IN HIS ARMS AT LAST

BASHAR 1

Bashar seeing Hanan and his boys for the first time in a year. Happy, relieved, overjoyed, overwhelmed and many more emotions.

Oh my, I have no idea where to begin this post. Maybe last week. When I met Bashar for the first time. Bashar is a computer engineer from Syria. His wife a medical student. In 2014, as they moved from place to place, watching bombs drop on their neighborhood in eastern Syria, they decided that it would be best if he settled in Europe and then send for them. Bashar left Syria about a year ago, crossed Turkey, took the inflatable rubber boat across the Aegean Sea and got to Greece. From there, he reached Germany, where he began making a life for his family.

2 weeks ago, Bashar came to Lesvos. His wife, children (boys aged 1 and 2) and other members of his family had escaped Syria into Turkey and were making their way to the west coast to cross the sea. They were in Istanbul, they hired a smuggler to assist them across, as so many hundreds of thousands others have done, and took the 7 hour bus ride to the western shore of Turkey. They set out, they were forced back by the Turkish Army. This happened THREE MORE TIMES. Two nights ago, on Friday night, she and the other women in her group were arrested by the Turkish police and forced to pay a fee to be driven by bus to the jail in Ankar, hours and hours away from the shore. Bashar was completely distraught. There was nothing any of us could tell him to make him feel better. They were released from jail and took the bus up to Istanbul, where Bashar made other arrangements (ie. got a new smuggler). Last night he got word that they were going to the leave this morning around 7 a.m. I set my WhatsApp notification for Bashar VERY LOUD and went to bed around 2 a.m. after saying prayers for safety.

Monday morning, 0738: Bashar: They arrived to the beach. They will cross after 10 minutes. Me: Okay. Praying for safe passage!

I get up, get dressed and head out to the beach with Tamara, Wayne and Tara. I want to take a walk by myself and pray and listen to Come Close by Cageless Birds. The lyrics, “Holy Ghost, won’t you come close to me”… “I’m in need of your help, in need of your hand, in need of your love”, seemed exactly what I needed to sing this morning. I prayed that they would be brought right to us, safely.

0756 – 0759: Me: The sea is perfect for crossing. Bashar: Are you there? Me: Yes, Is she on the way? Bashar: I don’t know. Me: Well we are watching the sea. I’ll keep you posted if we see anything. Bashar: They sent a position before half hour…

GPS1

The starting point is the dropped red pin, we are the blue circle on the left. She’s starting out right across from us.

0805: They are on their way…

GPS2

1 mile down, 10 to go. Waiting anxiously on the beach. Bashar is still at the camp.

Then no word for 40 minutes!! 0845…

GPS3

About half way there, but drifting to the south. At least they are in International Waters and past the chance of being sent back to Turkey!!!

At 0857, Bashar decided he couldn’t sit at the camp and wait for word. So he got in a taxi and I dropped a pin to our location so he could find us. While in route, at 0912 he sent this…

GPS4

More than half way to us…

At 0931 Bashar pulls up in a taxi… he hasn’t heard anything since the 0857 pin drop and is worried. All around us boats are landing, but their’s is still too far to be any of these. Wayne has been searching with his binoculars and south of us there is a boat “floundering”… it’s turning in slow circles, apparently drifting. We see that there is a small coast guard boat on it’s way. We are hoping this is not Hanan’s boat in trouble. We don’t want to worry Bashar. I send him with Tamara up the road to the house so he can call via WhatsApp. He comes back at 0950 and tells us that her boat has engine trouble. He is very, very worried, as are we.

Wayne then tells us that the little coast guard boat has left that rubber inflatable and is heading our way (we are about 3-4 miles from this inflatable). The odd thing is, the coast guard boats USUALLY take them straight to port, not to shore, EVER. He comes up towards us at about 0958 and we notice he is waving his arms at us, we wave back and see there are women and children on the boat. Bashar is besides himself and as the boat gets close, at 1002, just 20 feet away he sees his precious wife and sons on the boat. THE BOAT BROUGHT THEM RIGHT UP TO US. The photo at the top is just moments after we have both boys and Hanan off the boat. Everyone, all of us, are overwhelmed with joy! I prayed about this morning. I prayed they would come right to us, safely. That Bashar, this dear man, who is now like a brother to me, would be reunited with his family.

This trip has taught me so much. But mostly what it has taught me is that with HOPE, great things happen. It happened this morning on a beach in Lesvos, Greece.

BASHAR 2

Bashar, Hanan and their 2 boys.

