Saturday, February 27, 2016

An Iraqi Story

First an update. As it turns out, former Starfish volunteers are no longer allowed inside Moria. Period. Doesn't matter that I was the whistle blower, that I quit, that I signed up with I Am You and had the endorsement of the DRC. I'm former Starfish so I'm not allowed in. That did make my decision easy of course, I'll stay with Better Days for Moria, and here I am.

Since I'm here all the time, and not just when I'm on shift, working, I have more time to sit with refugees and hear their stories.

There's one young man--an Iraqi Kurd--who is volunteering while he's here. I met him last night on his 21st birthday and he told me his story this morning.  The first part of his trip was easy--by bus and with his passport he traveled normally  to Istanbul where he stayed a couple of days. Then he paid a smuggler 2,300 euros for passage from a town near Izmir on the Turkish coast across the Aegean to Lesvos. He actually knew the smuggler and his family and said he was treated like a VIP, but that clearly didn't extend to a discount. The price did not include his life jacket. He paid an additional 14 euros for that.

On his first attempt, he said, the boat was very small and very bad. There were 15 people in the boat, but it sank. He is a fairly good swimmer and saved some children, but a woman and her two little girls drowned. He said he couldn't see the woman, but that he could see the little girls. He wanted to help but they were too far away for him to swim  to and still save himself. He's generally pretty upbeat, but his eyes were a little haunted when he told the story.

After a week or so back in Istanbul, he set out again.  Interestingly, he wasn't charged again for the next trip. I don't know if that's a normal thing--some sense of scruples among the smugglers--or if it was due to his "VIP" status. This time the boat he was on was picked up by the Turkish coast guard and returned to Turkey. He told me they were close to the Lesvos coast and were sad when they saw it was the Turkish rather than the Greek coast guard. They were taken back to Istanbul, and after being let go, he made his way back down to the coast to try again.

He and the other 43 people on that boat stayed in a house near Izmir for three days, hiding from the police. Every day the smuggler called, and finally when he called, it was the day. Again the 44 people got on the boat and pushed off into the Aegean. They left at 5 am. That time they made it.

But on his first attempt, when the boat sank, he had lost his passport and most of the money he had left. When he arrived at Moria registration camp without his passport, they didn't believe he was Iraqi because his accent (from near the Iran border) made them think he was Iranian and they registered him that way. Iranians are not allowed to follow the same route to asylum that Iraqis are, and so he's stuck. He can't go to the Iraqi embassy the way a normal tourist who lost his passport would do. They would arrest him and send him back.

So he's here. Volunteering on Afghan Hill, translating and sleeping in the clothing distribution tent. He doesn't know what he'll do next, maybe stay he said. Whatever else, he told me, he still had his smile.

Better Days Camping

This was written Thursday, and today's Saturday.

So its my first night of camping out on Afghan Hill and I definitely already have a better understanding of what it's like here for the refugees. Not that I've fled my country being bombed and terrorized, or left everything I know behind, or paid a fortune to cross the sea in an overloaded rubber dinghy with hope and fear pounding in my heart...

But I'm beginning to experience the uncertainty and exhaustion of carrying everything valuable around with me, of waiting around with nothing to do, of hoping it doesn't rain or the temperature plunge while I'm sleeping in my tiny tent with a sleeping bag that will probably be inadequate, and sitting at the charging station with my phone plugged in, anxious to keep in touch with the outside world. 

So I'm writing this on my phone, in an email to myself, and will post it when I get the chance. It's only 7:45 pm and I've been here wandering and sitting, my computer heavy backpack on my back, my cameras in their bag bumping my hip with every step, for about three hours tonight, and at least four more to go before I can will walk up the hill a bit to where my tent awaits to attempt to find sleep. 

My first shift with I Am You isn't until Saturday, so all of tomorrow and tomorrow night will likely be more of the same. Though I will attend the Better Days for Moria volunteer induction meeting tomorrow afternoon. Since I Am You has put me on warehouse the first few days and I have no idea how to get there, maybe I'll just stay with Better Days. It's full now, and there is plenty of work with refugees, so it might be a better option. After all, I'm living here now. Anyway, my phone is about charged and the rocks I'm sitting on to take some of the weight of my backpack off are cold and hard and damp. 

Think I may go get another cup of tea. Better Days makes great tea. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Resurfacing

I’m sorry it’s been a while since I wrote a blog entry. To tell the truth, I’ve been pretty depressed. When I wrote my Truth and Consequences post, I concluded by saying that the ripple effects of the rape would probably extend farther than I could guess. Unfortunately, I was right.

