Tari is currently on the island of Lesbos, Greece which has been the entry point for thousands of Syrian refugees over the past few months. She is there on her annual pilgrimage to study with Angela Farmer and this time she’s been able to witness, help and support the refugees. Here are her first observations.
Greetings from the village of Eftalou on Lesvos Island in Greece. I arrived on Sunday with heavy jet lag, but joyful to be treated by the same taxi driver and innkeeper from last year. I watched my first sunset of this trip over the Aegean Sea while eating the first grilled bass. After nearly 17 hours of travel, I went to sleep shortly after that sun set.
My accounting here will not be more about the beautiful environs, great food and yoga, but rather the refugee situation. Upon landing on this beautiful, modestly populated agricultural island, here are some things I have been observing. This island is so close to Turkey that the entire east coast is open to boats with refugees, seeking to make their way to Mytiline, the port city where they get the critically essential refugee papers to continue their journey to safety in the EU. These refugees pay up to $1,000 each to cross the 6 miles from Turkey to Greece.
After landing In Athens, I flew to Mytiline from where I took a taxi to the village of Eftalou, about 50 miles across high rugged sun drenched hills on the north shore of Lesvos facing the shore of Turkey, 6 miles across the Aegean Sea. It is precisely this spot that the flimsy rubber boats with has many as 70 arrive in a constant procession every day.
Before the taxi ride here my driver took me past the camps in Mytiline. The yellow and blue sun protection tents line the streets surrounding the Municipal complex. So do the waiting Syrians, Afgans and others seeking safety from their civial war. It is hot- 90 degrees plus.
We traveled north on switch backs over the barren hills, the road lined with “walkers” each wearing a single backpack. They include small children, babies, men and women, but mostly young men and women. They all appeared tired, but other wise healthy and, yes, well dressed. These are not scruffy,poor, bedraggled (yet) refugees. Oh, yes, they all have cell phones that are already in use. Being that I am not using mine because of cost and connectivity complications, they have out smarted me already.
It is extremely hot and the mountains are steep. Their backpacks are full of money, medicines and tools, and even though most could pay, Taxis are forbidden by law to give them rides, even for double the money until they have papers. So they walk, for hours and sometimes days to get from Eftalou to Mytiline.
On my first day of yoga I walked half a mile along the beginning portion of their journey’s road after escaping and abandoning the makeshift boats. The is the second part of my story when I witness and aided in rescue of two boats on Monday night.
What is remarkable to me is how middle class, healthy, gentle, grateful and happy they all seem. As I pass a group of young men this morning taking their first arrival smoke they are smiling and polite. There was one young woman who passed me walking alone. Twenties I would say. She wore a perfectly wrapped Muslim head scarf over a well cut black business suite, practice shoes and only a backpack. (Black, of course). Obviously she left everything back from where she came and was dressed for her ‘next’ job interview.
The beautiful beaches of Eftalou are a mess sadly of plastic debris. Water bottles, lift jackets (impressive pics of them to come). The deflated boats piled on top of one another taking up beach space and now part of the ‘sun bathing’ experience for the local Greeks.
The sea is constantly patrolled by GR coast guard. By law they are to send boats back and rescue only people in the water. Thus the life jackets. The refugees ‘kill’ their boats (inflated tubes) and swim ashore. Hard to do with a baby and small children. The Greek coast guard often turns a blind eye. But some one from the boat must swim the distance to negotiate.
Next I will account for the night rescue, send pics and give the GR perspective.
Part 2- the journey continues
Sunday is the start of week two in Eftalou. There is no yoga on Sundays, so I started my morning with a hot springs bath and swim in the Aegean Sea. I also spent time cleaning up life jackets and empty water bottles, evidence of the thousands of refugees making their way to the EU.
The afternoon was a hot walk to Molyvos for supplies and dinner. All along these paths I passed nearly 2,000 refugees. Major influx felt. I Welcomed folks as I passed them, and wished them good luck. In turn they smiled and replied “Thanks” in English.
I saw families, but mostly men, strong and confident. But so many… they are just passing through here. The camp in Mytiline will try their will.
The refugees have disrupted the tourist business and demand resources to manage their presence, like constant assistance from the Coast Guard, refugee clean up, and immigration processing. There is no government money for this. Fortunately, humanitarianism is not connected to economic stress.
Under the unforgiving heat of this Sunday afternoon I saw a farmer stop his truck and help pile in the children of a large group. Another volunteer group organized a “welcome wagon” with water, directing hundreds to a school yard 7 km away that will serve as the first ‘camp’. A local restaurant provides sandwiches.
Refugees stay less than 12 hours here before making the next 35 km leg of their journey. A local told me that not a single robbery or assault has occurred since this all started, and I want to believe that.
One of the people in the yoga workshop is organizing financial assistance and I find it inspiring. There is a decent system in place that ensures the funds will go to supplying water upon arrival, which will help keep people hydrated as they trek 7 km to Molyvos where food is available. I want to pitch in, so I ask, and he says that, as a woman, what is needed from me are ‘feminine’ supplies and diapers for the refugees. So, instead of filling water bottles, I bought sanitary napkins to distribute as I pass women and families on my way to yoga.
Tonight there is a cool breeze on Lela’s deck over the sea. As the sun sets I can see the shore of Turkey, 4 miles away with the outline of hills and the lights of villages.
It is said that 1 million are waiting to cross. It is an exodus that inspires awe and compassion. Does the rest of the world feel the impact?