I am overwhelmed with so many senses and confusions of this new experience that I'm having trouble articulating it all in words.
It is when I send a reply to my friends and start writing without reservation, simply to express my first impressions, that I am able to write.
And so, I copy my email written to friends at home:
Your armchair visit with different books and the enlarging of perspective made me want to write just a little bit about our situation. We are about to spend day two in the Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesvos, and the perspectives are so many that it may take me awhile to sort them out. I so want to understand this dark and light window of humanity but conflicting information and experiences will prove difficult to my goal.
Tonight we will be making the morning meal to support those who practice fasting during Ramadan. We will start preparation at 10:00 p.m and and will work until all meals have been delivered by 2:30 a.m. It's a service people cannot provide for themselves at the camp. Almost 900 of the 1000 people in camp are fasting.
I am blown away by the strong Dutch women we are working with. They're young, intelligent, vivacious. I am blown away by the UN refugee council that has dealt with the refugee crisis. Our camp is for the especially vulnerable: those who may have shipwrecked or the mentally ill or families with children. The camp up the street is under the auspices of the Greek army and mostly made of single men--about 1000. They've had their troubles.
I've met families from Afganhistan, from Syria and Iraq, from African nations: a Muslim family with a husband, two wives and 10 children. Some families are clean and then others who live in filth. Because of Tony's French, he has been able to help a family from Congo who just arrived. The man had opposing political views and the regime came after him, imprisoned and tortured him. He shows Tony the scars from where his wrists were bound behind his back.. We met another woman from Congo and she told us her journalist husband was imprisoned for anti-government writing. She came on an over-crowded boat with her three children. She attributed God's hand in her safe arrival.
Yet the contrast: the healthy beautiful Dutch women pull out their cigarettes at every break (yes, I know it's the culture but in 2017 the health repercussions are irrefutable). One of the biggest shocks was to learn there are millionaires in the camp. Did you equate "refugee" with poverty too?
And finally, Lesvos is gorgeous, uncrowded and incredibly cheap. ONe would hardly know the impact, but then we have come after the peak of boat refugees--yet 500 arrived in May.
I actually feel bombarded with too many perspectives, but in the end, it will sort itself out or I will just stay conflicted....