Walking With Dino: Part 6
She is tall, a teenager, listening to her music and cooking vegetables. Her mother is sleeping on the cot in the corner. They share the twenty by twenty room with five other women – all from Africa. It’s clean and there is a fridge and carpets on the floor. Everything is donated Dino tells me – when the refugees get off the boat, they are usually shivering in wet clothes and they get clothes, food, a cabin that once was a kid’s camp but now is a home to seven women and donated shag pink carpeting.
Dino thinks that she is 14.
“If she was at the other camp, she wouldn’t be safe so that’s who we take, the sick, the vulnerable, the ones who wouldn’t be safe.”
“Parlez-vous français?” She pulls her headphones out.
“Parlez-vous français?” I ask again.
“Je m’appelle James.”
“Bon jour James.”
She puts her headphones back in and starts cooking again.
Dino brought me down to the end of the port where the ferry goes to Athens. There is a large statue guarding the harbor, it stands for freedom, or liberty or something – he’s not exactly sure. This is where his work began and this is where it ended when the EU deal with Turkey went into place a little over a month ago. I’m not sure what the complicated treaties that were signed say, but basically maybe for the first time in history, one country, Turkey, was paid billions and billions of dollars to stop the flow of refugees from other countries, Syria. Countries have tried to keep refugees out of their land of course but when did a country ever try to keep them in?
From the dock, we can easily see Turkey like you can anywhere on the island – the gap between the islands is tiny. Since the accord, Dino doesn’t have people to pull off the beaches right now, but no one here thinks that will hold. The people who run Pipka have been told there are 80,000 refugees there across the bay, six, eight miles away who have all paid their $1,000 or more and are ready to come over. Right now, the Turkish Coast Guard turns them back, and then Frontex, the European Union turns them back and the Greek Coast Guard turns them back. Now here on Mytilini, with guns drawn, the Greek police keep deporting refugees back to Turkey. Refugees who all paid their money to risk their lives and lived in refugee prisons are getting sent back so that they can try again.
The flow hasn’t stopped out of Syria, up from Africa and from the Middle East but it has moved to Libya. There the over-loaded boats have to go fifty, sixty miles and instead of two dead guys in a boat, entire boats are flipping over and 1,000 people have drowned in the ten days prior to when Dino and I stand there and look at Turkey. 1,600 drowned getting here from Turkey, supposedly 10,000 total have drowned since last year. No one really knows.
Every day, the volunteers get calls that boats are going to try. They follow the boats by having the refugees ping their location on WhatsApp. Every few days one boat will make it through but almost all are turned back. We walk down past the freedom statue towards the town beach. Dino is showing me what it was like a few months ago in this same spot.
“There was a line of people here, see where that building is covered in graffiti? I’d handle the lines and there would be men going that way all the way back to the statue? And then the women and children are that way.” Dino points down the road by the beach. The wind is up a bit and the salt is in the air – blown over the rocky shore and up the street where we are standing in the sun.
“I’d give a man a spoon and when he got his spoon then he could get his plate of rice and we’d put some sauce on it, you know, beans, fresh vegetables.”
A man walks his dog, more of a puppy actually and the puppy interrupts us.
“Yasas.” The man says and we reply the same.
“I mean it’s hard to imagine but there would be people as far as you can see and there was this other group and they had a soup kitchen down there but the municipality bull-dozed it – they were kind of hippies, but we were here – for days. Before we could pack things up in boxes, we’d just bring these huge buckets of rice and and sauce.”
The olive trees climb above us – the hill steep and rocky. The wind is blowing a bit and it’s a touch cool, but a perfect summer day in the Greek islands.
“It was cold here man in the winter, and there would be fires and we’d be out here.” Dino is trying to remember the chaos and the cold where now there is only warmth, men with their dogs, and the gentle sea.
“It was fucked up.”
Thanssis might not see it this way but he a refugee here as well. He was a logistics manager in Athens, well educated and smart. He is funny and kind like almost all Greeks are. He worked in a metal processing company and the economy started crashing. The layoffs started and the company forced him to work longer and longer hours to try and make enough money to pay the debts. One week, he worked twelve hour days, six days in a row just to help the company make budget. The following Monday, they cut his salary from 1,700 euros a month to 800 euros a month.
Thanassis is Greek – he didn’t take it so well and he took his severance and vacation that he was owed and quit. He found another job and was working for 500 euros a month when he missed a day sick and got fired. He took that small severance and came here where he lives in the volunteer house on the couch that he and Dino made out of seats from one of the boats.
“All I have to pay for is my cigarettes.”
He eats with refugees in the camp. He sleeps on the couch and he drives a car that is so beat up and dirty, and small, it’s hard to believe that it moves with the three of us.
“Is this the new Porsche Thanassis?” I ask as we climb.
“Cayenneaki.” Baby Cayenne, he answers as we climb in to drive down to the beach at midnight just in case tonight is the night a boat gets through.
This story was written by James Cannon Boyce, who has contributed to Longevity before. Keep an eye out for part 2 in the “Walking with Dino” series.