BASHAR 3

In his daddy’s arms

A few facts as I wind up this post.
1. This trip costs thousands and thousands of dollars. The smugglers charge about $1200 per person for the boat crossing (they don’t accompany them).
2. These lovely people are humans, just like us. They are amazing, educated, loving, humble, gracious people. They do not mean any of us harm. They want what we want, a safe place to live and raise their families.
3. These lovely people are FLEEING certain DEATH. They aren’t immigrating because they want to. They are immigrating because they will DIE if they don’t. DIE. Women, Children, Men, Elderly, HUMANS. Their fear is PALPABLE and I will feel it in my heart forever.
4. Things Bashar said this past week that make this such a reality:
On Wednesday, “If this last time doesn’t work (this was before she was arrested), I will just drop my application to Germany, take a ferry to Turkey and take my family back to Syria”. Me: “But that would be dangerous! You may die”. Bashar, “But we would die together, as a family.”
Last night (Sunday), when he was telling me about moving from area to area to not be killed by the bombs being dropped from the sky, “We were looking up and saw the bomb being dropped on our neighborhood and I knew that we were going to die”. Me, “but you didn’t”. Bashar, “no, not that time. We decided to live just for that day, never for the next, because we didn’t know if there would be a tomorrow”.
5. And last, I have nothing but BIG love for all of these people, the refugees. ALL of them. Whether they are Muslim, Christian or Yizidi, I love them all. I love them all, as Christ loves me.

 

Ciao

If you’d like to support what is going on over here, money is needed for new shoes, warm clothes, socks, ferry tickets to Athens, bus tickets to the Macedonia border, etc, etc…
If you are so inclined, my PayPal is: flamidwyfe1@aol.com
and my fundraiser site is: https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179

PayPal is the most convenient for most donors and for me, as well, as it is easy to pay for goods with the PayPal account. Thank you… thank you… thank you

 

 

Josef from Iraq

Down on the beach, assisting the refugees on the 8th boat in less than 12 hours, I notice a man sitting, facing the ocean, and weeping. I go and sit next to him. The rest of the refugees from this boat are loading into the UNHCR bus and he isn’t moving.

I put my hand on his shoulder and ask him what is wrong. He tells me that he moved his family to a “safer” town in northern Iraq and headed to the coast of Turkey and then across the Aegean Sea to hopefully find a safe place to bring his wife and children.

He tells me that crossing that sea brought many emotions; fear, hope and joy when the boat made it safely to shore in Greece. That he misses his wife and children and he fears now that they will have to make the same crossing.

He asks me if he has to go to the refugee camp. I let him know that he needs to register, but then is free to leave the camp. I ask him why. And he says he wants to come back to the beach and patrol with all of us, receiving the refugees that come after him. He says he can help by being able to speak the language of the northern Iraqis. He is weeping openly at this point and I am crying, as well. His compassion for helping others and wanting to be there fills my heart with joy.

We stand up, so that he can join the others on the bus, and embrace. I feel some of his stress melt away. Hugging heals. It heals all the way to the heart.

Ciao!

My project this week is to purchase sweat pants and leggings for the refugees. It is still winter here, and although we’ve had a few days of temps in the 60s, many of the refugees are going to northern European countries. I found them today across the sea in Turkey for 3.50 turkish lira, that’s about $1.18 USD. If you’d like to help me get these, you can send donation via PayPal: flamidwyfe1@aol.com or via https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179 THANK YOU xoxoxo

UP ON THE BEACH

Thursday, February 11, 2016… the sun has set, our daily meeting with Toula’s volunteer group (or the group I affectionately refer to as Toula’s Merry Band of Volunteers) is over and Jaymarie and I decide to go to dinner.

Driving down the beach road we come across people coming up from the sea. Refugees. I ask Jaymarie to stop and I get out while she turns around to go back to the village for help. With the exception of one woman who is acting “shocky”, everyone of the men, women and children seem to be OK, except they are wet and cold.

A young man, maybe around 25, comes up to me and hugs me and says while crying, “I drove the boat and I got everyone here safely… we are safe, we are safe!!!” The whole crowd starts to chant the same words in their language. My heart explodes with joy that I simply can’t explain.

A bit of an explanation. Sometimes the people on the boat are in a state of shock when they get on the ground. I think it’s a combination of many things including, absolute fear of the crossing (it is dark, their boats are grossly overloaded, many have never been on the sea), they are cold and wet, they are overwhelmed that the hardest part of their journey (fleeing their country, crossing multiple countries and a big, black, turbulent sea) is over and they are in Europe. All you can do is get them out of the wet clothes, put dry clothes on them and give them lots of hugs and love. This seems to work:)

The other thing I want to explain is the boats. I’ve touched on this before. They are rubber inflatables. They are kitted out with 30 hp engines, yes 30… that is NOT a typo! The 6 km journey takes an HOUR because there are 50-60 people on a rubber boat with a 30 horse power engine! Thus this young man’s immense joy that he brought this boatload of fellow refugees in safely. I asked him if he had ever driven a boat before and he told me, “no”. In fact, he has never been on the water before. I hugged him extra tight! He told me, “you are like my mother”. I struggle to keep my emotions in check because there is work to be done.

Help arrives! And we decide that it is best to walk them 1/2 a mile down to the clothing warehouse that is donated by a generous local man and maintained by Toula (the amazing local woman who will get her own post!) and her Merry Band of Volunteers. We get them in out of the wind and assist with getting them into dry tops, pants, shoes, socks and coats. Jaymarie helps a family with a special needs child who appears to have CP. (darn it!!! now I’m crying. In a cafe… why? Because I think of my Celeste and how scary it must have been for that mommy to travel with this special angel over that water and the whole voyage, gosh I hope they find a good place to live!). Jaymarie held the child while his mom and dad helped his siblings get into dry clothes and then clothed themselves.

