Sunday, January 31, 2016

Afghan Hill

i'd been hearing about afghan hill ever since I first started going to moria. It's above the main camp and is a separate entity, run by a group called better days for moria.

The registration area for afghans is also at the very top of the hill in moria, behind the dorms. I'm not sure why afghans have a separate registration area, but I suppose it's the fact that afghan registration is at the top of the hill that gave afghan hill its name. I was a little confused at first, thinking that afghan hill was part of moria, and couldn't figure out why so many afghans were staying in the RHUs and dorms, if they had a separate area. I also couldn't figure out why they had a separate area, just as I still don't know why their registration is different, as I mentioned above. By the way, since I started volunteering at moria, two and a half weeks ago now, i've noticed that we are receiving considerably more afghans than we were when I first arrived. An afghan friend who works for the DRC (danish refugee council) did tell me last night that the security situation in afghanistan is deteriorating. Maybe that accounts for the increased numbers of afghans vis-a-vis iraqis and syrians.

In any case, now I know that afghan hill is not exclusively afghan, and that it's not part of the moria registration camp.

I've been wanting to go check out afghan hill for a while. From the road where we park outside moria I could see some very cool looking tents, and other volunteers raved about how good the food was. But my shift at moria is always so busy, and I walk up that steep hill many times during a shift, taking vulnerable families up to the dorms, fetching blankets...i walk it often enough that the thought of an unneccessary trip up the hill, should I find the time to go exploring, was more daunting than my curiosity warranted.

Last night though, we had a man come to us feeling ill and wanting to see a doctor. Since the MSF (medecins sans frontieres) clinic at moria isn't open overnight, and the clinic in the dorms was closed a few days ago, the only doctor available was on afghan hill. Our team leader for the night said he would walk him up, and since I needed to learn where the doctor was I accompanied him.

Oh that hill. We first walked up the hill past the dorms, past the afghan registration booth, to a small gate that had been open lately. It wasn't open. So we walked back down the hill (you have to walk it slowly, it's sort of ridged, but still fairly slippery), continuing on past our office and the RHUs, down the road to the gate, and just outside the gate turned left, back up the hill. At the very top of the hill, another left (still climbing) takes you into afghan hill.

What a difference from moria! It's palpable in the very air. Where moria feels like a prison camp, afghan hill feels like a rainbow gathering.

The top of the hill is quite rocky, as is much of the island, so walking in some areas requires paying attention. The outside edges of the camp (which is much, much smaller than moria) is ringed with those cool tents which I saw from the road, and a few other big tents like the rubhall from moria. The center of the camp holds about 20 or 30 tipis to house refugees, so most of the tents at afghan hill are cool. Though smaller numbers and its hilltop location make drainage less of an issue, there are small hand dug drainage ditches meandering throughout the camp. There is far less mud. And while service tents are well lit, there are no flood lights as there are everywhere but in the RHU area of moria.
Scattered around the camp people are standing around small fires, chatting and smoking. The air smells of delicious food and woodsmoke. Somebody is playing music somewhere. People look happy.

Inside the medical tent (one of the big square ones, like the rubhall) plywood walls have been built to separate out storage areas, exam rooms, and the large open reception area. The volunteer doctors and nurses are friendly and unhurried.

Of course, to be fair, afghan hill doesn't deal with anywhere near the numbers of people that are in moria, but nonetheless, the camp seems a far more humane place. After climbing the hill twice to take the sick man to the doctor at afghan hill, I immediately had to turn around and climb it a third time to escort a couple with a fretful child—turns out the cute as a button seven month old wasn't sick, after all. Probably just cold and tired and upset at the changes in his routine that the family's perilous journey had wrought. Even at seven months, i'm sure a baby picks up on his parents' fear and exhaustion.

But despite being tired and winded, my legs a little sore, from all the hiking up hill, just spending those few minutes in the free air of afghan hill felt rejuvenating. I wish moria felt as welcoming as afghan hill.