Φως και Σκότος? Πάντα μαζί θα βαδίζουν!, αλλά αυτός δεν είναι λόγος να στρέψεις τα μάτια σου μακριά από τα άστρα.
Light and Darkness? always together they will march! but that’s no reason to turn your eyes away from the stars.
Ανώνυμου Έλληνα του Αιγαίου
Anonymous Greek of the Aegean
‘I refuse to help this man! I refuse! Take him out of my sight!’ Iro screams from the clothes station. It was around midnight, two refugee boats have made landfall near us a short while ago, and people started streaming into our operations area. Yannis had again parked his car with its headlights switched on and pointing into the dry riverbed, creating that strong and outlandish side-illumination of that area where people change to dry clothes. Sharp shadows with a strong halo around them created by the bright headlights, and the occasional transiently illuminated human face is all I see from where I stand. ‘He has a swastika tattooed on him!’ Iro says indignantly and rushes out of the area. From the place where I was I see a tall, muscular guy, standing there, naked from the waist up, trying to change into dry clothes. He looked dumfounded at Iro’s reaction, smiling awkwardly, his vicinity steadily illuminated by a faint camp lamp.
I saw him coming into the camp earlier on, a muscled scary looking man, and if I had a stereotype of how a former military or committed militia man would look like, that tattooed man was it. I guess with Assad losing ground, many men from his army defecting, some must have joined the refugee streams. Not all of them would be poor conscripts ordered into a dictator’s army, a few of them must be committed bastards, maybe he was one of them, who knows. Earlier in the day, after a brief and tense exchange of Arabic, two also well-built young guys that arrived on the same boat came into blows in my presence. I tried to intervene to no avail, they were oblivious to it, and they only stopped after several blows delivered and them figuring that neither of them could win.
These two events, the only ones of this kind I witnessed during my stay in Lesvos, initially surprised me (and certainly poor Iro). Thinking about it later on I concluded that they shouldn’t have been that surprising. At the end of the day, when you strive to help large numbers of people, you get a good piece of Humanity in your hands, and thus there will always be bastards, and dark characters among them. This is just societal statistics asserting itself no matter if it is the current Exodus out of the Middle East, the Mariel boat lift out of Cuba, or the massive immigration out of Mexico and Central America towards the USA. In the current refugee catastrophe Europe is facing we are also talking about a large piece of Humanity running scared and scarred out of war zones. In this case I could easily imagine such a societal statistics shifting a bit towards hardier souls or selecting harder character aspects of otherwise ordinary people to bring up to the surface. Even peaceful suburbia could produce an extra murderer or two out of ordinary people if it was to be pillaged and bombed repeatedly while visited by bands of assassins and rapists on a regular basis.
It would have been an easy thing to single out that one scary man with the tattooed swastika or some other certified bastard of this sort or another that came ashore with these refugees and then use this to fall back and away from all the effort we put on that coast. Indeed, I can easily imagine the yellow press here in Greece, or some glossy tabloid in the rest of Europe, snapping a picture of that scary individual, or the blows I witnessed on the shore today and run headlines accordingly: ‘Neo-Nazis among refugees!’ or ‘Unruly crowds wash on our beaches!’ or some other such silliness. I guess much of this does happen with today’s media, and not just about the refugee issue, and boy do they sell. Humanity’s way of staying tribal in the age of vast and fast information flows.
As far as I was concerned our efforts out here were about saving and helping neither angels nor devils, but Humanity’s brethren at large, us. ‘Here I am again, ambelo-philosophizing’ I say to myself, ‘I wonder where Ismael is these days, maybe he went back to Birmingham…, haven’t seen him lately’. Looking back at the dry clothes station, after I was done with my work, the scary man was gone, melted back into the crowds, and Iro was busy distributing clothes to people.
As another night of work on the coast slowly winds down I take one last walk along the shore in front of our operations area. I see the Coast Guard ship doing beam sweeps again. Momentarily the beam flickers around one point at sea repeatedly, I stand still watching it. Then it suddenly switches off and the ship continues on, only its green and red side lights betraying its presence in the surrounding darkness.