Lots of love, lots of hugs, so much gratitude and JOY. What a great reason to be late to dinner!

Ciao!

 

The boat


     
    

Silver Linings

Although there is much sadness to write about, I want to share a happy story. A happy story that had me shedding tears of love, gratitude & happiness. 

Jean-Sébastien wrote the post below on Facebook yesterday morning. Kelly, Scott, Jaymarie and I had been in chatting with him and Jan and the rest of the gang from Clowns Without Borders before our ferry trip to Chios. 

This restaurant has been my favorite on Lesvos this past week. My first night I didn’t have enough cash to cover my bill and they don’t take cards. The owner told me to pay it when I had it. I did, of course, the next night when I went for dinner 😊

Here is Jean-Sébastien’s post:

Last night, here in lesbos, in the restaurant or we have our habits with the team of “clowns without borders” – a traditional restaurant Greek held by two twin brothers who cooks so well and for nothing (fresh tuna steak 300 G + accompaniment for 6,50 €!?) -‘s arrival a first family of Syrian refugees, then a 2th, then a 3th, 4th, 5th…

One of the bosses asked my friend Sabine Choucair, Lebanese Clown, come and translate the map in Arabic. She’s so grown from family to family for their describe the menu, and little by little, the tables were covered with large plates full of food warm and abundant.

The faces tired and anxious are relaxed, the mouths are untied.

The restaurant to finished by bleed out, and we found “between us”, The team of the restaurant, the team of clowns and a Syrian family.

We communicated as we could in Greek, English, Arabic. Little by little we bonded, and I could even play with one of their son, Omar, who barely a few hours earlier, soaked in the arms of his mother, trying not to die drowned in a rubber boat overcrowded.

Omar was very serene, very inquisitive, full of energy, to move the legs in its combination too big for him, but dry at least.

He has even offered a few big smiles, these smiles that are so beautiful that your heart opens all alone, whether you like it or not.

Omar has 3 months, and Omar’s fine.

Omar is the European tomorrow, with all due respect to all those who close their arms.

Welcome my grand, ahla w ‘ Sahla, welcome!

PS: when parents have wanted to pay the bill, the boss has refused. All is not lost in this complicated world…

All is not lost.

 

Jean-Sébastien and Omar, Lesvos, Greece


My dear readers, all is not lost ❤️

Ciao! 

Blessed Beyond

Good Morning! I got to do this before my first cup of coffee this beautiful morning…

  
That was the second boat to wash up 20 minutes apart. 

I want to start by responding to a few of you that have asked for photos. This is as close as I’ll take, for a couple of reasons. 1. Dignity and privacy for the refugees and 2. Once I’m with the refugees, my hands are busy helping 😊 Whether that is in the camp hugging a woman (that takes both hands, I’m a big, give it my all hugger!) or helping someone into dry socks, shoes or clothes or providing urgent care on the beach.

This morning I helped a woman who was hyperventilating from the stress of the 60 minute sea crossing. Once I got her baby in her husbands arms and a couple of Dutch medics help, I sat her on the ground where she could get her bearings. I held her and reassured her, calmed her down and just loved on her. Her eyes showed fear, relief and gratitude. Mine were filled with tears for the blessing of being able to do what I do best, love on another human being. 

I received a message this morning from the volunteer network, here on Lesvos, that there was an immediate need for 500+ dry shoes up at the refugee camp, due to the numbers of refugees coming in. This is where donated money comes in. 

Feeling extremely grateful this morning. For everything. For life! For all of you and mostly for this work I get to do!

If you’d like to help me help them there are two ways: 

PayPal: flamidwyfe1@aol.com

Or

https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179#.VrZzFVpWW0I.facebook

PayPal friends and family option gets me money on my PayPal debit card nearly instantly. 
You have no idea how hard it is for me to ask for anything. I typically pull from my own reserves. Well I’ve pulled all I’ve got. I’m here because this is where God led me. I’ll stay until He leads me to leave. 

Much Love!

Ciao!

Lesvos

Day 4Up at 0600 for some meditation and reflection prior to heading off to the airport. €4 bus tix to airport and a short, 2 hour hop to Athens from Rome. I was surrounded by a team of Judo and Karate youth heading to a tournament. When we landed they broke out in very loud cheers! Scared the crap out of me! LOL

5 hour layover in Athens and now I’m sitting on the plane waiting for my flight to Lesvos. 

Total spent on my 2 day Rome layover: €71! That’s food, ground transport and accommodation!

Arrived in Lesvos around 830 pm and picked up by Kelly. 

The house we are staying in is just 2 km from the airport and right on the beach facing Turkey, which is 6 miles across the Aegean Sea. 

As I was getting coffee Wednesday morning, a boat of refugees literally landed on the beach in front of us. Below is the remnants of the very skimpy inflatable boat that is loaded with 30-50 men, women and children. 

The sea has been rough, keep the refugees in your heart, for their safety. 

More tomorrow. 

Ciao! 

 

You can see Turkey 6 miles over.

  

This is what the refugees come from Turkey to Greece in.