Today is Tuesday. On Tuesdays and Fridays, I work at the Lava Project laundry in the mornings, so I walk about 15 minutes to the main road and get picked up and taken to the laundry for 08:00. Once we get there, we sort the laundry that has been left over night – drying, folding, packaging it all up ready to be taken back its owners. At 09.30 it’s time to head to Moria to pick up the washing of the MSF patients – those people with scabies who are starting their treatment; washing their clothes and bedding at 60 degrees and drying them in a hot, hot tumble dryer is crucial to their recovery. Their bedding is returned that day (I can’t imagine there’s anyone in Moria with more than one set of bedding so this is vital) and their clothes the next day. We then collect and deliver clothes from the Rubhall – where new arrivals are located – and the “sections” – where you can find the most vulnerable people, young families and unaccompanied minors.
The unaccompanied minors are the ones who break my heart the most. Children, here, alone. Do you know the British government voted against accepting 1,000 unaccompanied minors into the U.K.? Can you imagine actually voting against that?
Once we collect from the Rubhall and sections, we get those clothes back to the laundry as soon as possible so that they can start to be washed – you never want a still washing machine or dryer! – and then it’s back again to collect more washing for scabies patients, and drop off clean clothes for them too.
I have to be back in One Happy Family for 13:30 to get ready for lunch. Arriving at that time has become one of my favourite things. Normally, when everyone arrives at 08:45, we arrive to an empty building to get ready for the day. Arriving at lunchtime, I’m greeted by hundreds of smiles and “hello my friend”s – you dive right into the action. I don’t think I’ll ever go to a more welcoming place than OHF, honestly.
Every day, at lunchtime, I distribute spoons to the men – I’m a “spooner” – and I’m also in charge of keeping track of the number of spoons used each day so that we know how many meals have been provided. It’s generally around 1,000, sometimes as many as 1,300, but the past couple of days the weather has been so bad it’s been more like 400. People have to walk for an hour to get to OHF from Moria, and they tend to stay put when it’s raining – they don’t have nice warm homes to go back to when they get wet. Lunchtimes can be tense so the happy, smiley atmosphere of OHF becomes even more important. I try my best to smile, make eye contact and say “enjoy your food” or “nu-shey-jan” (Farsi) to each man, asking them how they are when there is a pause, and you can see in their eyes the difference this makes. Every day, I get to know their smiles a little better and really look forward to seeing them.
The afternoons can consist of anything. Today, I was designing signs to use in the OHF bank to show people the prices of the things in the shop. Each day, each visitor can collect two drachma (OHF money) from the bank, and each day fifty shop cards are distributed so that people can spend their drachma on items like shampoo, soap, washing powder, nappies, sanitary towels, toothpaste… It’s a smart way of giving the people some dignity back, and limiting it like this makes it sustainable and as fair as possible.
Some days, I’ll work in the bank – which I love as you get to speak to hundreds of people – however briefly – or the cafe, or shop, or the nest, where the little kids go. Some days, I’ll wash dishes – which is fun when you have a few huge tubs and a bunch of pals.
If we end up with a free moment, we’re always encouraged to chat to people, play games, just help to improve the atmosphere even further.
At 15:45, the visitors are asked to leave the inside of the centre, and a small group of us start setting up to teach English to small groups of helpers (refugee volunteers). I think this might be my favourite time of day as I have been blessed with the most wonderful group of students. There’s maybe six at most, and people are always coming and going, and about ten times every class I have to say “no Arabic, English please!” but they make me laugh every single day. On Friday, I had to say goodbye to someone I had been teaching for the past 9 weeks. It will never stop being hard but as I said to him “I’m sad for us but I’m happy for you.” We want everyone to be able to get off this island, especially those who are living in Moria, so although we miss them we’re so happy for them when they get to move on.
The bus comes at 17:00 to take everyone back to Moria and Mytilene. First, we go to Moria – always a strange time. The atmosphere of the bus slowly drops as we get closer and closer. Suddenly we have to say goodbye to our colleagues and just hope they have somewhere warm and dry to sleep, as we watch the camp expand each day, beyond the fences, as more and more people arrive. When I arrived 11 weeks ago, there were around 11,000 in the camp – now there are almost 17,000.
Today, we had our post-work volunteer meeting, which involved a talk from an American woman about traumatised children and also about reverse culture shock – what we are likely to feel when we go back to “normal” life. I thought by this point I’d be ready to go back to that life – maybe even desperate to – but I’m nowhere near ready. Even with long days and hard, emotional moments, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.
If you can, please donate to my JustGiving page for these wonderful charities. OHF is currently very low on donations and you can’t imagine the impact it closing would have (read more about it on my JustGiving page!) https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/melissa-silver-lesvos