Day 17 & 18: Dignity and human rights

Part of a series on my journalism faculty-led program through Italy and Greece.

We visited the Kara Tepe and Moria refugee camps over the past two days. The director of Kara Tepe really spoke to me when he started talking about dignity, freedom, and other human rights. I ended up re-reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and some of the background behind it's creation.

I'm still processing the Moria camp, and how to tell its story. There's a slight possibility that we might go back tomorrow, so I'll just post a short snippet from the interview we conducted today with a 23 year old Syrian photojournalism student (basically me, but from a war-torn country and not from immense privilege). One of his friends translated the Arabic to English for us, and I'm paraphrasing the quote.

"Would you rather be at Moria or in Syria?"

"Syria. We're not safe here, we weren't safe there. But at least in Syria we had the freedom to go wherever we wanted and we could see our family."

Salam, Ibrahim.


Day 16: Lost and found

Part of a series on my journalism faculty-led program through Italy and Greece. Note: I wrote this halfway through day 17, which definitely affected what I'm writing now.

Today was mostly a stay-at-the-hotel-and-work day, so this is another reflection.

For a while now I've felt lost in where I want to go in the future. I have about a year and a little bit more of school, but after that I've been pretty unsure. I don't think I want to become a real journalist, but I've also been contemplating whether I should be continuing at my current job (in a full time capacity). At least one person I talked to on this trip suggested that other work experience outside of Wikimedia would be good for me so I can broaden my horizons and grow as a person, and I think I generally agree with him.

So the main question I've had is, what should I do? I think it's pretty clear that I want to do something that will improve the world and people's lives. I have the privledge to not have to worry that much about money, so I feel the obligation and desire to help other people.

A few people have suggested law school to me, which is pretty appealing. It seems like a lot of problems today need lawyers to fight them, and I've always had a fascination with civil rights litigation. But that requires going through law school, and I don't think I have the patience to wait that long. I want to start improving the world now.

It's funny sometimes how one small event can turn your entire life over. It was pretty dangerous, reckless, stupid, but incredibly fun. I don't think I've had my adrenaline running like that in years.

I didn't say anything to her about what happened, but my mom immediately noticed the difference in my mental state when I talked to her for 30 seconds on the phone.

We talked a lot about values, relationships, and most importantly failure last night. I don't think I've exactly found where I want to go yet, but I feel much better that I've found the right track.

The sunrise

Maylea's picture of the sunrise


Day 15: The knife, the port, the prison, and the boy

Part of a series on my journalism faculty-led program through Italy and Greece.

There are four stories today.


The knife

We were going to the lifejacket graveyard. It's a dump that has boats and lifejackets from refugees that made it here. But each lifejacket is a good thing - it represents a refugee that successfully completed the journey, and no longer have a need for it.

We got out of the car, started looking around, opening up tripods, when he came. He works at the state-owned dump, and was driving a bulldozer.

"What are you doing here?" he shouted. "This is private property!"

He got out of the bulldozer, and started waving a giant butcher's knife at us, while telling us to leave. We retreated back to our van, but our local driver walked up to him, and stood her ground.

Knife guy

She later told us that she suspects he was a member of the far-right Golden Dawn party, since he told her that "we [Greeks] are being colonized by refugees and migrants" (translated, paraphrased).


The port

Molyvos is a tourist town. But there simply weren't enough tourists for the amount of shops and services they had. We had heard that the refugee crisis had scared away tourists from the island, but this seemed eerie at times. I wasn't sure whether people were being extremely friendly because that was just the way they were, or whether they were desperate to have people buy their merchandise.

We interviewed a shopkeeper there, who is from Belgium, but has lived and worked on Lesvos for 25 years, meeting her husband here as well. She had an interesting take on the fear of tourists that the island was overrun by refugees. (By the way, it's not.) She explained that people who want to come here for the tourism could just stay in the tourist areas, and those who wnated to come here to help the refugees should do that. It was as if she wanted to treat the island as two parts: a refugee crisis area and a beautiful tourism center.

As we were leaving lunch, I briefly talked with a member of the Hellenic Coast Guard about his experiences. We talked about a few different things, but one quote stuck with me:

"The people who come here are refugees, leaving war, but some are migrants, looking for a better life than home. But to me, it doesn't matter. I save everyone."


The prison

Call it what you want - Moria is a prison. We drove past it, and it looks like a prison. The walls are prison walls. There's barbed wire on top of the walls. If they didn't want it to be a prison, they would have torn that stuff down.

We'll be going to Moria again on Monday, this time to conduct interviews, get pictures, etc. I'm pretty nervous.


