In 2018, I went with a group from Corban University to serve in refugee Camp Moria in Lesvos, Greece. For six days I served with the team and experienced many different cultures and people that have formed much of my perspective on the world and on my purpose. The story below is just an inkling of my experiences in the camp, but I hope it can shed light on the refugee experience. The stories in my People of Moria series were written so that the people I met, people who saw family members cut down in front of their eyes, their homes and belongings torched, would not be forgotten.
The roads were cool and quiet as we arrived at the EuroRelief office to start the day. A clump of Syrians leaned on the front gate waiting for us. We stepped in the office and the director, Megan, gave us our assignments. If Moria were a prison, she would be the warden.
“We need two for the New Arrivals Rub Hall.” My teammate Carly and I raised our hands.
“You two go with one of the Mennonites and she’ll show you around.” One of them still waiting in the office took a couple radios and waved us over.
“Hey guys! I’m Anna. Follow me.” She walked quick, almost in a trot and we struggled to keep up. We walked down the main road until we came to a large cage bolted to a shipping container.
“Have you guys handed out diapers or strollers yet?” Carly nodded and Anna continued.
“Ok so you know what this is then. Just shake the handle until someone comes out to unlock it.” She rattled it like the triangle on a ranch before a diminutive lady wearing a white prayer covering stepped out and unlocked the gate.
“Thanks.” We climbed into the shipping container and walked to a small door.
“This’ll be where you get into the New Arrivals Rub Hall.” The Rub Hall was canvas over aluminum poles held by a concrete floor and filled brim to brim by rusty bunk beds and displaced Muslims.
“So before you come down, Megan will tell you what kind of people we’ll be bringing up to the office and getting housed. We’re getting families today.” As we walked in, a short man shoved me his papers and babbled in Farsi.
“My friend, my friend, you help?”
“I’m sorry I don’t know. Talk to her.” I shrugged and pointed to Anna.
“No you wait. We get other people now.” She handed him back his papers. He threw up his hands and walked away. Anna noticed a family of albino Syrians and asked for their papers.
“So you take a look at how many people are in their family, which is 6, and then you look at their ethnicity which is Syrian. We need that so we can house them in a safe place. After that you need to make sure they have everyone with them.” She looked to the father.
“All here?” He shook his head and called over to the far corner. His son and his wife came over. He motioned over to Anna and they handed her their papers. She breathed out.
“Ok so what we have here is that the father wants to be with his son and his wife. We can make that work.” She smiled and nodded to the family.
“Gather up. Follow.” She waved both her hands like she was directing a symphony and they gathered up their things.
“Make sure they get everything and help them out if they need it. Bring them to the large gate once you get them all together and we’ll walk them up to the office.” She handed their papers to me and directed Carly to follow her. I rolled up their blue foam bed mats while they grabbed their extraneous bags. None spoke save head nods or shakes. The father tugged my arm and pointed to his son who looked about five years old. He bent his head and pointed to a bald and reddened streak on the back of his skull. He made a whistling sound and flew his hand over his head.
“I’m sorry.” I grabbed their bags and walked to the large gate. We stood by for a few minutes before the Mennonite and Carly brought two other families to the gate. The translator watching it unlocked a smaller door in the left corner and we brought out the families.
We shouldered their bags and beds then trekked the hill to the EuroRelief office. I turned back to see if they were following, and two young men had joined the family to carry their bags. We seated them in the shade of the EuroRelief office and gave their papers to Megan and the other Mennonites so they could be housed. I smiled at the family as I walked back out.
“Hey Jon, are you busy?” It was Bri.
“No. What do you need?”
“We need to convince some people in Olive Grove to move out.”
“Ok I’ll come.” We stepped out of the shade and walked up the road beyond EuroRelief.
Olive Grove sat on a former olive tree farm next to the camp. Much of the trees had either been burnt down from riots or were cut for firewood.
“We need to look for tent LC 1145. There are five people that moved in without telling us.” Bri started walking down the hill and I followed.
Rows and columns of muddy tents slithered down the hill as we wound around their graffitied sides. At the bottom we found LC 1145 covered by a flap. Inside there was a sleeping Syrian man who spoke nor understood English.
“Well I guess it’s back up for an interpreter.”
“Ya.” We turned and headed back to EuroRelief. Tarp and pallet-walled barbershops lined the backside of Moria and the buzz of their razors echoed. On the side of the road new blue tarps covered cheap camping tents made for two people occupied by families of six.
The albinos from the morning were sitting in theirs and staring without a word at the ground around them. The small boy with the scar watched the other boys run by and the father looked at me.
I smiled. He stared.