I don’t regret writing the post and exposing the truth, but I’ve felt pretty horrible the past couple of weeks. It wasn’t just the aftermath of whistleblowing—it was the windy weather keeping those little rickety boats full of refugees out of the sea, it was the threat of looming NATO ships we all expected to see in the narrow strip of the Aegean that divides northern Lesvos from Turkey by a scant six miles, it was the fact that as this crisis progresses, organizing improves and the world’s big NGOs take over much of the work we small grass roots groups were doing; there was not much work. Volunteers were being given unprecedented days off. People were moving on to the Macedonian border, Turkey, and other islands, only to find them quiet too. I contacted some other groups working directly with refugees but didn’t hear back. I spent some days at the Hope Center. But not all that many.

Because that’s where that ripple effect came into play. I know the mess wasn’t my fault, but when the rapist first created those ripples, they bounced off me and that started a lot of other ripples. The water got pretty churned up. As refugees crossing the Aegean in rubber dinghies know, calm waters are much better for smooth sailing. The rape caused a number of problems—the victim’s pain, the organization’s cover-up, my revelations… and then my revelations caused more problems. Of most concern to me, was a dissension in the ranks of those who stood together in condemning the rape, but differed in what to do about it. Lesvos is a small island, and Molyvos is a tiny town. Even smaller is the volunteer community. I started feeling uncomfortable about being in Molyvos, about volunteering at the Hope Center nearby, and I was here to work with refugees. That’s why I came.

But with nobody responding to my emails, I got pretty low. For those of you who know me, you probably know I’ve battled serious depression most of my life. Usually, these days, I can manage it okay. But sometimes I get in a situation I just can’t seem to pull myself out of. There’s a lot of inertia in depression.

Eventually I heard back from a group in Turkey and a group in Lebanon who told me to come. I had intended to go to Turkey a little later anyway, and I adore Lebanon—it was my first home—but I wasn’t ready to leave Greece. I wasn’t ready to leave Lesvos. I wasn’t ready to leave Moria. I felt like I had unfinished business there, that I hadn’t done enough, I don’t know…something. I decided against Lebanon for two reasons: more admin work than I really wanted and that my kids would probably freak out if I went to the Bakaa Valley. Hell I might freak out if I went to the Bakaa Valley—especially as a US American. Maybe not so smart. So I decided on Turkey, but was having a hard time actually moving on it.  I wasn’t ready. I wanted to go back to Moria first. Maybe it’s just that I quit so abruptly.

Anyway, as soon as I got word from the Turkish and Lebanese solidarity groups, I heard from groups here on Lesvos. So, starting on Saturday, February 27 (exactly a month before I leave for Turkey) I’ll be on my first shift back at Moria with the Swedish volunteer group I Am You. They have taken over Starfish’ shifts (who are no longer working at Moria) for the present. I will also possibly be working with the lovely folks at Afghan Hill, Better Days for Moria—at least as a liaison since their group is not recognized as official and so not allowed inside Moria proper.


I’m really looking forward to being back at Moria, allocating RHUs, struggling to communicate in what little bits of Arabic and Farsi I have, and being part of a community. And I’ll have stories to tell again that aren’t just about me being miserable. Should make it much easier to write. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Finding Hope


By request of a friend who reads my blog, I am going to ditch my usual style of writing without caps. He says it makes it hard for him to read.

I found hope yesterday. After almost a week of feeling pretty low, not working since I had quit Starfish, feeling a little isolated because virtually all my socializing was done at work, wrestling with my own moral and ethical issues as I mentioned in the author’s note to my post Truth and Consequences, the ramifications of NATO coming to the Aegean in response to the refugee crisis and not knowing where I was going to go or what I was going to do next, I found hope.
Literally and figuratively.

I hiked overland—following the roads, but still a hike—through the hills to a lovely spot more northerly on the coast. I found the Hope Center. Along the way I met a young volunteer from Austria who only had a few days of holiday and had chosen to spend it here on Lesvos, volunteering. We walked together, stopping to commiserate with a dog who wanted company, then finally reaching a battered sign saying ELPIS, the Greek word for hope.

There at the bottom of the gently sloping hill was a rambling, slightly gone to ruin building. It had been a hotel that had been sitting empty for a number of years. The heirs to the property didn’t want to run a hotel, but when the refugees started arriving, the old hotel had been leased to a local ex-pat couple to create a safe and welcoming space for refugees. Some donor group, I’m not sure who, have paid the entire first year’s rent of the five year lease. After that, when presumably the need for a refuge will have ended, the old hotel will be turned into an art space for women to have their studios and sell their wares.

