The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Kaitlin Galindo.
I am precariously perched on weathered orange shingles of the roof of an abandoned hotel. The final thin finger of the Aegean Sea in front of me, wrapping around my island and securing it to Europe, just barely. I look past this channel into the southern mountains of Turkey. I see a tower, a hotel, a mosque. At night you can even watch car lights dash over hills. It’s right there. Only 5 miles of sea dividing Europe from Asia.
It’s the morning after my first night in Scala Symineas on the island of Lesbos, Greece, and I am surprised by the calmness of the day in this idyllic Greek beach town after witnessing the chaos of night.
To be honest, I am not a great solo traveler. It stresses me out; airport food is the worst, and I don’t sleep well in uncomfortable places. So after a 28-hour travel day with no sleep, I was beyond ready for bed when I finally got to my home for the next 3 months. I was in a towel about to wash the aura of stale plane air off of me when one of the other volunteers yells into the bathroom, “Boat coming into Scala port.” No shower for me. I threw my new organization t-shirt and neon vest on and I was off into the night to meet the boat.
The coast guard intercepted the dingy so when I got to the port 40 people sat on the vessel waiting. The police were not letting people off. It was completely silent. There were six volunteers standing off to the side, as well as a doctor trying to talk the police into letting him board to see if there were any hypothermic cases. After about 30 minutes the police finally let the women and children start to get off.
My job was to escort people from the boat to the waiting zone. The first person I received was a woman holding a baby. She was very worried about her husband. She just kept saying “man” and turning around. I do not speak Farsi, but I tried to explain that he was coming, that they were not being separated.
“He will be right behind us. He will come. Soon.”
As I said these words, while looking at this wet women holding a baby in the swarm of police and onlookers, I was struck by how many people have said those exact words in situations such as these and lied. I wouldn’t trust me either.
Once everyone was off the boat, checked out, and wrapped in an emergency blanket, we caravanned to Stage 2, a temporary UNHCR camp. Its twenty-foot barb wire fences stand at the top of the hill above Scala. It is small, only meant to house arrivals overnight or for a few days until they can be transferred to the military-operated permanent camp on the island of Moria. There was a flurry of activity, clothes being changed, soup being made, an old generator that kept clicking off, but part of my job was to be calm, and so I was.
By 2 A.M. everyone was reunited, safe, dry, and fed, at least for one night. I gratefully fell asleep feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and proud. I was proud of myself for getting here, proud of myself for jumping in, and proud of myself for staying calm and doing good work.