It’s been three weeks I left now … After all these kilometres on the road, after these experiences all over the Balkans
I finally get to the goal of my journey (at least the original one, the time will tell if that’ll be the last) Lesvos.
The Greek island from where comes the worse news, pictures and infos we’ve been fed with.
I’m about to leave tomorrow for a 14hours ride to Greece, passing by gelgevia refugees camp, idomeni area and so on … But crossing the Turkish border is what afraids me the most.
I don’t care about sleeping in the cold van anymore, I don’t mind not showering myself for couple of day … I don’t give a fuck about what could happen to me once I’ll be there, the most important to me at the moment is to get to the island safe and ready to help.
And I’ve been told so much… I ‘ve seen so many pictures, soo many reports etc … That i’m expecting the worse.
Lesvos is somehow a bridge between heaven and hell.
Here’s the Styx and we are on the shores looking at at these people crossing on the barque.
The sailor is unfair, smuggling the living deads , taking their only richness, their only piece of money to gamble with their life.
It’s either you live or die here … And we’re dealing with the dark matter of death every week … Every single day we’re expecting the worse … Drowned in the sea, broken on the shores, shot down by the coast guard or taken by the illness … Death is everywhere, in every corner, every piece of land of the wonderful island which should has been such a paradise years ago … Before becoming the corridor of hell.
It’s not difficult to understand why people would have come here to rest and to spend their holiday… Blue sea , orange and white rocks, antiquities and Greeks relics scattered all around… Yes … It should has been such a paradisiac piece of land .
Even now, even if the craps are all over the place, lifejackets, wet and muddy clothes replacing the magnificent floral vegetation … Still you can taste the beauty of Lesvos.
It’s a distorted beauty, like monstrous golems, antique demons figures facing at you with their own majesty.
The olive trees, the smell of the Mediterranean sea, the monuments and churches … The Turkish coast on the other side … Yes … You’re tasting here another kind of devastated beauty.
Devastated because of the world around … Beaten to death by the forces of our global messy society.
Here’s the anchorage of all the ongoing misery of the world. And there’s no longer gods over here … They’ve been kicked out by the war … Pushed out by the governments and the dictatorships … They fade away long time ago, since these war started.
And these war cam in insidiously on the mythical lands, like snakes whispering… Moving slowly and viciously between the trees…
The camp of kara tepe is near the city of mytelini, the biggest town of the island I’ve been told.
The camp is known as one of the best in Europe and can host a thousand of migrants a day.
It’s even sound a bit like a holiday camp, settled in a ancient archeological site, lost in the olive trees near the magnificent shore … Shops and cantinas are scattered at the entrance for sellers (smugglers) to attract the migrants to their shops selling them junk food, drinks and all kind of shitty stuff … The usual routine.
Everyone is trying to make something out of the catastrophic situation, and somehow it sounds like the taxis and travel agencies of the island are making a good deal with the crisis.
Every single day, hundreds and hundreds of migrants are buying ferry tickets to Athens … Day after day the taxis are driving all around the place, moving families and people from camp to camp etc… So I would suppose that this catastrophe has not impact for everyone.
Still how to talk about it ?
Well, when I first arrived to the island from turkey, I’ve been straight impressed by the amount of details which were inducing the crisis … Lifejackets scattered on the pleasance boats on the port, useless memories of the populations passing through… All the Arabic advertisements, as if we weren’t in Greece for real … I saw more Arabic writings than Greeks by the time I spend here …
And you see migrants all over the place here… And It’s somehow disturbing to see them that numerous, as we always has been looking for them before … As they were parked in specific places, areas etc … Here that’s not the case and you cross them on the streets as everyone else.
So many of them … Waiting for the ferry to take off … Wandering around like passing ghosts … Worrying about the next.
And the city sounds like overwhelmed… And the port is worse … Tents everywhere … Garbages all over the streets … Wet clothes scattered like vegetation, growing bigger and bigger with bagpacks, used shoes etc …
And then, once you leave the city … The camps.
And I’ve been looking for to volunteer in kara tepe camp, which i’ve been told was the busiest one with moria, another city further north.
Thanks to Claus whom I met by chance while I was trying to make my way through the tiny streets of mytelini, I’ve been in touch with VCA humanitarian organisation lead by Fred Morlet who welcomed me warmly.
I thought I get used to work in the camp after the several other experiences I passed through … I was wrong. Here, there’s just nothing to do with what I’ve been doing so far …
Here everything was 10 times harder than in the other places I’ve been helping.
It mostly came from the fact that we’re somehow at the first front lines, right on the shores.
The people who came to us were arriving straight from the sea … Abruptly, violently, endlessly … Like waves … Tsunamis flooding the beaches…
And we’re in emergency response team which meant we’re supposed to be their first help as soon as they reached the ground …
And we saw them as exhausted as you can guess, we face the helplessness, the violence of the shore, the cry, the panic and the chaos as its purest form.
But we also experienced joy, the relief of reaching the Europe at last, the relief to arrive alive, with your family … To be welcome by people, to be taken care of …
To them and to us, I’d say that these memories will stay for a lifetime.
We’ve been through hard times, difficult situations etc … Of course … But it also had been simple … It also has been easy, and basically, it’s better this way and we’ve all been trying to make it happen as often as we could.
The thing is that people and meanstream media needs exceptional footages, mind blowing stories and pictures and it has somehow lead people to think that we were heroes running to the boats, jumping on the water and saving babies life, carrying them to the shore … Well I can tell you that’s not the case … First we’re not allowed to go on the sea to rescue the refugees, we needed to wait for the lifeguards rescue team to bring them to the ground … Only then we could work and again, the process was very strict and you could only help a specific way … We weren’t allowed for instance to give food or to give medicines to people… We even weren’t supposed to give them clothes but we couldn’t help but to break the rules sometimes.
You’re always split between being human and being organised and having a helpful efficiency : which means being strict sometimes… Because it’s one thing to try to help but it’s another to help efficiently, and most people don’t really get the logic of helping, the runes and the basic things to do or not to do … And then … They just start disturbing the whole process even though the wants to do well.
And you would like to help this lady who’s lying on the beach, shivering, freezing to death and pale like a zombie… You wish you could give her something to help her, medicine, food,whatever … But you know that it could harm her as well … You know that you’re not a doctor and that you’re not the one who can tell what this lady needs … So you just have to wait … Helpless … Trying to warm her with foil blankets, to keep her awake … But you wish you could do ten times more … And sometimes, in some cases I couldn’t help but to break the protocols and all these rules and to do whatever I felt useful and meaningful on the go … Sometimes your feelings are stronger than your logic.
Working in emergency rescue means that you need to be ready at anytime … So from 5am to 4pm (my shift for most of my stay at Kara Tepe) I was mostly sat at the front seat of my van, parked at the lighthouse spot near the shore, looking for boat, watching at the sea … And 80% of the time, you get bored as nothing is happening. I’ve been talking long time with others observers and watchmen, lifeguards etc … Especially with the G-Fire lifeguards crew staying there all night long 7/7day … They have been doing such an amazing job here, leading the way for the boats to land safely, carrying the people off of the boats, stopping the engine for the boat not to crash in the rocks…
We couldn’t work without their help.
The life in the camps is something hard.
To me, it was important to experience the camps as the refugees would do, I wanted to live at their rhythm, to feel the place the same than them.
And even if I was sleeping in the van, being 24/24h in the camp and living on the rude day to day schedules was really intense, difficult and tiring.
Going back to the van, parked in a corner of the camp after a 15hours shift wasn’t what you could called a rest… It was just a gap between two shifts, a meal, a cigi and sleep before going back to work.
At some point, I was pissed of by the volunteers here in the island … Don’t get me wrong, many of them has been such a support, such a relief and so good people, working had everyday, anytime for the common good.
These ones are the real forces, the strongest humans in my point of view.
They don’t give a fuck about the fancy of being heroes, showing themselves carrying children, babies out of the see or whatever… They knows that the real heroes in this area are not only the one that you see on TV … Heroes are carrying boxes, sorting clothes and donations, cleaning trashes and whipping out the shits … Heroes are the ones who makes life possible in the camps, the volunteers who really understand that it’s something to save people on the beaches but it’s also crucial to make their stay possible and safe and restful.
Then it’s sounds directly less glamorous … Of course who wants to do that ? Nobody for sure …
And that is the point where you realise who are the one who are really here to help to improve the situation and wo are the one who’re just looking for action, fancy pictures and great stuff …
Volunteering is everything but a pleasure.
It can be boring, it can be impressively stressful, exhausting and depressing … And so it is most of the time.
I’ve always been pissed off by these volunteers showing up for an hour or so and then leave once they realised that more fancy stuff where happening somewhere else … And of course you can’t be overwhelmed by boats landing all the time … Of course you’re not dealing with thousands of refugees every day … But still, in a camp and in the humanitarian volunteering world, there’s always something to do, every day …
Well… I won’t lie … I’m glad that I have been able to see the whole spectrum of the situation in Lesvos.
I’ve been filming on the shore, I’ve been interviewing refugees and asking them to tell their stories, I’ve been taking pictures etc …
I basically did everything I’m fighting against.
But I think I made it in a slightly different way as I never stopped helping, working or whatever to film … I was filming right on the go, in the action … And my main focus has always been to help more than to film.
Then, it made me sad and angry to see these filmmakers, journalists and photographers coming just for a couple of hours … Waiting for a dramatic picture to play with and leaving afterward.
I think I made it in a different way I was really staying there, as I was really working there and wasn’t just another filmmaker coming to get some good shots out of the catastrophe.
The whole thing to me was to understand and to know what I was filming, and you can’t get it in a day.
It asks time and power to understand a bit more about the whole situation, and even a month is not enough for sure…
Somehow it may had justify my process … I whish so … But I’m still uncomfortable with that.