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.

Day 11: Rain rain, go away

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

But like really. It's not actually supposed have a high chance of raining in Athens...and yet it rained.

We had a tourist day planned, visiting the islands of Hydra, Poros, and Aegina.

Hydra was nice, it was lightly raining, but we went into the ocean to swim. The beach was basically non-existent, but it dropped off pretty quickly, so you could swim right away. After drying myself off, we started heading back to the boat while Zeus decided it was time to start pouring...soaking wet yet again. Oh well!

The sun came out for Poros, it was magnificent. But we only had enough time to go up to the clock tower, look around, and come back down before it was time to go.

We headed to Aegina with the storm behind us, had a beautiful time on the boat, and then got off at the island to go swimming. The beach was nice, except it was super duper shallow so you had to walk out 20 feet to be able to swim. Oh, and that storm behind us? It caught up and decided to drench us. Why Zeus, why???

And then in the evening, I got to have dinner and walk/drive around the city with Faidon, which was a a real treat :-)

Day 10: Meeting refugees and Athena

Part of a series on my journalism faculty-led program through Italy and Greece. Yes, I fell behind on blogging :/.

We hit the ground running in Athens, and the first morning, went to interview refugees in Victoria Square. Since we only spoke English, we looked for people roughly our age, assuming that the younger generation would speak English.

It's a small square, but we found 3 young men from Afghanistan. They fled the Taliban, and eventually ended up in Greece. They have refugee status, but are unable to work, and spend most of their day walking around the park, playing some soccer, and similar. They said they don't have a proper place to stay, and are often sleeping in the park. They were willing to do a video interview with microphones, as long as the camera didn't show their faces. The most frustrating part for me was when one of them told us he had a graduate degree in computer science - and yet he's unable to use his education to get a job and work.

We also talked with a few more young men, but from Syria this time. I have a text story for that, which should be published...soon.

In the evening we did a walking tour of Athens, saw the Modern Academy of Athens, and then the incredibly beautiful Panathenaic Stadium. Our tour guide finished with a somewhat lecture on being active citizens in the democracy, which I enjoyed. It's incredible that theoretically I'm walking on the same grounds that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle once walked on.