When I arrived, there were a few people there working on various projects. The young volunteer I walked with immediately set to work clearing out overgrowth in the terraced garden by the pool, algae-green with neglect. As I talked with some of the volunteers, hearing the history and discussing future plans and strategies, others arrived in an almost continuous stream. A young man wearing an Engineers Without Borders t-shirt advised that there was an unused, unclaimed pellet stove at a warehouse in Mytilini that would be perfect for Hope. Another pair of volunteers reclaimed some wood and rebuilt a small section of roof that was rotting and close to collapsing. More volunteers joined the garden crew. Some young women put away donated supplies of shampoo and soap. They had made small survival bags for refugees consisting of shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and other personal items for refugees who had lost everything. We all agreed, laughing, that the packaged energy bars included should be taken out so they didn’t taste like soap. Though tranquil, the Hope Center was a hive of activity. As they said, though it’s quiet now, the refugees aren’t going to stop coming, and when they do, we’ll be ready.

On a tour through the rambling building, I saw the men’s and women’s clothing rooms, coats and jackets, shirts, sweaters, and pants on hangers to more easily allow wet refugees to choose their new clothes. I saw the future medical clinic, donated beds and stretchers leaning against the wall. I saw family rooms waiting to welcome refugees to shelter.

The Hope crew talked about their plans for a children’s playground, about the group of volunteer architects who had advised them on repairs, about the one time—not yet ready, but needed—that they had housed refugees and the ensuing legal headaches when they got in trouble for housing 150 or so refugees. It was not long ago, at a peak in refugee arrivals, when the north coast of the island was overwhelmed. The Greek police had come to them, asking them to take in the overflow who could not be accommodated elsewhere, in the already established transit camps. But unregistered refugees (and the only place to register is Moria, in the south) are not allowed to stay at hotels and technically, the Hope Center was still a hotel.

They have, as I understand it, worked through that tangle and are confident they will get all their licensing and legal framework in order soon.

Meanwhile, they will continue to offer first response with tea and blankets, dry clothing and comfort to refugees whose rubber boats end up on their beach, and the work continues. On the wall of the reception area, near the fireplace, is the job board. A cluster of small notes, categorized by type—sorting, cleaning, construction, skilled, etc.—each with a job listed on it that volunteers can perform as the Hope Center prepares for the day they can legally house refugees. One of the categories of jobs is entitled Creative. One of the jobs listed under this category is “Make friends with NATO.” The Hope Center hasn’t lost its sense of humor in the midst of so much human misery.

As the afternoon waned, one of the volunteers pointed out a rainbow arching over the Aegean. It seemed to embrace the Hope Center and those few miles of sea separating Turkey and Greece, those few miles of sea that, crossing, deliver the refugees safely to Europe and out of their war ravaged homelands.



Over dinner last night, we discussed what we could do today that would embrace the spirit of Valentine’s Day and send their message of love and solidarity.


I’ll let you know how it turns out. I found hope.

Friday, February 12, 2016

changes

all the talk here in molyvos, and probably all over lesvos, is of the NATO decision to send war ships to the aegean. their reasoning is to stop human trafficking. but the despicable people who are profiting off this almost incomprehensible human tragedy on the level of human trafficking, aren't in the aegean. they stay safely in turkey, providing the boats and often fake life vests, collecting around $1,000 a head. they put the refugees in a small rubber dinghy, tell someone a man on board that he's steering, and shove them off.

i fail to see how NATO warships are going to have an impact on that.

the stories i have heard from various volunteers are horrendous. one volunteer told me that he had heard of an incidence in which one man refused to steer, insisting that the man providing the boat steer them. according to this volunteer, and it is hearsay, the man was taken off the boat and his skull crushed with a large stone. in front of his family. then another man told to steer.

another volunteer told me that the people steering the boats often head for the lighthouse. they are not sailors, they see the light of the lighthouse and they head for it. but the lighthouse is there to warn of a dangerous area, so the boats that head for the light, thinking they are heading for safety at long last, are actually steering right onto dangerous rocks. this volunteer told me that they have often had to rush down to the rocks to save the people on the boats that come in there.

back to NATO. once again i have to ask how warships are going to help this situation. they claim they will not be there to send the boats back to turkey, nor will they be concerned with rescuing boats in distress. so why are they really being deployed? to intimidate?

