Grateful Thanksgiving week. It was wonderful to see all the posts of gratitude. It is early Saturday morning. I was planning to sleep in, but the external clock and the slightest hint of morning light have my eyes open, jumping out of bed for that first cup of coffee.
The last 2 days of clinic flowed at a steady pace. No big emergencies, I bought 3 bags of chocolate and gave them out to everyone who came to triage. I can see their eyes light up and crinkle with smiles under the mask. Seems the last few days have been dominated by meetings most productive. We had a zoom meeting with University Medical Center of Vienna and the telehealth project we have been working on for months is moving forward into being operational very soon.
Then I went to a camp community meeting. It was cancelled but as I was standing around waiting inside the camp I got a better view of camp issues. First, there are 2 places for cold showers – the female has privacy the men do not. They bathe in the chilly air with cold water from pipes coming from a huge water bladder filled daily. There are at least 10 huge tents housing single men, 150 people inside. The men use blankets and tarps to create their own privacy “box”. I am really shocked that this number in one space is acceptable during covid.
There is no electric in the tents. There are smaller tents that house 8 – 10 people, meaning some families share with other families. People have made makeshift extensions with tarps. It was a sunny day so people were outside washing laundry in their tubs. Right by the sea there were a few woman who had made very primitive cooking spaces and with twigs as fuel were cooking. People were fishing.
I saw a few kids playing soccer and a few kids in a circle playing some game with rocks. Many people were just sitting in the sun. The camp looked neat! Orderly rows of tents all on gravel with very little garbage strewn around. Which is great but I have to say there is an overwhelming sense of sadness, of depression, of resignation. Moria Camp as chaotic, crowded, dirty, and dangerous at least had this multiethnic personality. Refugees had set up small enterprises making and selling bread, vegetables, repairing shoes etc. There were services for children, makeshift “schools” where kids did art, numbers etc. There were sounds of laughter, along with crowd sounds, shouting, music, noise. Refugees were free to move in and out of the camp freely They could go to town, go to the refugee community center, sit by the sea.
Don’t misinterpret me here — MORIA was a hell hole but somehow felt more alive, better than this new camp that feels so oppressive. I have heard now that the Greek government is building a closed camp somewhere on the island. This will be like a prison. It already feels like a prison here. The heavy police presence. The long lines to get through police stops within different sectors of the camp The police end up making the decision of who gets to go to a medical clinic. It is all so frustrating, dehumanizing. I again am struck by simple privileges like being able to go and buy Tylenol for a headache when needed and not wait 5 hours on a line for it while your head throbs. It is these simple issues, denial of selfcare, that feed this oppressive and undignified existence. Along with so many other things.
The really bright side are the refugee translators, men and women from every ethnic background who as refugees themselves volunteer their time to work alongside us in the clinic. They are bright, compassionate and work really hard, serving their community with great kindness. I keep thinking how I want these people in my community – they are beacons of positive action.
I implore all of you who read this to please call or write your representatives and let’s get the immigration restrictions changed. We will all benefit from this.