Chapter 32: Prayers for an unbeliever

Today I had to say good-bye to the family of my Syrian-Kurd ‘neighbours’. After three days they decided to finally leave the little tent in our camp and get on to one of the vans that started coming from the UNCHR/Stage-2 camp to pick up people from our operations field. It is a testimony of the chaos of the last few days that nobody in the camp noticed them! The large number of refugees constantly streaming in and out of our area making the presence of my ‘neighbours’ in one of our tents inconspicuous for three days in a row. That would certainly not have happened during the first days I was here, with much fewer refugees around. I almost gotten used to them, sad seeing them go to the buses and then into the great anonymity of the ‘refugee flows’ (I have come to hate that term).

At ten in the morning Meliades and Alexandros ask me to make another transport to Mytilene’s hospital, it is a family again. This time it is a pregnant woman that has been hit hard in her stomach, she did not tell us how and why. She asked to be examined to see if there was any damage to the baby. With the equipment we had available in medical tent the EINA doctors could only make a rudimentary examination regarding this, so they referred her to Mytilene’s hospital for imaging tests. I took them there and again the nurses and doctors of Mytilene’s hospital kept the woman, an Iraqi, to do the tests. This time they also kept the rest of the family, her husband and son on the hospital grounds, and promised me that they will call the Coast Guard or the police (whoever was available) for transporting them all for registration, when the tests were done and if no reason for staying in the hospital would emerge. ‘Great, no Moria for me!’ I tell myself, and then get on the car to drive back.

On my way back to Sykaminia I passed by the Medecins Sans Frontieres camp outside Mantamados. The camp is now completely full. Seeing the number of people in and around it, I could not believe that when I first arrive in Lesvos, eight days ago now its tents were just going up, and there were no refugees around. Not only it was full, but all these continuous waves of arrivals on Lesvos’ North shores where we operated, forced many people to walk on the road from the UNHCR/Stage-2 camp to the Medecins Sans Frontieres one. Now there are even people walking from Mantamados camp towards Mytilene, the buses unable to cope with the inflow coming from Sykaminia.

As I drive I look around for the beaten up green car of Yannis the Athenian, ‘maybe he is still around operating his inter-camp shuttle service’ I am thinking smiling. Then at the end of one long column of people I spot a family of Afghanis with three children and an obviously tired father holding his little boy in his arms and staggering forth. The boy must be so tired (or maybe sick?) that he is asleep, mid-day with an overhead sun, his limps spreading out of the embrace of his father, his little head also ‘overflowing’ from his father’s arms. I bring the car into a halt, ‘Get in’ I motion them. They smile and all file into the car and I drive them to the Medecins Sans Frontieres camp.

I keep doing these transports for a while. It feels like I can really help when I am doing this, while at the operations field work can feel sometimes like treading water, especially with these large numbers of people arriving during the last few days. Some of the refugees already there have started noticing this back and forth of mine, and on arrival I get waves and smiles from many of them, Kostas is still at the entrance of the big tent. I ask him about Yannis the Athenian, and he tells me he has not seen him today, but yesterday he was doing transports.

Please, please! Let’s go back and look for my brother!’ a young Afghani woman asks me in excellent English, after I brought her and her family to the Medecins Sans Frontieres camp. She has the beautiful, almond-shaped eyes of the deep East, and a beautiful but rather serious smile. Then there was that mantilla that she covered her hair with. It is so brightly coloured with flowers that it made a contrast not just with the grey and deep blue clothes she was wearing, but with the entire damn camp there. A Spring’s blink of an eye in the middle of Autumn. I take her on the car, and we start driving slowly along the columns of refugees marching towards the Medecins Sans Frontieres camp, her eyes anxiously scanning the columns…, no sign of him. Because we drive slowly, many people think that I am doing this in order to pick the next family for transport back to the camp, so many hail me to stop, pointing to tired children, grandmothers and grandfathers trailing behind them.

We are driving for nearly half an hour now, past the mid-point of the road between the Medecins sans Frontieres and the UNHCR/Stage-2 camp. Her eyes are slowly turning from anxious to sad.  We press on, and a few minutes later, and after a few more false leads, her whole face brightens up, even the mantilla changed mood I think, ‘There he is!’ she says, I stop the car, she rapidly gets out and this brother’s keeper runs out to embrace her brother jubilantly. Then they both come into the car, he much is younger than her, his laughter making him younger still. When we reach the camp, they come out, and after many thank-you’s and goodbye’s she turns to me for one last time and says: ‘I will be praying for you…’