this decision to send warships has been taken in conjunction with several other events happening around the refugee crisis:

the EU pressure on greece to stop the flow of refugees.
the decision to also make turkey a "safe third country",
and--most telling of all in my opinion--turkey's position of only taking in more refugees (to stay as opposed to transit) if the aegean sea route is closed

the only conclusion i can draw is that NATO is deploying in the aegean to close the sea route and force turkey to take the refugees.

currently there are about three million refugees in turkey, 2.5 million syrians from the war there, and hundreds of thousands of iraqis.

erdogan--turkey's president--has said they will send the refugees to europe, opening the borders to bulgaria and greece.

of course the US and russia have now agreed, in theory, on a ceasefire in syria, but a close reading of the story seems as though what that means is that all the involved countries are going to align with assad against isis. that's not a ceasefire.

the simple and logical answer to stopping the refugee crisis would be to stop the war. but war is profitable and i don't think that's really the plan.

but if NATO or whoever really wanted to end the human trafficking all they would have to do is offer safe passage for the refugees. you could fit a lot of refugees on a warship.

so what does all this mean for we volunteers? here in molyvos, we are a scant few miles from turkey, and it is along this north coast where most of the boats land. it is also along this north coast that NATO warships will be arriving today.

i can't say i like the idea. yesterday, a group of us sitting on the patio outside our hotel office felt a huge jolt. something in the hotel office was banged against the wall, but there was nobody inside. we found out later it had been the result of a sonic boom from a NATO jet flying overhead.

will there still be work for us to do? what's going to happen?

in regard to yesterday's blog post, many people have also been considering leaving the organization. i have already left. with today's reality of NATO arriving, those who were struggling with the decision of continuing to work for an organization that condoned and hid a rape--because they came here to work--are suddenly finding it a much easier decision.

some are considering going to the greek-macedonian border which is the next step for refugees on their way from greece to germany. others are considering turkey or macedonia itself.

i don't know yet what i'm going to do. i may go to kos or chios where boats have also been arriving (though whether that will still be the case, i don't know) or down to mytilini (near moria) to continue to work  there. at the end of march, i head to turkey because of visa requirements.

today i'm off to the hope center near here. i hear they're a lovely group. i just want to work. i haven't worked for almost a week now, ever since i found out about the rape and decided i couldn't continue to work here. and that's frustrating. i came here to work.

tell you all about the hope center tomorrow...

plans changed. saw this just off the coast and went to town to take pix instead


i'm hearing that's a greek ship, but it's definitely a warship.

what are they going to do if they see a boat? bomb it?


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Truth and Consequences

author's note: i have been struggling with whether or not to publish this for a few days now, but have finally decided to do so. i do have permission from the victim, and i am currently looking for a new group to join

This is a story I never thought I’d be writing about as a volunteer on Lesvos. A volunteer in a humanitarian crisis, with a group organized to respond to that crisis.

This is the story of a young woman, a volunteer raped by another volunteer after a party, and treated abominably by the supposedly humanitarian organization. Forced to sit down with her rapist. Guilted and shamed and told to accept her share of the blame. Forced to work with her rapist for weeks.
Alone in a country far from home, where should she have turned for help if not to the organization she volunteered with? Silenced, she struggled with her trauma.

And what of the rapist who admitted his act? Who apologized. Did he think that would make everything alright? Did the organization think that made everything alright?

I can’t fathom what was in their minds, because as well as the additional trauma they loaded onto this young woman, their action—or inaction—put others at risk. Put other young women in the group at risk. Put the organization at risk. And most mind-boggling of all, they put the refugees at risk by continuing  to send this man, this admitted rapist (although in his mind it was “only” date rape so that doesn’t count? No. All rape is violent) the organization continued to send this admitted rapist to the refugee camp to work with the most vulnerable people in the world.

They might have gotten away with their cover-up. But they pushed it too far. They put this man in a position of higher responsibility in the camp. They pushed the young victim too far. At last she spoke out.

Once public the organization responded not with an admission of stupidity and guilt and a heartfelt apology, but with vague evasions and half-truths and even lies. Some bought it. Some didn’t. some think they can help change the ethos of the organization. Some have doubts. A few have left.
But the damage is done. The victim is scarred for life, and who knows how far the ripple effects of this man’s violent action and the irresponsible and despicable actions of the organization will flow?


