825 miles, 1 night in a 1 star hotel, 8 camps, 2 refused entries into camps (could not even get into the town of Idomeni and after driving around Nea Kavala we were kicked out-no problem, we handed our aid just outside of the gates to a local NGO supporting the camp) and a thermal pool visit.
We were up about 8am- the band played only until about 1AM. The hotel was packed with a bus tour group and a team of kids in a taekwondo tournament. We still had about 1/2 of the van filled with aid to hand out. We headed straight North toward the Macedonia
border which is the site of a camp called Idomeni. As the crisis unfolded and the borders were closed people got stuck at the border and in squats near to the border. After about 40 minutes of driving in beautiful country side we came upon the Eko gas station squat- tents set up around a high way gas station- 1100 people. The rains from the day before made for a very wet and muddy camp. We found the kitchen and asked if there was a warehouse. The tent that was making supplemental food had maybe 8 people chopping veggies – maybe 1/2 were foreigners- the rest refugees. Everyone looked tired. “No warehouse” was the answer.
The refugees came up to us “shoes?”. They then would point to their wet clothes and down to their shoes. We quickly started distributing shoes- about 100 people were standing in line- we maybe had 100 pair. We gave out all of our shoes- but many people were turned away. It is heart breaking to be shown a barefooted toddler’s foot – only to not have that size shoe. Rita plans to return next week and will have mostly shoes to distribute.
We slowly drove thru the camp on our way back to the highway- this was by far the worse camp we have seen- everyone is waiting for the border to open.
Next we started toward Idomini and on the town outskirts in the middle of a bridge was a police stop. We provided our papers (passports and id’s) only to be told we could not enter. Rita will work on getting registered with one of the groups allowed into the camp before she returns next week. There are about 10,000 people living literally on the border blocking the rail line that links Greece with the rest of Europe.
We turned around and headed to another camp near by. We passed another gas station
with refugees camping- such a mess. New Kavala (a camp built for 2500 but housing 3979 people) is a camp controlled by the Army- we initially were let in to drop aid in the warehouse but were quickly told to leave. It looked like wood have just been delivered- everyone was going to 2 dropped piles of cut wood and bringing, dragging back to the tents. Everyone had a fire going in front of their tents- to boil water for tea and for warmth.
As we were leaving the camp we ran into a refugee that works with a NGO that has a warehouse near by and they support the camp. He gladly took our aid- the most
successful camps/squats are those that are self governed.
Next we headed to Cherso- a camp housing about 1000 people. White tents lined into the horizon on an old Army base. Seeing my red vest the Army person at the gate waved us toward the Red Cross tent. We quickly were assigned an interpreter and he helped get the warehouse opened by the Army. As Rita and I were dealing with getting the aid unloaded Zach went off and started a soccer game with some kids that had been playing with a flat/broken ball. He used our last soccer ball (until our next visit to Jumbo).
The young kids helped us to unload the van- they wanted so badly to help. Sometimes a really small child would grab a really big box, we all would laugh at how silly it was. We unloaded the rest of our aid.
A flock of cranes were flying overhead- circling the area. This camp, like many was
literally in the middle of nothing. Perhaps there was a water near they were looking to land at.
Our next and last stop was to be at a camp located in the city of Thermopyles- about 3 hours South of where we were and about 2 hours from Athens. We easily found the camp in what looked like an old abandoned hotel. Next to the camp is a sulphur thermal bath that anyone could go and use- the smell of sulphur was strong and a sign warned not to be in the water longer than 15 min. A car load of Romanians braved the cold and were soon swimming in the river. We headed up to the camp.
Distribution was happening by a group of people (mostly from England) who looked to be Anarchists. A pregnant woman came up to us and I asked how many pregnant women were at this camp. She grabbed my hand, led me into the building, up the stairs to a room where she knocked and a very pregnant woman answered the door. On the way up the stairs we passed a mom holding a new baby- 1 month old. Found out that there are 7
women pregnant in the camp, no Dr has visited for pre-natal. They are transported to the hospital once they go into labor. I told them, now 3 pregnant women had arrived, that I would try and send the midwife up to them. Chloe who we had dinner with earlier in the week visits camps with a midwife.
We headed back to Athens, dropped Rita off at her house and headed back to the hotel. Got back about 8pm and quickly headed out to dinner.
Had such a great road trip- Rita has a long list of camps and needs for the north part of Greece- a good start for adding onto her lists.
Zach slept most of the 5 hours back to Greece- he woke up and waded in the thermal waters. He is doing really well- and has been such a great help. He does get nervous when people crowd around- but we just tell him not worry.
Don’t think he will make this a regular part of his life, but his eyes have been opened to this crisis.