Δεν έχω δρόμο ούτε γειτονιά να περπατήσω μια Πρωτομαγιά…
I have no street and no neighbourhood to walk once on May 1st…
Greek rebetiko song
‘Turn that fucking camera off! I am telling you!’ Alexandros shouts to a cameraman and a reporter that came to film around our operations today, while Yannis tries to calm Alexandros down. ‘Why? What…what is the problem?’ the reporter asks perplexed, while the cameraman still holds the camera on his shoulder, ‘If you do not take this camera down I will break it!’ Alexandros shouts, his eyes darker, and at that point the cameraman lowers it. The reporter looks taken aback, I guess he is not used to this happening in a peaceful humanitarian operations camp. I can hear Yannis asking Alexandros why he did this, ‘…because they are part of all this!’ Alexandros answers, making his views about the mainstream media plain. The vehemence and emphasis he put on these last two words: ‘all this’, also making it clear (to me at least) what he meant by them, the refugee catastrophe, the mainstream politics of business-as-usual (until business blows I guess), its custodians, and well…the media covering all of this.
I found myself sympathetic with some of these views. Still I considered a shutdown of the media reporting on this catastrophe too much of an absolute position, and maybe also projecting one’s political theorems too strongly on a disaster too big and complex to be so readily (or even correctly) interpreted by them. I now see Yannis taking the poor reporter aside, and giving an expletive-free interview (very tough for Yannis!) on camera, explaining the woeful lack of resources, the rapidly rising refugee flows, things that Europe at large was only beginning to realize. Later I heard that it had been aired on Euronews. With the media attention on this problem rising, more and more reporting crews started arriving on the coast. In another such incident, little Apollo attempted to keep a French crew away from the medical tent, trying to overrule…the doctors who actually wanted the crew to film the difficulties they faced. At this point Yannis stepped in rather more forcefully and told little Apollo to fuck off, if the doctors wanted this filmed, it was not his business. Manos the happy-go-lucky EINA doctor was of the same opinion, albeit more quietly, and Apollo left the scene silent.
‘Why he did not want this filmed?’ the French reporter asks me, in Greek, and without an accent. It turned out that he is Greek-French living many years in France. This particular combination of nationalities allowed me to explain to him some of the particular political vagaries involved here, which I could not easily do with the English reporter from Euronews, unfamiliar as he would be with the outliers of Greek politics.
‘Where is your cameraman from, he looks a bit of an international bastard’ I jokingly tell to the reporter, intentionally within earshot of the cameraman. ‘He is from France’ he answers, ‘That makes him a bastard’ I joke, ‘I am also from Tunisia’ the cameraman interjects laughing, ‘A French-Tunisian?’ I exclaim, ‘That makes you a double bastard!’ I tell him, and we laugh about. They continue filming around a bit longer and then they wrap it up. I did not ask about the news outfit they worked for.
Late at night I found both of them drinking in the cafe next to the ‘Mouria of Myrivilis’ tavern, the one owned by Soula, the wife of Lefteris. The tavern itself was closed tonight, but we could get snacks in that cafe even later. I arrived there past midnight, having finished another gruelling day. Rob was also there with some of his fellow workers from ‘Faros’. I greet them happily and go and sit to a table next to them. Soula kept bringing snacks and beers. Then suddenly three tall uniformed and burly guys stepped in the tavern, their appearance made sudden by the complete darkness outside. They had uniforms I could not recognize, one of them, a man with a trimmed beard, having significantly more insignia than the other two. ‘Who are you guys?’ I ask them, ‘FRONTEX’ the insignia man answers, and here they were the first ones I came across during my days in Lesvos. The insignia man was the captain of a FRONTEX patrol ship. ‘Where are you from?’ I ask him, ‘All from Portugal’ the Captain answers. This made them easy targets for my mood as it had now…well…evolved. ‘You know that you are on a famous island Captain’, I tell him, and then I continue on delicately: ‘…famous for his sea-food cuisine’, ‘Really?’ the Captain says, ‘Yes’ I tell him, ‘in fact they can cook bacalao (cod) here in more ways than in Portugal’ I tell him, delivering the punch. ‘This is impossible!’ he exclaims leaving behind the near-military guarding of his words. ‘Well it might true Captain, so you better try some seafood before you leave Lesvos, and steer away from stupid moussakas and souvlaki, leave them for the summer tourists’ I tell him, and now the entire FRONTEX crew laughs.
‘Hey people!’ the cafe door opens again, and Father Nikiforos, the Viking priest, literally storms in, holding up his guitar like a damn machine gun. I have not seen him since our meeting about Stage-2 a few days ago. He seems in good spirits, and quickly sits among his crew and starts strumming the guitar. Some singing flares up in the tavern, and the beers keep coming.
I do not know whether this is a general thing among people working in humanitarian relief operations of this sort, so I will only talk about myself here. After some time, you reach a state where you simply want to claw (that’s the right verb: claw!) a day or a night out the long succession of days and nights you work, and burn it bright with the good life’s bonfires. It felt like such a night tonight.
Yannis also came in the cafe later on, followed by another Yannis, one of the two ‘vultures’ I saw operating in our coast, and they sat down to have snacks and beers as well. Soula puts on some Greek music, thank God it is not ‘Σκυλάδικα!’ (Skyladika), and Yannis (the diver) started singing, the other one staying silent and just drinking. It was all going well, until a particular song, a rebetiko, one about the dispossessed and the exiled, came on, and Yannis kept singing it loudly. Now that struck a deep bad resonance in me… the song…, those faces on the boats…, but before it could do any real mood damage I turned around to joke loudly with the French reporters next to me, until that particular song was over. More beers came, and then some of the Greek police officers on patrol along the coast also came in briefly for some snacks before they headed out again, followed by the FRONTEX guys. We stayed until around two o’clock at night before we slowly started filing out of the tavern. It was a great night and a good time was had by all…
 ‘Skylos’ meaning dog in Greek, these are cheap love songs, getting their name from the type of singing which for some ears it resembles barking or howling dogs, they are popular in some places, and hence my initial fears that night….