Sorting Shoes and Sad Blue Eyes

I am now in Athens, a 12 hour ferry away from the intensity of the life and death crisis playing out daily on Lesvos. Every day I question, “Did I make the right decision to leave and come here? Should I be here, in the bustle and normality of the big city, where people shop and chat in cafes and go to school and gossip and argue over silly slights and the refugees seem to not exist? Did I leave too soon?”

But then I see the endless yaw of the massive former sports stadium, the piles upon piles of boxes stretching back into the dark corners of infinity. Volunteers wheel lorries piled to dangerously teetering heights back,back, back….the depths and scale of these donated boxes of supplies are beyond my comprehension. I hear a volunteer who seems to be in charge mention they never have enough volunteers to really sort through the donations. They can barely keep up. The generosity of Europe pours in and a tiny army (truly tiny,maybe 20 people?) struggle to make any sense of the chaos.

I may not be charging into the icy waters to help a floundering rubber raft or changing a shivering child’s shoes, but I am needed here.

Yesterday I sorted shoes. Big tennis shoes, sleek women’s boots, flimsy flip flops (honestly, not useful, but people are well-meaning), tiny delicate baby booties. All varieties and colors and sizes. Usually no one sorts the shoes, they just trust the handwritten marker labels are correct and ship them off to the islands. I know from experience what that means – hours of volunteers on Lesvos sorting through shoe mismatches, wet moldy shoes that were wrapped in plastic, fishing adult shoes out from children’s shoes.

True, the single shoes that have lost their partner are turned into beautiful cascading chandeliers of art by my friend Thomas, a cheerful addition to the sterile world of white camp tents. So maybe I am depriving Thomas of his creative genius that brings light to a weary man, woman, or child in the dead of night.

In one box, I came across a pair of thick,warm boots for girls. Brand new. Pink with hearts. The image of a Syrian girl’s sad blue eyes pierced me, a memory of 3 weeks ago when I desperately tried to find her warm boots that fit and failed. We tucked scraps of crinkling emergency blanket around her feet and slipped them back into her soaked tennis shoes, dunked in a frigid Aegean Sea.

I wanted to cry and shout, “Here they are! Wait, I’m coming!” But where is she now? I don’t know. Safe in Germany, at a brick and mortar refugee center? Huddled against the winter in the mountains of Macedonia, waiting and waiting and waiting for the border to open and the arms of Europe to welcome her in, out of the cold of death and war and fear?

I don’t know.

So I sort shoes into boxes and hope the boots will find another young girl on Lesvos when she needs them most.


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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