Day to day life on a refugee camp is bleak – there is no escaping that fact. This is not a normal living situation but sometimes there are semblances of normality.
In the playground children happily dig in the sand pit, squabble over a piece of chalk, want one more push on the swings (“no finished!”), dispense fashion advice (apparently my woolly hat is “no good”!) and get up to general mischief.
During women’s hour, which takes place in the community room on camp, Middle Eastern music is played at full volume and the teenage girls link arms and dance around the room. They try out different hairstyles on each other. There is glitter on the tables and the smell of nail varnish fills the air. The older women chat as they mend and alter their clothes on the sewing machines. Among the men, upcoming football matches are always of interest with Barcelona (and Messi) being the preferred choice.
However, on a refugee camp, it’s these ordinary moments that are extraordinary. Given what these people have endured, their ability to remain good humoured is remarkable and a testament to their characters. We cannot imagine what their eyes have seen and their ears have heard. Yet they are patient, polite, dignified and resilient. Conversations with young and old are punctuated with “my friend”. If something cannot be resolved immediately, “mafi mushkila” (no problem).
Ten year old Omar personified the cheerful and helpful personality type often encountered on camp.
One chilly day he stopped playing football to help me scrub a tablecloth for the food shop in cold water. He insisted on doing most of the work, always smiling, and honestly, his rinsing and wringing techniques were far better than mine! He gave hourly updates on how well it was drying, was hugely apologetic when part of the cloth trailed in dirt, and pleaded to rewash it. Not your average ten year old!
The daily interaction with camp residents was the most rewarding aspect of volunteering with Refugee Support. There are also other benefits, not least the opportunity to work with the organisation’s founders, Paul and John, from whom I learned a lot. They care deeply about the refugee crisis and it is reflected in the ethos of their organisation. Another positive was the team of volunteers, who were hard working, entertaining and inspirational to be around. Finally, to see the warmth and kindness of the Greek people was humbling, be it the army, our hosts Anna and Tasos, Iosif who delivered fruit and vegetables to camp, or the locals in Alexandreia passing by with donations of clothes.