In spite of my exhaustion, I’ve been having a hell of a time falling asleep before 3:00 or 5:00 in the morning. At first I thought it was jet lag, but after taking melatonin tablets AND sleeping pills, I’m beginning to think my sleeplessness is circumstantial. It’s hard to fall asleep during the time emergencies are so frequent; at night. I’m trying to surrender to the rhythm my body is choosing, which means sleeping when the sun rises.
Typically, the camp is only full immediately after a boat’s arrival. Refugees are welcome to spend the night, but often they arrive so early in the morning that after they’ve been given dry clothes and warm food, they quickly leave to board the UNHCR buses to Mytilene to register. Only after refugees have registered are they legally “authorized” to spend their money to make the trip to the mainland, depending on where they choose to seek asylum.
I had my first official shift yesterday, from 15:30 to 23:30. It was drizzling when I left my room to walk down to the camp, and when I arrived (5 mins. later) the rain was coming down in sheets. The camp quickly began to flood, and the weight of the pooling water on the tarps caused them to collapse without regular rounds going around camp to push the water out from the inside before they’d give way again. While it was still daylight, a group of anonymous, Swedish volunteers spent hours digging drainage ditches and dumping wheelbarrows of gravel onto the soaked pathways to the tents. We all hoped no boats would arrive, but it’s always a possibility, so we prepared as best as we could. I was dressed in my thick, wool socks, Gore-Tex boots, long johns, slacks, rain pants, long-sleeved shit, vest, fleece jacket, down coat, scarf, and wool hat - and entirely tented by my hooded raincoat - but when it rains that hard, there’s no way to really escape from the wetness. Later at night there were only three of us on shift. We took the night vision goggles to the shore and scanned the horizon for incoming arrivals. Thankfully there were none. As the night got quieter and the rain, even louder, we took refuge in the kitchen tent with Carolina, the camp’s orphaned lamb. She thinks she’s a puppy, and we treat her as one. The rain roared outside, and in-between rounds to drain tarps and clear ditches, we spent the rest of the night talking about secrets and sipping hot tea; ready for boats, but hoping they’d arrive in safer conditions. We kept the soup warm, and the kettle on, just in case.
After I woke up this afternoon, I returned to the camp to see it full of new arrivals making their way to the buses for registration. I try to be conscious to always keep a smile on my face when I walk through the crowd, and often times refugees will grab you by the hand in thanks.
Today, since I don’t seem to be sleeping at night anyway, I volunteered to take the night shift tonight (23:00 to 7:00). With the improved forecast, I expect there will be more arrivals, so I’ll prepare my pack accordingly. During the quiet hours of the evening, I hope to get some time to practice my Arabic and Farsi.
It is such a foreign world out here, in the boondocks of Skala, but I’m slowly making it my own.