A Refugee Crisis in Greece

In exactly 7 days I fly to Greece. I am a whirlwind of sensations as I scramble around the house packing and making lists (I’m always making lists). I have been here before, this pre-travel anticipation and nervous excitement, but this time it’s different on a scale I am struggling to define even to myself. I wake up both terrified and calmly confident, two emotional states that should never co-exist.

Confident I am embarking on a journey that is absolutely necessary. Terrified of how what I encounter will change me.

In 7 days I will be in Greece, making my way towards Lesvos, one of the Greek islands that has been plastered across the news for months as refugees brave the dangers of the Mediterranean Sea to cross in tiny, precarious rubber boats to reach Europe. They have been embraced and scorned, pitied and reveled, depending on which media outlet you watch and who you talk to. They flee war and terror, bombed out homes and schools, daily scenes of death as they navigate their neighborhoods. They are from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Some are migrant workers, looking for economic opportunity, but the overwhelming majority are refugees, fleeing oppression, torture, death.

I will spend the next couple of months volunteering on Lesvos, meeting refugees on the shore after a harrowing journey across the stormy winter seas from Turkey. Assisting them with a change of dry clothes, hoping to stave off the dangers of hypothermia. Handing out water and food. Directing them to a brief respite before they walk 40 km to Mytilene where they must register with the government, request asylum, and wait for the next ferry to Athens.

I could no longer just sit in my comfortable home watching the news. I could no longer listen to politicians rail against the threat of Muslims while refusing to address the basic human desire of safety from terror as fathers and mothers left everything behind to usher their families through a barrage of human and natural obstacles in hopes of escaping ISIS, war, bombs, and the never-ending psychological barrage of fear. I don’t pretend to have solutions to how Europe or the world should handle millions of refugees, where they should go or how their resettlement should be paid for. I have ideas, but I am one person in a very large world. And I know I am witnessing a humanitarian crisis that too many people are turning away from, their hearts turned to stone because of religion, terrorism and a desire to push the world’s problems away to keep themselves safe. I could no longer isolate myself.

So here I am, small though I am, flying to Greece to do something. Anything.

I have studied the news footage, read the newspapers, talked with local people on the ground who have given over their lives for the past year to assisting the waves of refugees washing up on the beaches just below their homes. I think I know what to expect, but I have been warned I will find myself crying daily at what I encounter.

Am I ready for this?

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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