It has been over two years now since I first came to Greece. Before I jumped on that flight on Sept 29th 2015, with no idea how that decision would utterly change the direction of my life, I had been following the unfolding crisis in Greece for many months.
I don’t know what I expected to happen over all this time, but I had hoped that history wouldn’t continually repeat itself over and over again with no lessons being learnt and no real change.
Yesterday morning I woke up to news of another shipwreck in the region of Greece I now call home. I saw the messages of friends in my new home, the anger of yet another tragedy upon our doorstep. I saw the frantic grief of the volunteers on the island of Kalymnos who have dealt with too much death upon their shores already. I saw the pictures of the local rescue squad out searching for the missing and recovering the dead from the sea.
The thing that shocked me most about my own personal reaction to this, was that I checked the date and thought, “Yes, here we are again, it is shipwreck season.” This thought both disgusted me that I just accept this now as winter comes that these tragedies are expected and at the same time infuriated me that after all this time, nothing changes, this is just what happens.
One night in January 2016 I was sitting on the port of Kos with my nightshift buddies, as we did every night, surrounded in blankets and bags of jumpers, there just to try and do anything we could for new arrivals to Kos. It was the middle of the night when a friend, one of the calmest people I’ve ever known, received a phone call and began screaming, swearing and kicking at a wall. A few seconds later, another friends’ car screeched to a halt in front of us and she threw herself from the car in tears.
At this point I didn’t understand much Greek but I knew instantly what was happening. It was a shipwreck. I will never forget that night.
Next to the small island of Kalymnos, just beside Kos, a horrific tragedy unfolded that night. The local residents of this island found themselves watching lifeless bodies wash up on their shores, helpless to do anything but witness the horror of death flood their island. I don’t remember the exact number of deaths from that night, even one death is a death too many but I believe around 35 bodies were recovered and many others were never found. The Aegean has swallowed too many souls over these last years.
Yesterday, that same small island was dealing with another tragedy.
It reminded me one of the most difficult moments of my entire time here in Greece, I was in Kalymnos at a meeting with the local volunteers who respond to these tragic calls when one girl broke down in tears. She has been there the night of the Shipwreck last January and she was recalling the fact that there were no doctors there, and that some time after the tragedy, it had been discovered that there was a chance that some of those who had been presumed dead on the night, may not actually have been dead when they were put into body bags. Not that there was any definite proof, but some may have been saved if there had been a proper medical response to the emergency. For this, no one will ever know, but for me it just highlighted the fact that normal people were responding to emergencies that they should never have to face and without the resources to deal with such horrific circumstances.
I will never forget that cold January night. I will never forget that conversation. I will never forget the tragedies. I will never forget the faces of the survivors of these wrecks. I will never forget the personal sacrifices and the incredible strength of the locals of these islands. I will never forget the phone call I received from a friend as she searched through bags for ID to try to help the police identify the dead of another wreck. I will never forget that empty boat on my first night in Greece.
Some things about the situation in Greece may have changed, but the dangers have not.
I am not my job, I am not my nationality, I am not my beliefs… all I am is human and as a human, I cannot bear to watch this endless cycle of death upon the shores of Greece. It is almost 3 years since the “refugee crisis” in Greece became headline news, and yet here we are, seeing the same things.
My thoughts and my love are with the victims and survivors of these tragic events.
I hope, one day, “shipwreck” will be a word we need never have to utter again.