What a day! We all had to set our alarms to be upstairs for breakfast at 6:00AM- our goal was to leave at 7:00AM to drive 5 hours to Petra, a new camp that had sent out an SOS a couple of days ago for aid. The Warehouse had pulled the aid requested and we were to drive it up. The van was PACKED. The back area and the 3rd row were stuffed with water, baby milk, food,blankets and clothing.
We got on the road about 7:30AM after all was said and done. It was a beautiful drive North of Athens- 10 tolls later we pulled off the expressway and were at the foot of Mount Olympus! We only had GPS coordinates to go off of to find the camp. We wound our way up to the foothills of the mountain-at one point we spotted a camp- tents set up. We did a quick U-turn and asked if this was Petra- they said no- further up the road.
We wound our way up the mountain road, getting glimpses of red poppies, shepherds with sheep and/or goats and the snow covered top of Mount Olympus. We finally saw the sign for Petra and within minutes were stopped by the Army-all of the camps have an Army presence, most also have a police car parked out on the street. We all know the drill- give them our papers (in our case our passports). We then were cleared to head into the camp.
The white tents are a give away always. This time, the tents were set up on the grounds of what used to be an insane asylum. It actually was a beautiful setting- this camp is strictly Yazidis from mostly Iraq. There were about 900 people who had arrived 4 days ago. Once cleared by the Army we were told to drive down to the camp and were met by the NGO who is supporting the camp. 2 young German girls gave us a tour (we basically have determined that this whole crisis is being managed by 25 year olds on holiday doing humanitarian work instead of running from pub to pub) and helped us find the camp leader. Once found he asked us to back the van near their warehouse. I did so and before the van was unloaded the Army showed up with vans and we were told to move. Kind of like when your boss asks you to “jump high” and you say “how high”.
We settled on the hillside- as soon as you stop walking or sit down a child either grabs your hand, or in most cases a child on each hand, or if you are sitting comes and sits in your lap. Our favorite time is when we are fitting mothers with carriers and one of us gets to hold the baby while the other adjusts the carrier on the mom or dad.
Soon the word had spread in the camp and mothers with children started showing up – we all got to work fitting carriers on babies and mothers or sometimes a sibling or a father.
We worked for about 15 min when Sara came up and said we needed to “go immediately”. We were so confused- she was NOT kidding and said “now”. We quickly finished our fittings, threw the carriers we had clipped onto our waists into the van and loaded up to drive away. She was told in very clear language to leave the camp at once by the Army. All NGO’s operating in the camp were being kicked out. Amanda started to cry over the frustration of the situation. Mothers were lined up waiting to be fitted- out of the corner of my eye I saw a boy running towards the van. It was the son of one of the boys whose mother i’d fit a carrier on earlier. In his hand was a piece of paper- he said “yours”, I took a look at it and knew immediately that it was a note from the person whose carrier his mother now had. These carriers have been collected from around the world and mothers have written lovely notes to the new carriers owners- messages of love, support and hope. I told him thru a broken smile trying not to cry that “no, for you-your mother”.
Once again the children were begging us for shoes, they would point to their feet, fitted in
flip flops or they would peel back the broken shoe top and say “shoe”? We all were upset pulling away from Petra- 1/2 of our van was filled with aid we didn’t even have time to unload- so stupid! We quickly decided to try the other camp we had stopped off at earlier.
As we wound our way back into town our mood was somber – we easily found the other camp and asked where the leader was. It seemed to be on the site of an old children’s camp- there were play areas, play structures and open areas. It was so nice-the Army guy was up top by the road and was SUPER nice. He welcomed us and had us back the van into an area and some of the men and boys helped us to unload the rest of the van.
We then set to work fitting carriers. Sara went with the leader of the camp as he announced over the loud speaker that we were here and waiting to start to fit carriers. People came streaming out of the tents. So much fun! For some reason we fitted almost as many Dads as Moms. Soon it was time to head back to Athens as there was a long drive home.
While these camps are mostly nice- running water, w.c.’s, showers. Their isolation ultimately will not be sustainable as these people want to work and settle in. Also that fact that so many are in tents that in 6 months will be horrendous living in because of the cold.
On the way back to Athens we pulled over to take pictures of goats, poppies and a selfie
with Mt Olympus in the background.
We have a therapist with us on the trip-Gillian, she makes sure we are processing what is happening and we all are either journaling or blogging. Kind of throwing up the regurgitated scenes that we have seen, and that can never be unseen. We actually all laugh a lot-like pee your pants laugh-
Dinner was at the roof top restaurant of our hotel- we have a clear view of Port area 2, usually we can clearly the rows of tents-the rumors were true……no tents.