Day 4. Today there were fewer refugees coming to the camp (less than 2000, but 2380 expected by dawn–they travel even at night) because the bad weather a few days ago prevented refugees from crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece. Having fewer, allowed us to care better for those who came. It was wet and cold (freezing rain all day), and refugees arrived soaked. They are given very thin rain ponchos (the $2 type) and this keeps their upper bodies relatively dry, but shoes, feet, legs are totally soaked and cold. We are very low on shoes again (out of many sizes) and ran completely out of socks. I’m finding that many are so dazed they can’t really function clearly, so i spent the day peeling shoes and socks off children and adults and getting their feet dry and then putting dry socks and shoes back on. I can’t really explain the feeling accurately, but with this small gesture, i feel like i am honoring each person. Letting them know that i see them, and that it will be okay.
Tara a lovely Macedonian women who is volunteering for a month at the camp with Help Refugees in Macedonia, suggested we start a rumor that rubber boots are all the fashion in Europe. Since i’ve been wearing my bogs, i’ve been showing the young girls mine and saying, these are the best, if you are offered them, take them– everyone in Europe is wearing them! For cultural reasons i suppose, they don’t see the rubber boots as shoes. When we offered people the few pairs i brought from the US, we get looks of disbelief. So we are running into a wall between need and cultural differences. Brand new shoes are getting ruined from the weather, and the only option is to switch to waterproof, but before we can think of buying in bulk, we have to find a strategy for explaining why these ugly shoes are much better than hiking boots or tennis shoes, or God forbid sandals. Yes, people are still coming to the camp without shoes, jackets, hats, gloves, scarfs or even appropriate pants! And it is freezing and they spend a lot of time outside!
Soup was a big draw today when the refugees arrived in the afternoon. Many are traveling with large groups of children. One family had several kids, on their hips, in their arms, holding hands, or simply encouraging small ones along. I was passing out a very rich chicken soup provided by our local partners NuN Kultura (NuN Civil Association), when a family with many small children passed thru. The father who had a baby in his arms, indicated i should hand a small boy, maybe 2+ a hot cup of soup to carry. Not on my watch, as they say, so i took the child’s hand and followed the family, carrying the soup myself. And he was clearly very hungry, so as soon as i sat him down on a wooden slate bench (that’s all the refugees have to sit on in the camp) i began to feed him. He ate voraciously every spoonful. I’m noticing that many don’t prefer the chunks of bread they are given, so i’ve been showing that the custom is to dunk the bread in the soup and eat it that way. This little boy loved that, and giggled a dimpled smile as he ate. The ability to help one to one, fills me with so much love for these people. They are so scared, each huddled in on themselves, even when in family groups. I hope the small moment of personal care, helps them to feel like themselves again.
Later in the night, while people were waiting for the train, i noticed a small group of three huddled out of the rain under a tarp. One woman was crouched down into as small of a ball as she could possibly make with her body. I could tell she was very very cold. I approached and saw immediately that one of the woman was holding a new born, 1 month, she indicated. I rushed away to get first blankets and rain ponchos for them all. Then noticed they had no hats (just hijab) or scarfs. The police had emptied the half heated tent (trust me, its not warm in there, simply not bitter), but since the police have been friendly with me, i approached one and asked permission to bring the family back into the tent. Once back into the lighted room (it was about 1 am at this point), i could see better what they needed. Trainers with no socks, thin jacket, inadequate protection for the baby. I went in search of a whole cache of items for them. I stripped the shoes off feet, put on socks and then stuck into the socks, hand warmers, and then shoes. I opened hand warmers and indicated to put next to their belly. Then Kemal told me to try to get them to the UNICEF tent where mothers and small children can go. I took the second woman there, my arms wrapped around her waist (so light, she was like a butterfly in my arms). She kept her hijab over her mouth, and keep asking me something i couldn’t understand. But finally i got it that she was pregnant. When we got to the UNICEF tent she wouldn’t go inside. I went in to ask for help explaining, and the workers there looked at her and said, she is sick she can’t come in. They said she had been in earlier and had thrown up. Then the Red Cross rep came over and said again, a bit aggressively, she’s sick she can’t come in. I looked at him in disbelief and said, she’s pregnant, that’s why she threw up. Apparently, she was so ashamed, that she wanted to keep her mouth covered, and that’s what she had been trying to tell me all along. So i asked for a mask so she didn’t have to use her hijab and we left. We stopped at the Red Cross tent to ask if there was anything they could give her. The response of the male worker was if she’s pregnant, throwing up is normal. Sehr Haroon, a doctor, was with us by this time, and she, too ,was angry. But we got the woman back to the tent and encouraged her and the mother to lay down to sleep. The train was full and many got left behind, with the next train not coming until the morning. When i left the tent to go “home”, i looked back and saw the woman still huddled in on herself, not laying down, not moving, just making herself as small as she possibly could.