clear when, every morning, a group of refugees would wholeheartedly join me to collect the countless paper cups and water bottles that relieved their hunger and thirst. None of us would shy from lifting the dozens of silver and golden hypothermia blankets that recalled the ambiguous sea journey each and every refugee had taken across the ten kilometre stretch that divides the Turkish and Greek coasts. Hanging the countless wet clothes left behind after being exchanged for dry ones, was a mechanical duty that only exasperated the number of people that pass through these premises day in, day out. Indeed, we would receive and average of 700 refugees per day.

On a sunny afternoon, a young Afghan took initiative and began helping a group of volunteers manning a tent that provided tea and soup on a 24-hour basis. He’d carried barrels of water to us from the running water tap at the tip of the hill. By nightfall he stood proud beside me and handed out bottles of water as I distributed cups of soup. Returning to serve breakfast early the next morning, Amir Rosey was already in place, ready to help, even before I had arrived. But this time, he wasn’t alone. I high fived the lady standing next to him as we realised we were the same age. Little did I know it was Amir Rosey’s mother. Her name was Wida and she was 35. He was 22. I did the maths and entered the tent in silence, a reality I attempted to grasp up until she began to sing to us after we had invited her to cook Afghan soup for the camp. I can’t describe the awe I felt as a translator transmitted Wida’s joy to have been able to cook. Having left her daughter and husband in Kabul, she hadn’t gotten her hands dirty for the past two months. She smiled at me as I treasured her every sound. That was the moment I accepted the beauty of the short termed nature of our offerings and seized to look at the wider picture. Imprinted in my soul are moments of pure coexistence, where the very present abolishes the tragedy of the camp’s reality and induces a compassion for one another I have never laid my hands on.

On my last night, I waved goodbye to Naim as he entered the ferry taking him to Athens. After almost two years, I was witnessing Naim’s serene devotion to join his aunt in Germany and eventually bring the rest of his family along. Sitting by the campfire before making our way to the marina, I had instigated at the reality that the borders where locking down and that his passage was uncertain. His sheer glance told me there was no going back for him. He was moving ahead. I pulled out some money to help him through his ambiguity. At first he accepted it, but quickly began to barter. He pointed at a tent below us and told me the story of the family sleeping inside. Mother, father and four children under the age of eight had been manning that tent indefinitely due to the lack of 60 euros per person needed to board the ferry to Athens. He preferred I give them the money, but I stood ground and agreed to give half to him and half to the family. The fairness gained ground and as we parted he made sure I knew that his appreciation for me, for all the volunteers, wasn’t about the money, but about our hearts. I was overcome by his courage, his righteousness, his serenity and compassion for the other, regardless of the path he was handed. What an example to find amidst goodbyes.

Leaving Mytilene airport I instinctively bought myself a souvenir. A green lighter with ‘I (heart) Lesvos’ inscribed on its one side. I never buy souvenirs. Yet it made sense this time around. I needed something to remind me of the raw reality I had now become part of. I needed a means to carry every single notion, person, vision, despair, truth and hope back with me; to make sure that my reality check back home was one that was worthy of protesting against the lies the West has been selling to all of us for as long as I can remember. That solidarity is the only way forward. And that life as we know it today is not coherent with our core human values.

***Published by The Cyprus Weekly Newspaper

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London