Like a song stuck on repeat…heading back to Greece. Same, same, yet worse in so many ways. The refugee crisis has taken a back burner to the woes of the world. Yesterdays news. Borders on almost every continent swarm with people trying to find a better life, safety.
Will be working for the 4th time in a year on Chios Island (an hour flight straight East of Athens) with Iris House- a Norwegian based NGO. I am part of Carry the Future’s Team 60. On social media the images of Vial camp (the refugee camp on Chios) are hard to look at. Women and children sleeping between the containers used as housing, hard sleeping with nothing to sleep on but the ground and only discarded UNHCR blankets to cover them, IF they are lucky.
New arrival numbers from Turkey double and triple what they were a year ago.
Max and I were on Chios in May- he was filming a video for Iris House and we were working helping to distribute aid to the newly arrived. For 9 days we sorted aid, distributed aid and purchased aid.
(*Spoiler alert, he did eventually make it back to Phoenix).
Instead of the 20 hours of travel it took me to get back to Phoenix, it took him 3 days.
The night before we were to leave Chios, the days distribution had gone especially late. With so many new arrivals we pulled onto the road towards town just as the sun set. We quickly unloaded the vans at the storage area- said goodbye to some of the interpreters and those who could joined us at our hotel for dinner.
A group of 10 shared pizza, salad and pasta. After spending the past 10 days working together the meal had the feeling of a family meal. Inside jokes, lots of laughs and making sure we were all connected on Facebook or WhatsApp. A mix of refugees, an artist, interpreters and volunteers gathered and shared a meal. One family. Max and I were leaving at the 7:00am flight to Athens so as dinner was finishing Max and another volunteer decided to go and get a drink and I went upstairs to finish packing and get at least a couple hours of sleep.
This “hotel” more like a Bed and Breakfast had 8 rooms, tiny but clean with skeleton keys to lock the doors. Reception open only in the afternoons, Max and I taking up 2 of the rooms and another person we never met but would hear come in late at night. My alarm went off to soon, my first thought was “Max isn’t here”. I shushed my mind, washed my face and got dressed. Walked the 3 doors down and knocked on his door. No answer. Back to my room…text him… no answer. Needing to leave for the airport a mile away, I tried one more time. No answer – 98% of my brain thinking “he’s passed out drunk on his bed” the other 2% screaming “he’s dead in a ditch”. Literally no way for me to open the door or find someone to help.
Had to meet the car rental person at the airport. Hasib, one of the interpreters had come out to say good bye to us. “Where is Max?” Hasib asked with wide eyes. “Either passed out drunk in bed, or dead in a ditch”. His eyes grew large as the car rental guy showed up to take the vans keys. 3 flights ahead of me: Chios-Athens-Frankfurt-Phoenix – I figured if I hadn’t heard from him by the time my flight boarded in Frankfurt i’d circle back to Chios.
Checking in the gate agent asked “where is Max Hart”.
“Well, he went out drinking last night and didn’t answer my phone calls, texts or banging on the door this morning – so I figure he’s either passed out drunk or dead in a ditch”.
“How old is Max?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. “20”. Shrugged shoulders joined the raised eyebrow. “Your flight boards in 10 minutes”. My parting words to her were “I imagine he’s going to come flying in her with his hair on fire when he wakes up…..good luck with that”. The glassy stare said everything…….sister i’ve seen and heard everything.
Said goodbye to Hasib, he promised to go look for Max if need be. I promised to keep him updated. The hour long prop plane left Chios right at 7am. Phone off and on airplane mode I tried to stuff the voice in my head saying “he’s dead in a ditch”. Touchdown in Athens, turning back on my phone I can see that Max has not read the texts. Great, I think.
Taxi to a far corner of the tarmac. Deplane into waiting buses to be brought to the airport. My phone pings. A message from Max.
“WHERE ARE YOU?”.
“Athens….who is this?” was my reply.
“OH MY GOD…..OH MY GOD…..I slept in! What should I do??”
“I’d get to the airport and see if they can get you on another flight”.
Checking in for my Frankfurt flight the gate agent in Athens once again asked- “Where is Max Hart”.
In my head I thought “well now I know he’s NOT dead in a ditch” but said to her “he decided to go out and get drunk last night, he woke up about 10 minutes ago, he’s still on Chios”.
“How old is he?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“20” I repled. Like the agent on Chios the raised eyebrow met the shrugged shoulders. Must be a Greek mom thing.
Missing his flight to Athens, Max had to purchase a ticket to Athens. In Athens the agent told him that because his ticket was on an airline that did not offer refunds/changes (Condor Air) he would have to purchase a new ticket home. Which he did with his own money. Can we get an “OUCH!!!”.
What followed next for Max was-
-a 4 hour delay in Athens
-hour flight to Istanbul,
-9 hour layover in Istanbul (fun fact for me, the public wifi in that Istanbul airport is basically nonexistent.
-8 hour flight to JFK
-7 hour layover in JFK
-5 hour flight to Phoenix
Two days after arriving home from Greece, Max came into the family room- looking like he’s spent the last 3 days getting home. “Traitor” was his insult as he put his bag down in his room. Followed by a big hug and a “i’m sorry Mom”.
“Max, you need a shower.” was my reply, with a raised eyebrow.