Chapter 17: Bryan the cook

‘Spices at last!’, he said, while jubilantly lifting up a particular package that just arrived in our operations field in the morning. ‘Now this will really change things!’ he said, and gave the victory sign after laying it inside his open-air field kitchen. Saying such words with a front-line refugee rescue and relief operation area as the background was betraying well…a very odd enthusiasm to have, or maybe simply an unstoppable one. But then again that was Bryan, the best field cook an anarchist-autonomous-run camp could ever hope to have. During the first days he was with us he coined the slogan: ‘Soup, tea, solidarity!’, and its longer version: ‘Soup, tea, refugee, solidarity!’ summarizing the essence of his work in a way none of us could. Hell maybe we could even summarize much of our effort with that very same slogan. We took it up, and every now and then we chant it bemused as a spirit lifter, and that was all great for Bryan, except for the lack of spices he suffered from during those first days.

Of a rather portly appearance, and with a καλοκάγαθο[1] smile that could make the Devil himself reconsider his ways, Bryan was our field cook. Hailing from a distant truly Asian, Asian nation, he was easily the brightest ray in our camp, even during the darkest of times. Sometime after he arrived, he had an offer from the Faros-run UNHCR/Stage-2 camp, but turned it down because, as he put it: ‘I do not want to be told what to cook’, which made him the perfect fit for our operations. He had given up his regular job and went around the world ‘cooking for the people’ as he put it, which sounded like a great concept, even if the details were rather nebulous. He was the only one in our camp besides the doctors that added a designation to his reflecting jacket (we wore those mostly at night so cars and refugees could see us from afar), it read: ‘Ask me for food’. Truth is there was never a need for that since, the moment refugees would start streaming past him and his small kitchen operation at the entrance of the camp, he would call out: ‘Soup, Tsai (tea)’ repeatedly, in a voice that stood on the fine balance of not shouting but still being noticed by a crowd that would often reach a hundred at a time. He was such an asset to the whole operation that the anarchists tried to extend his visa so he could stay in Greece longer, I do not know whether Alexandros managed it at the end, I hope he did.

His good warm soup in those Styrofoam cups we were handing out to refugees would often be our only heart and belly warming lunch as waves and waves of refugee-laden boats kept us pinned on the shore, unable to visit Lefteris’ tavern at Skala. Bryan would go out and shop for vegetables himself (all soups were vegetarian). Today, after I saw him giving the victory sign for the package of spices that arrived, it became clear to me that here was a man not to compromise principle because of circumstance, at least as far as cooking was concerned. I mean, at the end of the day this was not a restaurant, and people would have been grateful even for mere warm salty warm water with a pink colour passing for soup. Not so Bryan. I guess up to the day when he had to cook without spices he must have felt like a maestro conducting an orchestra without violins. The truth is, after those spices arrived, we would all go for his soups multiple times a day, and even some committed carnivores among us were briefly converted. He was assisted by a young couple from USA/California that gave up their holidays in Europe to come to Lesvos and help us, and before them there was another elderly couple, also from the USA, that could be seen helping Bryan in his domain of magic. Marina and Nikos from Lesvos, stationed at the milk/cookies/canned-food section of the food tent, would sometimes help him prepare his huge soup and tea pots.

I do not know how he did it, but even during crunch times with a hundred of refugees filing past the entrance of the camp at a time, Bryan kept his pots full and his soups strong throughout. Only when a certain day arrived, sometime late October, Bryan’s operation was overwhelmed by a tsunami of human despair, but on that day we were all beaten. He was there most of the day and while nearly a superman, he still needed some rest. So during our night watches we were left without Bryan and his soups…


[1] Pronounced kalokagatho, from ‘kalos’ kai ‘agathos’ in Greek, roughly translating as good and innocent