Hundreds of litres of water. Thousands of cups of tea. Countless kilos of sugar and boxes of biscuits. The tea tent we have put so much energy into has come into existence and sits (and is hopefully still sitting there, I write in the midst of gusty winds, heavy rain and thunder and lightning and am wondering whether to go back and check everyone and everything is OK) on the Afghan side of Moria, just off the road at the bottom of the hill in the olive groves.
Things came together very quickly yesterday with many willing hands from all corners of the world. The tent was secured, pallets sourced and placed for flooring, ropes strung up for crowd and queue control. Water drums filled at the new UNHCR taps at the top of the hill, lemons squeezed, and by late afternoon we were serving our first cups of steaming hot tea to some very happy refugees! (Did I mention that after a few days of calm, boat arrivals returned to their normal numbers yesterday and over 2000 people arrived, and I’m sure between 2000-3000 more arrived today).
Today tea was served from 6am till 10pm. That’s a lot of tea, a lot of warm hands and bellies. Lots of smiling faces. These two days have been some of the nicest I have spent since arriving on Lesvos. The social space created by the tea tent is very special – a place of calm, of chatter, of kindness and warmth, a place to get to know each other over a cup of tea. In the evening the surrounding olive grove is dotted with campfires and people snuggled round trying to keep warm. During the day people arrive and go about making a small space of their own in preparation for the night. The luckiest people are housed inside the registration centre – families and other vulnerable people. But the overspill is outside, at the mercy of the weather, the wind, the cold. Processing times for registration are too long and shelter is totally insufficient for the numbers arriving. All it would take is one more huge UNHCR tent. For those left outside, if they’re lucky they’ll get a wee tent, if not they might rig up a shelter out of some plastic, tarpaulin and tape. Cardboard boxes are good for sleeping on. We’ll try and make sure everyone has a blanket or sleeping bag. Honestly, I don’t think these tents will last long in the storm that is brewing outside. As for that cardboard it will already be soaking wet. And so will all the blankets.
Today we have served tea to and helped people from so many corners of the globe. Afghanistan. Iran. Iraq. Syria. But also Algeria. The Gambia. Uganda. Haiti. Cuba. Pakistan. And the van did its duty today as well. As we drove to camp this morning we passed a trail of refugees walking slowly along the road. We stopped to pick them up and shuttled back and forward until everyone was at Moria. Their boat must have landed somewhere near by, in a part of the island there boats don’t usually arrive. A young couple sat up front with me in the van, giggling happily. The woman was wearing the finest fur coat I’ve ever seen! Some people manage to come across the sea in style and it is so nice to see!
Here are some photos from yesterday and today. We are so grateful to our helpers from Afghanistan, kind and willing men who arrive and see we need help and take it upon themselves to translate, teach us Farsi/Dari/Pashto, make sure people queue in a single line, serve tea and biscuits and fetch water and look out for us. As thanks, they sleep in the tent at night, hopefully warm and dry, and look after all the equipment. I hope to write more about them and their stories in another post.
And here’s a video too, just for good measure: