On a dry, lava rock bluff above the Aegean sea, very little vegetation exists, except for a few treacherous, noxious weeds, that stick and sting with vengeance.
It takes some hardy weeds to live in this environment; only the toughest survive. Perhaps their steely tips were fundamental to survival.
In Kara Tepe are children who have survived tough circumstances: war, leaving familiarity of home, country and people, possibly a parent; trusting smugglers; a sea crossing in a crowded boat; being arrested upon landing on Lesvos; the fright of the unknown; worry beyond their years, possible loss of family members or even a parent; then life in a camp. School is not mandatory, so imagine a pack of high spirited little boys with very few responsibilities clumped together in a pack. Sometimes they grow steely tips to survive.
Imagine the boys with prejudices against a Kurd, or a Congolese, or a non-practicing Muslim. Imagine the fistfights that break out with regularity. Or picture the adults chasing them away from the food prep area every night. Negotiating at the pavilion was regular and so was keeping them from "borrowing."
Imagine the exclusion on the soccer field. Imagine my surprise when they refused to let me play soccer with them, yet no group of ten year old boys in the entire world would gracefully allow a grandma to play in their soccer match.
Now imagine me arguing with a ten year old boy when he wouldn't allow me to play.
"I can play!"
"No. Not even!"
"Yes, it is!" They'd side-lined another boy. I motioned to that timid boy sitting on the sidelines.
"It's two on two," the little boy held his ground.
"Three on three!" I retorted. "Let him play!"
There was no way I was going to win this fight, so when the ball rolled to me, I kicked it into the goal." They were furious.
Time to back off. I was the adult.
A group of older boys came along and wanted to play. They took the ball and excluded the younger boy ringleader.
I interrupted. "You have to let him play." If I couldn't advocate and win for myself, I'd advocate for the little boy who'd excluded me. I'd show him the way.
"Why?" the ringleader asked.
"Because the ball is for the little children and if you want to play with that ball, he has to be included."
He spoke in Arabic to his friends. Another ball appeared. The game went on without my young friend.
After sitting on the side line for a few minutes, he walked away with the charity team soccer ball. I was obligated to follow and protect the one soccer ball. He started kicking the ball against a wall. I was patient. I watched.
He started kicking the ball to me; I kicked it back. After a few rounds when I thought I'd proved my soccer skills, he kicked it beyond me and it rolled down the hill. I dutifully chased it. He did it again. And again. Intentionally.
I took the ball and left.
Then there is Moona and all the children who are like her.
I met Moona on my first breakfast round. Our job was to deliver the new breakfast items, yogurt, dates, nuts, bread, and pick up the used containers, which must be washed (maybe three out of 400 aren't). Understand, it's critical to the process to retrieve all the tupperware-like dishes. When we stood at Moona's ISO box doorway waiting for the old containers, she brought them in a bowl, dirty and food crusted.
"Oh, they are supposed to be washed," said Claudia.
"I will, I will."
Claudia tried to take them anyway, but Moona insisted. As we moved on, she carried out her two month old baby brother to show us. Moona is six years old.
Almost finished with the breakfast round, we ran into Moona who had completed the task and proudly handed us the washed dishes.
Over the next few days, when she came to the children's activities, she always had a younger sibling in tow. One time it wasn't a sibling, just another youngster she was caring for, and one time I insisted on holding the baby while she made a tissue-paper flower--but it didn't take long and she came back for her baby. When she made a bracelet, she tied it on another little girl.
When I think of Moona, I want her in my life. Everyday. My six-year-old refugee mentor.
Remember, those prickly pointed weeds often bloom the most beautiful flowers.