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!