September 28th 2015, the last day of my “old” life.
Throughout your life, there are moments that define you. Decisions which will change your path, your direction, and sometimes to an extent who you are as a person. Some of these moments involve a big decision, options that are presented to you which will make great changes to your future so you spend days, weeks, months, weighing all the pros and cons before making that big life changing decision.
But sometimes, these momentous milestones, just happen. Sometimes, the biggest shifts in your life happen by accident, without deep thought and consideration, but the impact on who you are and the life you lead is incredible.
Two years ago today I was on the brink of one of these life changing moments, but I had no idea.
On September 28th 2015, I could not for a moment have predicted where I find myself now.
On 29th September 2015 I arrived on the Greek island of Kos, following a rather spontaneous decision to join the movement of volunteers on the island supporting refugees. I had packed two suitcases full of items from the needs lists posted by local volunteers and just showed up ready and willing to do what I could.
That first night I was with a small group who found an empty boat wash up by the port, the bodies of a mother and her two young children were found in the water a few hours later.
When I arrived in Kos, I arrived with the knowledge of the situation I was walking into, but the reality was something completely different.
The incredible juxtaposition which met me in Kos was a reality I could not have fathomed had I not seen it in front of my eyes. By night, hundreds of wet, hungry, traumatised people climbed out of flimsy little plastic boats onto the shores of Kos, having paid 1000-2000 Euro, sometimes more, to cross the 6km sea from the Turkish coast. Too many boats left the shores of Bodrum and never made it to Kos, so many souls lost in the dark water of the night. Yet, by day, the shores were filled with happy tourists sunning themselves, many planning day trips to Bodrum on one of the many tourist boats, which would cost them between 15-50 Euro, would take no longer than an hour to cross and where they could enjoy the sunny sights whilst sipping a drink on the deck.
The streets lined with tents, the wet families waiting for a blanket, the survivors of the shipwrecks, the dead of the shipwrecks, the faces of those fleeing from a reality I could not even begin to imagine – the humans behind the headlines will stay with me forever.
What will also never leave me is the solidarity of the human spirit I witnessed on these shores. The people of all nations, religions, backgrounds, coming together to treat fellow humans with dignity in their time of need.
I originally intended to come to Greece for a week, my best friends wedding was a fortnight after I traveled to Kos and I had every intention of attending. But, I did not make it to the wedding, or to a number of weddings following this, or birthdays, christenings, general celebrations. Somehow one week turned into two years. Two years.
To put this in a personal perspective I have never done anything for two years running since I left high school. I like to move around, change my scenery, change perspective. Even my degree I managed to do each year in a different school in a different place. So two years in Greece is really quite an accomplishment, to stay still for so long. The crazy part is it came so naturally , I didn’t even notice, and I have no plans to move on.
From first finding this island in great darkness, I managed to find so much light here and somehow I fell in love with my Greek life.
You hear often of the fascism in Greece, the negativity and racism, which yes, I will not deny it exists as it definitely exists but this can be found rising almost everywhere right now. The true Greece and Greek culture is as beautiful as it’s scenery.
I spent my first year here as volunteer, mostly living a nocturnal life, spending my nights waiting in the darkness for new arrivals and wishing every moment for safe passage for those risking their lives in the crossing. The last year my life was a little different but still connected to the reasons I first came to Kos.
To be honest, over time things never got better for those coming to Greece in rubber dinghys, yet they still come. They still dream of a better future. A safer future. In many cases, simply a future.
I have been thinking so much in the last days about how these two years have changed me as a person. How the people I have met have influenced me. What I have learnt, what I have gained, what I have lost.
But, although I think it is very important to be self aware and it is important to reflect on these last years, I think it is also important to have some perspective.
I came to Greece two years ago on a flight, with my British passport, leaving my cosy British home and family behind where they kept on living their normal daily lives. I can jump on a plane at any point and visit my loved ones. I can still go to my favourite places. My “old” life, physically, is all still there.
The people I have met here over the last two years, fleeing from war, from persecution, have nothing of this luxury. They did not choose to leave their homes. For many, their homes no longer stand. For many, their families are no longer alive.
They have left behind memories of pain to start a new life in a new land where they do not know the language, the culture. They live camps or in tents, some in detention, for months, years not knowing what will happen next, where they will end up.
The most profound thing about this entire experience of living in Greece during this time is my new understanding of resilience. The absolute strength that people have in the most difficult times. How people survive, how they thrive.
Greeks opened their homes, opened their hearts to strangers in need, at a time when they found themselves amid crisis after crisis after crisis. The situation in Greece is far, far from perfect but if you look hard enough, you will find the movements, the inspiring individuals who give you hope in a world that gets darker every day.
I am still the same girl I was on 28th September 2015, but I definitely do not see the world in the same way. I do not see my place in this world in the same way. I do not see humanity in the same way.
To everyone I have met over these last two years, who laughed with me, cried with me, taught me their language, showed me their love – you changed a crazy little redheads life and I will forever be grateful and thankful that our paths crossed.
From Scotland (via Greece) With Love