The boy

We came back to the hotel, I quickly changed, and jumped into the ocean, taking a kayak with me. One of them was a two person kayak, so I taught two of my classmates how to kayak before he came up to me, asking for a ride.

He looked at me and said, "you're black", to which I nodded. Then he looked down into the water at my feet and said, "you're white in the water," to which I responded with "Probably. But why does it matter?"

And he didn't say anything, but I knew why it mattered to him.

He is a five year old boy from the Congo. He spoke decent English, and was usually understandable. But he's a refugee, and had to leave his country for well...whatever this island is. No one else at the resort at the time was as dark skinned as me or him, so hopefully he felt a bit more comfortable.

I didn't see his parents around, so I didn't feel comfortable asking any other questions. We rode out into the ocean, talking about the waves and the kayak. If there was one thing that put a smile on my face today, it was seeing the smile on his face.


Day 14: New island with more questions than answers

Part of a series on my journalism faculty-led program through Italy and Greece.

Unless you're already familiar with Lesvos/Moria, I would recommend you read the Human Rights Watch report, and this New York Times story. Lesvos is the name of the island, and Moria is one of the main refugee camps on the island. Moria is a former prison that was turned into a camp, but it is extremely stuffed with more people than it is supposed to have the capacity for.

OK, here goes.

We got off the ferry in the morning, and took a quick drive to our hotel. It's a family run resort that is BEAUTIFUL.

View during breakfast

View during breakfast

It's a gorgeous resort. The staff is hella nice too. Nothing more really that we could ask for.

So then we went to a place called Mosaic in the afternoon, where refugees take different classes to help them with integration into society. They have English and Greek classes, music classes, IT classes, and so on. The services are offered to both adults and kids. I think I might write more about what they do at another time, but it looked fantastic. Honestly based on the previous research I had done about Lesvos, it really felt too good to be true.

But I get the feeling that something isn't right here. We walked down and explored a bit of the city, and found one of Lesvos's dark secrets.

"Fuck Islam"

"Fuck Islam"

That's less than 10 kilometers away from our hotel. It was a big deal a while back that the far-right party, Golden Dawn, was driven off of Lesvos. I do wonder what the long term effects of that will be, and whether it actually reduced racism on the island.

I also have a lot of questions about Moria. The people I talked to at Mosaic said that nearly everyone who comes has a mobile phone (nearly always a smartphone). So when we hear stories about the atrocities that happen in Moria, why is no footage or pictures making it out? They all seemingly have internet access?

The more important question I'm struggling with is: how could the EU let this happen? The current situation (as described by media reports) is a hellhole. Why hasn't the EU figured out a way to quickly move people off the island to another location in Greece? I think I could easily come up with a few decent plans to ensure that everyone at least has humane living conditions.

Hopefully I'll get the answers to some of my questions this week.


Day 13: I'm on a boat

Part of a series on my journalism faculty-led program through Italy and Greece.

Today was uh...boring? Our group was done with our work ahead of time, so we technically had "free time", except we didn't have anything to do/see, so we just got even more ahead on our work and took naps/watched TV.

Then we got to the boat! At this point was basically the end of our adventure in Athens - we were heading to Lesvos now. We were booked on an overnight ferry that would get us there. The room was pretty cramped, but really the main function of it was the beds.

Anyways, we ended up spending a lot of time on the deck just staring at the moon and talking. That's always fun. Too bad the chair lift never worked.


Day 12: Photos, photos, photos

Part of a series on my journalism faculty-led program through Italy and Greece.

Sunset from the Acropolis

Sunset from the Acropolis of Athens

We had to go on a "photo safari" - two photos of ancient Athens, two of modern Athens, and one that was a hybrid. We went to the old Polytechnic university buildings that were the site of an uprising in 1973. It was incredible to see the gates that were smashed by the tank, as well as all of the street art on the buildings. You could really feel that an incredibly important event had happened there.

After that we went to the National Archeological Museum that was next door to find our ancient pictures...except those were incredibly ancient. I enjoyed seeing all the different statues of Greek gods and historical figures, but after a certain point they all started to look the same.

The coolest part of the day was going up to the Acropolis in the evening. It had begun to rain, so most of the crowd was gone, and there was no line. The Parthenon is just as incredible as I've seen in every photo, and the view from it is fantastic.

My ancient and modern hybrid photo

My ancient and modern hybrid photo

We waited about 2 hours through the sunset and then a bit more for it to get dark and all lit up. Someone even set off fireworks on a nearby hill.

Also, one of my favorite xkcds is Ten Thousand. Yesterday I got to teach someone that the number of chimes in a striking clock is the number of hours it currently is. :D I was slightly dissapointed that wikihow's How to Read a Clock didn't explain how to "read" a striking clock.