Woke at 4:30am, before my 4:45am alarm. WAY to early, but we wanted to get on the road as soon as possible. We were picking Rita up at 5:30 to head up to the Northern area of Greece near the Macedonia boarder to visit camps. It was to deliver the aid we had loaded earlier and to scope out the situation for Rita’s work with Carry the Future and her nonprofit Allied-Aid which will be distributing sun screen in the very near future.
The Greek highway system is toll based, which means they are lovely. We stopped after about 3 hours on the road at a restaurant to grab some coffee. Rita had bought some goodies for the road trip at a bakery near her house as we were leaving Athens. Greeks celebrate “name days” more than they celebrate birthdays- today was a very popular name day so bakeries would be busy all day.
It literally rained all day, our 1st stop was a return trip to Petra- this is the Yazidi camps we had visited last month. We quickly unloaded the aid, spoke with a few people and headed out. The road to Petra is a zig zag road up a mountainous road. We came upon a shepherd, his 2 working dogs and about 50 goats. It was like a post card. We patiently waited for them to pass- and since we went the wrong way on the very narrow mountain road, got to pass them again when we turned around and headed back down the mountain.
Rita had done some amazing work on collecting data for all the camps located in the Northern part of Greece. Our goal was to visit as many of them as we can in 2 days. The 2nd camp we visited was literally underwater. It was a
newer camp-2 weeks old with a couple of different NGO’s supporting the camp. There was a big problem in that 1/2 of the tents were under about a foot of water so the volunteers were scrambling to get dry clothes from their warehouse which was surrounded by water, up to a central distribution point. All the while there were heated conversations going on with the refugees- I assume over the fact that so much had gotten ruined in the rain. As we unloaded our aid into the warehouse I have no idea why we are still not stuck there as the van got stuck in the mud-like really bad stuck! Back and forth I went until the van finally made it up to a dry patch of land-
As the squats are being emptied, these camps are springing up all over Greece- there are currently over 60 camps with more planned. We next went to a camp that was entirely set up inside of what looked like an old factory. About 1,00o people with more arriving daily. The tent ropes were hammered into the cement. This camp was also new, and given the fact it was out of
the rain we spent a couple hours here. The new camp director from a Norwegian NGO who was American was there helping to settle literally newly arrived refugees just getting off buses from Idomeni. Her parents were visiting and you could tell they were driving her crazy. When the parents heard we had shoes in our van they had Zach try and find some shoes for a couple of the kids that either didn’t have any shoes or had inappropriate shoes on – a cute 7 year old boy with girl shoes on.
We also passed out about a dozen baby carriers. Even with this being a new camp it was already bustling- a “store” was set up outside one of the tents, people were walking between the rows of tents selling items and as the call to prayer went out, we saw the prayer tent. About a 20 pairs of shoes outside the tent and people facing Mecca and praying. We got to hold and love on some babies, our hands were always full of little hands dragging us from tent to tent to show us the tents with babies in them.
We stopped at another camp near to this one and we were told that they had a warehouse full of items- well this is what the Army officer told us at the gate he was guarding. So no aid delivered here. But part of the bigger picture is less than 5 miles away a camp with nothing and then this one with to much. That will be the biggest hurdle moving forward is aid distribution- apparently there are some warehouses in these parts but as always getting aid to camps is a big issue. Most of the aid has been focused up here on helping the 10,000+ in Idomeni, but they are trying to close Idomeni and the other squats down and getting people into these more “permanent” camps.
There is what sounds like a 15 piece Turkish band playing in the hotel room across from ours- no, like for real. And for real…….REALLY loud. Somehow I only packed 1 of my ear plugs so should be interesting to see if we get any sleep.