On Helping Others

November 22, 2015 ~ Demetra Szatkowski

I started writing a Facebook post that began, “I’m too tired to write tonight but here are some pictures etc” and then I kept writing and so I decided I would just write here instead. I have so much to say. Some of it seems trivial but I think sometimes that the trivial things are what keep us laughing, keep us going.

I took that picture!!!!! The picture at the top. It was during my walk down to the harbor this morning. I can’t rent a car because all the cars are stick shift (I realize that’s a little pathetic) and it’s too expensive, and anyway there are no Greek driving laws which scares me. So I have to walk around 35 minutes to get down to a central meeting place. This island is so safe, though, that it’s easy and totally fine to hitch a ride.

The wind right now is blowing so hard that it is making it entirely impossible for any boats to be on the water. So, no refugees have landed in two days (since I’ve been here.) Rumor has it that there is a prime minister visit tomorrow and that the EU may have also paid a bunch of money to Turkey to keep them there, but all of this is speculation. The weather should improve soon, so we’ll see what ends up happening in the next few days.

“Things change daily here” is something I’ve heard said many times but something I am really having to get used to. Because for all of the questions I might have, no one really has any answers. Nobody knows if 0 or 2,000 people will arrive tomorrow. And we have to be prepared for anything.

The really sad thing right now is that we do know that there are a bunch of refugees being hidden in the woods in Turkey, waiting for the smugglers to be able to send them across the water. Especially if they’ve already paid for their ticket, there is no way to choose when they cross. While in the woods, these people do not get any food, water, shelter, or any basic needs met.

I spent the afternoon today sorting clothes at one of the warehouses. There was something really beautiful about seeing these clothes that come in from all over the world, folded up and organized by size. Somebody had even created little backpacks to hand out to people. They contained things like socks, an outfit, a toothbrush, etc.

One note here, though: please, if you are donating clothes somewhere, be mindful of what you’re donating. High heels, sequins, party clothes… It just creates more work for volunteers to do, and nobody can even use those things. I picked up a men’s shirt today that had silhouettes of naked women on it. Sorry, not going to distribute that to anyone.

Know what’s really needed? Clean, practical clothes, in good condition, that are warm and conservative and make sense. I actually squealed today when I unpacked a bag that was full of brand new socks and underwear.

I met a boy from Palestine tonight who really had an impact on me. Honestly, I told him, I don’t even really know where Palestine is. He explained that it can be confusing because of the way Western countries have kept changing it. That blows my mind, the way that Europe and America tend to think they control everything, and that we can just set boundaries for other continents to our liking, without a thought for the people actually living there. And people resided in Asia before they did in Europe!

He told me that Palestine bordered Syria. “So, is Palestine safe, then?” I hesitantly asked him. Surrounded by people from all over the world, I constantly feel like a sheltered, spoiled American brat. Honestly. It’s not a nice feeling at all.

“No,” he said. “But it hasn’t been safe in 67 years. So it’s good to come and help a different crisis.”

This boy speaks both Arabic and English and is a doctor. He is super valuable here.

The US isn’t really a giant presence here. I’ve met people from England, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, and so many more. And I’ve only been here for two days.

Mostly it’s been humbling. And heartwarming. Humbling to see how the world actually views America, and how much I really don’t know. How much being sheltered and uneducated can really hinder us from being decent human beings.

But so heartwarming. To hear people tell their stories, and to have such a deep thing in common when you say, “so why did you come?” And people say, “well, I read/heard about it, and so I just came.” And to say, “me, too.” And to have everybody get it, automatically. It just makes sense.

Anyway, I’m exhausted, and this post might not be as eloquently written or coherent as usual. I’ve written it all sitting on the floor next to the door to my room since that’s the only place I seem to be able to upload any pictures.

But that’s an update. <3