Yorkshire tea: solves everything right?

Written by Gilly Spence, Humanitas volunteer

I’ve been here just over 24 hours and I’ve already cried, like really really heart breakingly, stomach achingly and breath takingly cried. This doesn’t bode well for the week, I’m going to be an emotional wreck! I was collected at Thessaloniki airport by the “Great Doctor” Ramiz (as he appears to be known in these parts) in the amazing motor home that is my home for the next 7 days. It’s cool, we have all the mod cons and no complaints whatsoever, given the circumstances I’m in I’d be pretty lame if I did complain. So last night I spent the night in the company of the great Doctor and The Flying Seagulls who have Ash, another great as their guiding light. I literally can’t even begin to explain what Ash and his crew are about so just google them, they rock.

This morning began with a dawn (I say dawn, it was more lunchtime but we had only just emerged from slumber) raid from the Greek police. Thank goodness we didn’t have what they consider to be illegal drugs or any walkie talkies. This would have been curtains for our time here and I would have been arrested for possibly not the first time in my life. Bad times. After we’d debriefed over Yorkshire tea and biscuits we headed back to Eko, basically a refugee camp in a gas station. We went yesterday but both Ramiz and me were too tired and overwhelmed to even articulate what it was all about. We had only been there 10 minutes today when a young boy came to chat to me outside the van. He is called Shadest, he’s 13 and comes from Syria. I’m just going to go right out there and blow all those things that people think back home out of the water. It’s not all young men trying to get to Europe to steal our jobs, violent young men who’d start a fight soon as they look at you, it’s not true. Sorry if this makes things harder to digest. I’ve only met polite kind people here who greet me with a smile and a handshake or a hug like I’m their long lost friend. Oh and there are children, 100’s and 100’s of children, some alone and some with family. Some will be born here, born in a tent on the forecourt of a gas station, what the f@*k? Anyway back to Shadest. Ever been looked straight in the eye so you can see the desperation and hope as someone asks you “can you help my family get to Germany?” I wonder if he could see the desperation in my eyes as I told him"no, I can’t". I’m pretty sure he could see the tears. I gave him a football I had brought so appease my own guilt of basically being able to do f@*k all to help him (I’m sorry for the swearing, please feel free to come here and try not to) and went on my way before I really broke down. 10 minutes later Shadest was back, his mother wanted to see me, I assumed she was sick and needed medically attention, I was wrong. Ramiz and I spent the next hour with Shadest, his mother and father and 2 brothers, 8 and 16 in their “home”. When I say home this is 2 of those festival tents with a bit of tarp to join them together, they have a few items inside but it’s pretty grim. We chatted and were given cold coffee to drink, I don’t drink coffee but this actually tasted ok and I was full of energy for hours after, I may make it my drink of choice! Shadest interpreted for us and we laughed and swapped stories, the family had spent 6 months “living” in Athens and have now been “living” on the forecourt of a garage for 2 months. I showed them photos of my family and friends back home. I guess for an hour we made Shadest and his family feel “normal”, that’s what we do, we have guests round and entertain them right?

After we left, feeling like we had just said goodbye to friends, not perfect strangers in a refugee camp in Greece I went back to the van and I sat and I cried. I cried for Shadest and his family and all the 1000’s of people who are stuck here. I cried for the man who is here with his wife and his daughters who tried to hang himself the night before we arrived. He told reporters the next day that he had left hell and found a worse type of hell, one where he couldn’t provide for his family and he feared for the future, it was too much. I cried for the children playing in dirt with literally nothing and still managing to smile at us. And finally I cried for myself and my feeling of helplessness. This situation is bigger then me, bigger than Ramiz and me, bigger than MSF, UNHCR, Save The Children and all the dozens of volunteers and charities. This is one huge global mess. Oh and I forgot to mention we’ve only seen a tiny percentage of the refugees here, tomorrow we hit Idomeni proper, better stock up on tissues.

Ok I’m off, I need a big mug of Yorkshire tea. Although sometimes in life some problems are even too much for Yorkshire tea to solve, I know unbelievable right!!??