Today marks a full week in Lesvos. It’s hard to process everything fast enough to write. Tonight we had dinner at the Captains Table, a restaurant in Molyvos that has become a hub for aid workers, and that has birthed an NGO called Starfish, which is one of the main resources that coordinate the services for refugees on the north side of the island. Besides coordinating the groups who receive people from the boats, there are also several “bus stops” or transit camps that people pass through on their way to the actual camps in the south of the island, who eventually arrive at the ferry to Athens and beyond. We have now seen many children multiple times, at the beach, at the bus stop, at the camps, and at the harbor. It’s actually a relief to run into these children over again, because we can see that progress is being made and that their journey is moving forward. It’s a joyful thing to think that next week we will not see these people, because it means that they have moved on.
Tonight at the Captains Table, we met a man named Omar. We had previously seen him at a volunteer meeting on our first show day, and he manages one of the transit camps, a bus station called Oxy. Some days this bus stop will see 6,000 individuals, and accommodate 1,000 refugees overnight. The number of refugees who are being received by Greece is difficult to comprehend, and 80% of the refugees who travel through Greece, travel through the island of Lesvos. Of these people, 80% will pass through Oxy.
The bus stop (Oxy) is just that: a bus stop. It is not made for people to stay overnight. It is along the side of a road, bordered by a cliff overlooking the sea. There are a few large tents, and some small ones. The organizers do the best that they can, but the numbers mean that on busy days, families line either side of the road, sleeping inches from moving cars. Our show at Oxy was difficult because we worried about the children becoming too animated and running in the road. Laundry lines hang between tents, tied to any available structure. Clothes also hang on tents; piles of rocks, and on the metal security railing along the road, drying out the seawater from the clothes of those whose boats sank. The ground is uneven and rocky, and there are no large open spaces, besides the one where the busses come, which needs to be clear at all times.
The show at Oxy began small, since it was difficult for people to see us. We walked up the road, with Clay playing the charango, introducing ourselves, blowing bubbles, and encouraging people to come with us. We found a small space in front of a family laying on a blanket who were happy to have us perform in front of them, and used our length of rope to make a circle. After the show began, fifty people soon turned into 200, with children, adults, and elderly crowding in to peak at what we were playing. Even in this place, people want to play. People peek their heads out of the tents, curious about why there is suddenly laughter and applause in this place.
The thing that astounds me the most about our shows is how the energy changes, between the time that we enter a space and the time that we leave. When the clowns arrive, it’s always intimidating. There is noise, but not joy. When we leave, it’s always to screams of delight. Giant smiles, people waving and giggling. We take pictures, shake hands, and receive gratitude that feels undeserved. They say thank you for coming. Thank you for being here. Thank you for giving us this. When they say this, I can’t help but feel impossibly small. I want to thank them for coming. Thank YOU for being here. Thank YOU for arriving, for the courage it has taken to get here, and the courage it takes to keep going. Thank you, for your joy that cannot be snuffed. Your cup of resilience that continues to be filled. For showing up and playing with us, because of and in spite of everything. These refugees, these individual humans who wake up with nothing but uncertainty, stress, trauma and still sit down at the table of joy, open and willing to share with us- this is everything good about humanity.
Today we had a show at Karatepe, the camp for Syrian families. Watching the show was one man and child- the man about 50, the little girl not older than five. The man watched the girl watch the show with such gratitude and relief, that she was finally smiling again. He said it was the first time he had seen her smile since they had left.