Farther, probably, than anyone imagines.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

a walk through moria, the geography of a refugee camp

sorry for the gap between posts. i mostly work at moria, and shifts are essentially 12 hours long. for an afternoon shift, i head out from my hotel about 2:30 pm for our 3 pm meetup at posto cafe. the drive to moria really only takes about an hour over the twisty mountain roads in the middle of the island, and our shift starts at 5, so we leave a little before 4. we take two cars for an afternoon shift as there are 4-5 people on the RHUs and another 4-5 on the dorms. when our shift is over at 1 am, we gather to head back and i arrive home usually a little after 2 am. 12 hours, more or less. 6 days a week.

with 6-8 hours of sleep, i don't have a lot of free time after such necessities as showering, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, etc. for blogging, and for the past couple of days i've spent my writing time writing for money. gotta stay solvent somehow. so i wrote an article for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, where i used to work, and a blog post for an insurance site.

the magazine article won't be out for a while yet. i'll let you all know when it's online.

so here i am, finally able to write another post, though i don't have a whole lot of time till it's off to moria again. it's been really quiet the past few days for a couple of reasons--the weather hasn't been conducive to small boats venturing out onto the sea, and there's been some political maneuvering going on--lots of greek and EU bigwigs coming to visit the camp--so registration lines have been closed, and people hustled off to other areas. the other night over 1100 afghans were registered, and we kept waiting for them to descend on us en masse for housing, but they never came. not sure where they were sent, but after registration, they don't have to stay at moria.

now i'm really out of time, so here's a physical description of the camp i wrote a few days ago, and a few photos... sorry if some of the info is a little redundant for those of you who have been reading regularly

if you've been reading my blog, you know that while volunteering with the crisis in Greece. I mainly work at a registration camp in an old army detention base at Moria, in southeastern Lesvos, near the port of Mytilini. All the refugees who arrive on Lesvos are processed through the camp at Moria. Administered by the Greek police, it is bleak, surrounded by high razor wire topped fences. Lesvos being a volcanic island, the terrain rises steeply from the coast. Consequently Moria is situated on a steep rise, which of course makes walking difficult for the elderly and disabled. But in Moria, walking is difficult for everyone. The paved hillside which leads up the dorms, allocated to EVIs (extremely vulnerable individuals) like the elderly, women traveling alone, small children, and the sick or disabled, is slick. There are horizontal ridges in the road which I assume are supposed to facilitate walking up the hill, but the thousands of feet that transverse them every day are wearing the ridges smooth. I’ve seen a lot of people fall. Discussing it last night, another volunteer told me she saw Ai Weiwei’s photographer fall down the hill, smashing his camera.

The hilltop doesn’t seem the ideal place for EVI housing, but the dorms are heated, and have both electricity and bathrooms in each room. And thanks to the fencing and razor wire, access to the dorms can be restricted, for protection purposes, to those who have been cleared to stay there. Sometimes, a wheelchair can be found to transport those who need it up the hill, but it’s more common to see people struggling up on foot, sometimes on crutches.

The entrance to the camp is at the bottom of the hill. A paved road leads past the registration buildings (behind more razor wire topped fences) on the left, and police buses on the right as you enter. Continuing down the pavement, past the registration area is a broad, cement paved area, usually covered with small tents, mostly distributed by the DRC (Danish Refugee Council) who are responsible for housing at Moria. On the right is a small Samaritan’s Purse building with charging stations for the refugees’ phones. In the corner where the paved road turns sharply up the hill is the MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) clinic. Unfortunately, it often seems not to be open all night, though a DRC worker told me this had been discussed at a meeting a couple of days ago, and MSF says that they are indeed open all night. Maybe they were napping with the doors locked and the lights off. To the left at this juncture is the “Rubhall”, a large heated tent reserved for single men.

If you don’t turn up hill, the road continues to the bathrooms, but it is not paved and with recent rains and severe drainage problems from the amount of water use, the mud is so thick in places that it sucks at your shoes as you walk through it. There are separate buildings for toilets and showers, each divided into men’s and women’s facilities. However, there is another phone charging area between the men’s and women’s sides of the toilet building where many young men loiter, charging their phones, intimidating some women, particularly later in the evening. A row of taps along the outside wall of the shower building provides drinking water for the camp, but there are no provisions for cups or bottles to hold the water, and only one faucet has a tap to turn it on with, due to the ongoing drainage issues. However, this area is under construction, with new drainage pipes going in to alleviate the problem. There are also 12 new metal buildings on the left side of the road that have gone up in the past week, but I found out last night they are not for additional housing, but a new Afghan registration area. Currently, Afghans register at the top of the hill—I’m not sure why they register in a different place. On the right are some of the RHUs (refugee housing units), climbing the rough terrain at the base of the hill.

