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?