Before we drive the 15 minutes to Kara Tepe, I try to swim. The Aegean Sea is water-bottle clear, refreshing, and so cool, it takes me 10 minutes to wade in and eventually muster the courage to dive under, still squealing with resistance the whole way. This ridiculous, slow ascent makes me giggle. Giggle, and giggle and thus this peculiar way of going for a swim is worth every single silly slow step.
I arrive at Kara Tepe with damp, salted hair. I pull it back, or put on a hat. It keeps me cool in a place where cool is hard to find. Each isobox has been fitted with an air conditioner, compliments of solar power, but the strain is too much for the island power grid. There's talk of more panels, but ultimately the island system needs improvement, and they're hoping for a donor with €200,000. Yet, every infrastructure improvement is really a step backward. The volunteers from Samaritan's Purse are vigorously working power tools to build a new structure, --yet all the efforts to make temporary life better are really a tragedy. Refugee camp's point is to be a temporary place until country reassignment comes in.
It seems that everyone has either just arrived or been here, "Seven months, or maybe eight." Some isoboxes are so well appointed and crowded with possessions, they indicate their occupants have been here much longer. Yet, immigration seems to be as far away as the shore while paddling with a headwind. The complications change daily. Currently to apply for Greek asylum, one must apply by skype. Complaints are that no one answers. This skype conundrum is just the tip of the heartache of both sides--the overburdening of an already taxed system and desperate refugees.
I met a very pregnant mother and her six year old daughter who spoke beginning English, and through her we could somewhat converse.
When asked if she was learning English in school, the little one responded, "No, Allemagne."
"Oh, you're learning German. Are you going to Germany?"
"No. No money." Her innocence shifts as she looks away, her baby mind unable to process such a complexity as "no money."
Oh the complexities of immigration. While working with a group of Afghan teenagers, they wanted to know where I was from.
"The US," I replied, but they didn't comprehend the acronym for the United States. They counseled between themselves in Farsi, back and forth like they were playing hot potato with words. Clarity came: Oh America.
"I want to go to America," says the young man almost in a whisper, and I understand clearly, the immigrant's dream, the immigrant's frustration, the reason why my own grandparents endured the ocean crossing during WWI, and why they gave up everything to come to America.
~~On our first morning of delivering breakfast, Tony befriends a man who arrived by boat the night before--who tells the same story of a harrowing crossing, of having left children behind in the Congo, of having spoken out against the government who came for him, who can show the scars from being tied up with ropes. This morning in such a new and unfamiliar place, his daughter is running a fever. Tony leads him to the medical box where nurses and doctors have come to give freely in temporary shifts of one week, or even months. No one speaks French so Tony must translate. Over the next few days, he gives assistance to Guy--he finds out where he can learn English and where he can practice his trade while in the camp. Guy is a coiffure. An experienced hairdresser. When he sees me, he looks at my bushy hair that goes in all directions like a turbulent sea, and offers, "A good brushing."
I respond, "I wouldn't want to scare you," which I want to take back, since few things could be scarier than what he has already endured.