All three of us can say with certainty that we have made a difference for many and that we have been of help. The days we spent on Lesvos flew by quickly and we experienced different reactions while we were there and after we came home. This is what we want to focus on with this post: the time after volunteering.
By: Marit S. Kolstad, Kari Sunde and Annette Eiri Norevik/Translated by: Kathrine Dørum Middelthon
For me, the process started as I handed in my ID card and vest. These items had become a part of my identity while on Lesvos. I was a Drop. When I went to bed that evening, I felt an emptiness, who was I now? The flights and waiting time at the airport was difficult. I felt terrible leaving this behind. I met several volunteers on Lesvos, who had been unable to leave. They had been there for 1 year, 2 years and even nearly 3 years. I can understand why. I am uncertain if I would be able to leave if my husband and children were not waiting for me.
I went straight on to a course, an interesting one at that, but I could just as well have gone home, as my head was already full. Many topics felt like mere details compared to what I had seen on Lesvos. At breakfast and dinner people would discuss their issues and problems. I had to hold myself from saying anything, but I kept thinking that they had no clue how easy their lives are. But I can’t judge. They have not seen what I have seen and their problems are big to them. I can’t take that away from them.
I came home to my family who had missed me, and I them, but my thoughts kept drifting to Lesvos. I feel guilty for wanting to go back. I want to be with my family of course, but the feeling of making a difference for somebody fills me with energy and adrenaline. I just need to remind myself that I make a difference at home as well, to my family. They need me as well, but it takes a while to shift from one world to the other, at the same time, it is important to remember the experiences from Lesvos in everyday life at home. I feel it is my duty to inform everyone about the situation on Lesvos. Explain that we need more volunteers both at home and in Greece.
I will probably always think that many issues and problems are mere details. I view things differently now. I always knew that the world can be an unfair and cruel place, but I have never seen fear like this before. To be the first person they meet after putting their lives at risk, crossing the ocean and to see people living in overfilled camps, lacking basic human necessities, it changes you.
I hear people yelling ‘me too’ after a pinch or a pat. Of course I support an open dialogue on assult, but what is a pinch compared to wearing a diaper to avoid being raped on your way to the bathroom at night? I hear people complaining about the stomach flu, but at least they can lay in their beds, safe and warm, until they are well again. They will not have scars from bullets or knives. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the stomach flu is terrible and no one should be sexually harassed in any way, but after my stay on Lesbos I can’t help but seeing many issues as minor.
I would go back next month if I could, but I will return as soon as I can, because this crisis is not over, nor will it be next year.
A piece of my heart belongs to Lesvos, not just the island, but the people I met and care about. At night I lay, thinking; I wonder how he or she is doing now and I dream that they will all have better lives.
I had originally planned to go to mainland Greece on my next trip, but now I think I will return to Lesvos, maybe I will meet some of my new friends again?
As soon as I woke up on the departure day, I could feel a knot in my stomach and tears in my eyes. I did not feel ready to go home at all, I had not finished my work. I did not want to leave people I had met and cared about, I wanted to do more…
The journey home felt long. It was wondeful seeing my daughter, boyfriend, dad, friends, colleagues and the children in the kindergarden I work in, again. Time spent with them is wonderful, but when I am alone, my thoughts drift. Images of sick children. How will they get better in these horrible conditions? The knot in my stomach is still there, I can feel the fear and hopelessness of those who flee from bad to worse. I can feel the cold when I lay in my warm bed, knowing that they, at best, have a blanket in the cold night.
After my trip, I notice how people complain over details and I want to yell! We have everything we need, and still manage to find something to complain about. I have an empty feeling inside, I have a longing, never before have I seen so much love from people I don’t know. I miss the Drop community; fellow volunteers I feel like I have known my whole life. I miss the smiles and warmth from those who have nothing and are so grateful for the smallest thing. It is a huge gap between this and the hate I see in the comment section in the news. Where is this hate coming from? How can anyone hate someone they have never met?
I am even more convinced that Norway has to change its path from the colder community we are on our way towards, one where ‘we’ are more important, more worthy.
Like Marit, I feel that the need to educate people about what is going on, and I have seen a lot of interest from my friends and people I know. We are needed now and in the future. My hope lays with the younger generation, who seem more educated and reflected on this topic than many from my generation. Lesvos is with me day and night, and I know I will go back again. In the mean time; I will try to help as best I can from home, argue objectively with fearful people and encourage others to volunteer.
We are one world, we are equal and we have to help.
‘The feeling I had on my last night on Lesbos is impossible to explain. My vest is hanging right there in my little kitchenette and as usual; the ID card is attached to it to allow for easy dressing when I started my 3am shift. I get up to pick up my vest and ID one last time, only this time I will not wear it. I will only walk a few meters to hand in the items that have become so important to me. My shift is over- for now.’ Back in my room, I can’t find peace and sleep is impossible. My thoughts will not leave me alone. I look forward to coming home, but I dread leaving. I don’t feel finished. I want to do more.
Departure day. Early morning. It is 7 am precisely when I park my rental car at the airport. Kari and Marit are ready for their last shift. They give me a hug and wish me a safe trip home. These two have made my stay better. The support from the Drops has been great.
At the airport I struggle not to cry. I am waiting for my flight. I can go, I am free to leave, I am not stuck on this island. It is so painfully unfair. By being born in one of the best countries in world, I am free to leave. With my red, Norwegian passport, I am free to leave. They can not! They are depending on someone believing their story, depending on someone giving them the right stamp. What else other than a prison is this to them? A prison, but better than what they left behind.
I think back to this fall, when I took my son camping. At night the temperature dropped to 5 degrees Celsius. I wore wool clothing and had a warm down sleeping bag, but I was cold and focused on the fact that it was only one night. How foolish! On Lesvos the weather has been freezing the last couple of nights, 4,5 degrees Celsius, rain and an ice-cold wind. I wonder; do they have wool, down sleeping bags or other luxuries in their tent in Moria? I think about the children. All of them, sick. I think about the baby, gasping for air. Is he alive? I think about the children’s cold hands, the hands I tried to warm with my own.
The four flights home were long. I had a lot of time to think, and I had to hide my tears more than once. I should not go. I have not finished. I should have done more!
The first days at home have been filled with these same thoughts. I feel powerless in so many ways. How can I make others understand? Can they even grasp this reality without seeing it? Can they understand that the boats are not filled with opportunists, but the opposite, they are filled with children. How can I find the balance between spreading the word and not making them close their eyes and ears due to information overload?
Every day I check the reports on the number of boats in the Aegean. Every day the number of children in the boats overwhelms me. The opportunists. The children.
I feel angry. I feel frustrated. How can we accept what the world has become?
I know that I cannot make everybody understand, but maybe I can get through to a few? I know I can’t help everyone, but I can help some. I can’t save everybody, but I can do my best to help where I can. I want to be a Drop in the big picture, and alongside the other Drops I can make a difference.
These are our thoughts on the time after Lesvos. So similar, but yet so different. It is hard being back home, but so worth it. We will all have a life before and after Lesvos, but our experiences on Lesvos will make us better and more reflective human beings.