Walking With Dino: Part 5
The basketball is beyond over-inflated. When I dribble it, it bounces almost above my head. The kid who makes the bags from the discarded life jackets and pieces of boat and I are shooting hoops at Pipka while the Afghanistan girl takes a break from riding in circles on the court. Right next to us, the members of the local tennis club are playing their Saturday afternoon matches. A woman is wearing a white shirt with neon red shorts and multi-colored tennis sneakers. She is working on her serve.
My new basketball-playing friend can’t shoot. He is coordinated, but he doesn’t understand how. He puts the ball above his head and then jumps up a bit and shot puts it up.
“I am terrible.” He tries again.
I am rebounding for him – he sometimes hits the rim. Sometimes, it goes over, sometimes flies under and I dig it out of the scrub brush that is growing around the court. The net on the rim is relatively new as is the basketball so someone must have recently donated it. It’s a dark brown Spalding ball covered in a lot of dust.
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you going?”
“Somewhere better. Go in!” This one hits the rim and has a chance, but doesn’t go in and he passes me the ball.
I take a short shot and make it. He smiles and sighs.
“How old are you?” I ask him.
“Nineteen.” The ball ends up in a small tree by the court as I fish it out, I ask.
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to learn how to read, I never went to school, I had to work.”
“Did you play basketball in Pakistan? Or soccer? Football?”
“No I worked.” He lines up a shot from five feet. He lifts up and pushes and the ball makes it halfway to the rim. We look at each other. He dribbles the ball when I give it back to him. It goes off his foot and back in the bush. I laugh and tell him:
“You are terrible.”
He laughs even harder and we keep going.
Moria used to be a side of a hill, a camp true, but really just a gathering space among the trees where the refugees came, and where men like Dino and Thanassis came to help. Well, Moira is actually a small town north of Mytilini but outside of the town on the side of a rocky hill, the refugees gathered and then it was turned into a camp of sorts and then the NGOs helped the Greek government turn it into a prison.
“This road wasn’t even here, it was just mud.” We are now walking inside of the barbed wire fence, which was built and turned this refugee camp into something much closer to a prison.
“There were just people under the trees, up there down the road, for kilometers and kilometers into the woods and we would just bring food and blankets.”
We are walking past a burned out Mercedes Benz van – the refugees protested at being locked up, then minded some more and then lit a decent portion of the camp on fire.
“This is the Afghanistan part of the camp and the Africans are down there and the Syrians over there.” The camp, as camp goes, is new and pretty clean. Dino is forever shocked, saddened annoyed at a world that would let people drown in the sea and live in camps – I am a bit more used to it and as refugee camps go, this is a pretty nice one but there is a problem. The police and camp headquarters look a bit too permanent to me – the barbed wire is taller than it needs to be – even the concrete that’s been poured all suggest that this is less a camp for people to pass through on their way to a better place and more a place to house them forever.
“This hill right here, I pushed a man up in a wheelchair in the mud.” Now, the hill is a concrete road. On our right is the registration center.
“Please do not stand in line until your number is called.”
To our left are burned down tents and burned out furniture. It got burned when there was a riot last week along with the van. Newspaper reports said the people here were chanting, ‘we’re refugees not criminals.’ We wander down to where the Africans live and everywhere we see their point.
“Where are you from ?” I ask a group standing as they watch us come.
“Any Kenyans here?”
We walk on and see where Dino saved a man who was going into diabetic shock. The guards let us by and push everyone else into the back of the line.
“I have no idea what they are waiting for, it’s not food, medicine maybe?”
There also is a complicated system separating those who arrived before March 20 and those that didn’t and those that can be political asylum and those don’t qualify. It’s a land of barbed wire, concrete, pop up tents, and paperwork.
“For the first 25 days you are locked up and after that you can come and go.”
“Why 25 days?”
“Who the hell knows…”
We come to the juvenile part of the camp. Its double chain link walls and extra high barbed wire. The buildings again seem a bit too permanent and there are police here.
“I can’t believe how different this is.” The professional NGOS moved in here and built a city where a camp had been. It’s organized and efficient and concrete replaced mud and water but it is still exactly what it is.
“I was right here when this boy came up to me in the dark and he said ‘welcome to hilllll. Hell, that’s what this place was, hell.”
Still is. Might have even gotten worse – back then there wasn’t any barbed wire in hell.
This story was written by James Cannon Boyce, who has contributed to Longevity before. Keep an eye out for part 6 in the “Walking with Dino” series.
Walking The Earth is a creative expedition designed to shine a light on people worth supporting and places worth saving. As we journey the world, we also share our authentic travel experiences and recommendations. Dino is still living in Lesvos, still teaching yoga and his studio is going well.