The RHUs are small metal huts—made by IKEA to house five people, as I’ve described before—in which we usually have to cram 20-25, and occasionally more, refugees. These units are mostly unheated and have no electricity. They are designated for families. When I first arrived at Moria, none of the units had heaters. Now a handful do, and we save those for families with smaller children or elderly relatives who have not been allocated to the dorms. The volunteer group I work with serves under the auspices of the DRC, and so do housing allocation as our main function. Though we have to put more than one family in each unit most days, we try to allocate huts to groups who speak the same language, at least. One of the most frustrating and heartbreaking aspects of the work is trying to explain (often past the language barriers because translators are scarce) that a family group will have to share their tiny hut with other families. Resources are scarce.

The RHUs are on both sides of the paved road leading up the hill. To the left, among the RHUs, is the DRC office, and the hut we issue housing from. To the right, just past the MSF clinic, is another short paved area where Samaritan’s Purse distributes dry clothing and blankets, and at 8 pm, food is served out of a truck. Directly across from the DRC office is a free tea stand and the UNHCR office. The RHUs on that side of the road start a little further up the hill.

RHUs and a tent


the view from the DRC office. the big tent on the right is the rubhall,
 on the left is registration. our office is out of the picture near the bottom right


a view from just outside our office.
 the big tent middle left is the rubhall

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Palwas

I had one of those moments last night that gladden the heart and ease the feeling of helplessness from swimming against the tide of so much human misery.

I was standing outside our housing allocation unit, waiting to help the next person waiting for a place to sleep, when a handsome young couple with a small child in her father's arms, approached me. He spoke english well, and asked me where they could get a jacket for the child. She was dressed in thin pants and top, and a thin pair of socks. They had her wrapped in a blanket, but she was obviously cold. I told them they could get a child's jacket at the dorms—samaritan's purse does most of the clothing distribution, but I had taken someone else there earlier looking for children's jackets, and they were out—and led them up to the top of the hill. I told the team leader at the gate what we needed and she told me to go ahead and get it for them.

That's not strictly according to the protocol. I should have handed the family over to the volunteers at the dorm clothing distribution room, but it was the dorm level the group i'm with is responsible for, so sometimes you can bend the rules a little. And sometimes, there's something about a certain person or family who just tugs at you, and you need to see them through. So I bent another rule, and took the family inside the distribution room with me. I pulled a jacket out of a box of baby's coats, but it was obviously too small. As I was putting it back to try another, the mother reached for a pink coat that was out of place in the wrong box.

It was thick and fuzzy and soft, with a hood with little rabbit ears. Together with it was a pair of thick matching pants, the cuffs turned up to reveal the same flowered lining as on the coat. The little girl's face lit up as though the sun had just come out. The clothes fit perfectly, and though I didn't see any shoes in her size, we finished up with a thick pair of hand knit socks, cream colored and soft.

On our way out of the distribution room, we passed a table with a few toys on it. The little girl (she was 2 and a half) reached for the toys, wanting each one in turn, as I said no to one after another. I explained that they were kept at the dorms for the children to use during their stay. Palwas—who had been so happy with her new warm clothes—started crying at this fresh disappointment. Not a temper tantrum, just silent tears running down her small face. I gave her an orange hoping to cheer her up, but though she took it willingly, it didn't dry her tears. Her parents and I were sad too. Fortunately, i'm not the only one who bends the rules. The volunteers at the door said it was okay for babies to take a toy. Palwas' father, looking much relieved, picked up a giant stuffed smurf doll, palwas had been taken with. I asked him if he really wanted to carry something that big throughout their long journey still to come (i'm a mom; been there, done that) and we all kind of laughed as he put the smurf down. But we held up two other stuffed toys—of a size palwas could manage herself—and she chose a sort of dragon looking puppet. With palwas smiling again, one lone small tear still on her cheek, and clutching her dragon in one hand, her orange in the other, we left the dorms.

As we started down the hill, palwas started singing softly, but as we walked her voice swelled from barely audible to ringing. All the way down the hill palwas sang her joyous song, her small orange clenching fist conducting. All the way down the hill, palwas' song brought smiles to the faces of passing refugees and volunteers alike.

At the bottom of the hill as we were parting, palwas said (back to her quiet voice) “i love you.”


I love you too, palwas.