Yes, I know, I stopped writing. I’ve started countless posts that I’ve abandoned halfway through. I went to Greece with the passionate intention to write about my experience, it’s just that, I’m not sure how to verbalize it, how to share it. I arrived in Leros and jumped into an exciting, emotional, overwhelming, and sad tornado that consumed me until the moment I boarded a tiny plane back to Athens. It’s taken me a few weeks of aimlessly wandering around Europe to sort it all out.
I won’t write about the people I met in Leros – I can’t be objective and the stories are not mine to tell. When you hear the word refugee it might not mean much to you. It’s just a word, describing something happening far away, an abstract idea that’s unfortunate to someone, somewhere else. It’s different for me now – it’s not something happening far away to someone who just happened to be born somewhere in violent conflict – it’s real, personal – the word brings emotion, faces, personalities, kindness, moments, memories, and people who I care deeply about.
Leros is an incredibly beautiful and eerily sad island. It’s a lovely place to visit if you can leave – I mindlessly made the mistake of asking someone if they liked it, the response was, no – I’m a refugee. In that case it’s a bit stifling, deceptive, like a prison disguised as a paradise. If you are a refugee, you must walk 30 minutes from prison to reach town, past rolling dry, olive colored hills, past dumpsters filled with ravenous cats that jump out as you pass. You reach a town that is half empty – empty stores, crumbling buildings, old abandoned insane asylums.
How many people have come through Leros and left, myself included? Italian soldiers, patients of the insane asylums, tourists, refugees, volunteers. What words can I use to make it real for you? To share my ups and downs in Leros? I can’t. I can tell you about skipping through the streets of Leros at dusk, laughing with women from Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, and singing words in Arabic. I can tell you about teaching yoga to people from Iran, Kurdistan, Syria, who might not understand what I say in the practice, but come anyway every morning and smile at me with kind eyes. We bow to each other as equals and say namaste.
My experience was so personal and my feelings so rapidly changing that I struggled to share as it unfolded. It’s my experience, but I can share my understanding that we are not different. Despite the term refugee, the country we come from or happen to currently reside in, our religion that we practice or don’t practice, we are not separate. Be with people in a way that you forget there are barriers, that they cease to exist in your mind. But there are barriers, and these barriers are real. They are political and economic barriers holding people back from their families, from enjoying a free existence. Who doesn’t want to live in peace? In a place where there isn’t conflict? Why should people be punished for wanting a happy and safe existence?
Pardon my silence, but what can I say? What do you say to someone who isn’t granted asylum, who has been separated from their family, who feels depressed and stuck in a refugee camp (rightfully so)? The whole situation is fucked up and it’s not just someone else’s problem. What can you do you might ask? What can I do? Let’s start by talking about it. Seek to understand what is happening and how people are affected by it. It’s not just something happening to someone far away. I believe it can change. Change might be slow, but it’s possible.