Why America is Panicking and Greece is Not

November 21, 2015 ~ Demetra Szatkowski
lesvos

lesvos

Greek man to me, after I commented on the mood here being so much more relaxed than it is at home:

“You know why? I tell you why. Greece, we are a peaceful country. We never did anything to them, so we are not worried about ourselves here. You know, ISIS is a problem because America and other big countries are against Assad (Syrian government.) America help arm the rebels. They like to control things. But Russia protects Assad. So they fight for a long time. Now, ISIS is powerful. But they want to harm big countries. And they have nothing to lose now. Here, we have our families, our friends, our jobs. There they have lost everything from fighting. So they do not care anymore.

The refugees come over here because they know we take care of them. The people on that island (Lesvos), they have a piece of bread, they split it in half and give half to the refugees and keep half for themselves. Greek people are peaceful people. Not like big countries.”

*****

After spending a night in Athens, I made my way to the island of Lesvos (also referred to as Mytilini.) I am in Molyvos, on the north coast, where most boats are landing. But as soon as I entered Greece I noticed it – the mood is so different here.

In America, people are glued to the television and are arguing on Facebook, sharing mostly uneducated viewpoints based on fear. In Greece, they know exactly what is happening because they are here. They think the refugee crisis is a problem but they do not blame the refugees. As someone explained to me tonight, the refugees are educated people. They are doctors, lawyers, dentists. The journey across the sea costs a lot of money. And when they get here, most of them have nothing left.

It’s so interesting that in America, everyone is all of a sudden concerned about helping the homeless, helping our veterans. Some have used this crisis as a chance to shout, “Why are we not taking care of our own first? Let’s help our own!”

Look, obviously, “our own” need help. But most of the people complaining weren’t doing much to help them last week, if they even are now. And I think it is wrong to stop helping others so we can only help our own, as if being Americans makes our lives so much more important.

America doesn’t have a lack of resources. America needs better leaders, better plans, and most importantly better priorities. We are certainly capable of giving help to those who are suffering.

We also need less racism. Somebody I know well recently offered this statement, after warning me to be extra careful around Muslims: “Well, it’s been proven that if someone’s Christian you can pretty much trust them. And if they’re Muslim, you can’t. The basis of Islam is against Western countries.”

This, my friends, is the problem in America, because this statement came from a well-educated, very privileged person. And they were one hundred percent sure of that statement.

*****

I met a Norwegian paramedic doctor tonight who described an encounter he had with a Syrian baby in the middle of the night two nights ago. When she arrived on shore she was soaked, freezing, unresponsive and her pulse was very weak. The two adults with her were soaking wet and in shock. He tucked the baby inside his shirt to warm her up. After about five hours, he said, she finally woke up. He showed me a video of her in his arms, her eyes fluttering open. He said her family was so grateful, and she is now ok. His eyes completely lit up when he was talking about her.

He also told me about a little boy that “arrived dead,” that he worked on for hours. Finally the child started crying, but he died the next day. “It is very sad. But three others came dead that day, and we were able to save them all.”

The mood amongst the volunteers is mostly relaxed and happy. These are good people. They know what needs to be done and they want to do whatever they can to help. Some have taken time off from school, from work, from families.

That’s another thing that’s been interesting to me – everybody’s reaction to me being here. “Wow, you’re so brave, that’s so amazing,” they say. The praise is nice but it always takes me aback a bit. I’m being a human. People are suffering. To the people here, it’s just what you do. There isn’t really another option.

I haven’t worked with any refugees yet, because no boats have landed where I am today. Boats come to different beaches and each beach seems to have a different group. I am planning on staying probably a week here, and then heading to one of the camps for a couple weeks. There are two main camps on Lesvos, Moria and Kara Tepe. Moria is for any families that are not Syrian (mostly Iraqi and Afghan) and single Syrian men. Kara Tepe is for Syrian families. There is also a smaller camp, Pikpa, which is for sick people and unaccompanied children. Yes – children without any parents, most likely because they died on their way across the sea. Those are only the camps on the island that I’m aware of right now. They have been described as “hell,” and apparently they are where most help is needed at the moment.

Somebody else I met tonight described a day – 29 October, he told me – where almost 200 people drowned on their way across the water. Tonight, as I sat on the beach around a fire with other volunteers, I stared across the water at the lights coming from Turkey and tried to imagine what that would even be like. I couldn’t picture it.

*****

I’m going to keep writing as long as I have wifi and will keep everybody updated with what is happening here. In the meantime, please educate yourselves and others, especially in the US. Now is not a time to shut people out. It is a time to open our eyes and our arms, trust a little bit, and let other people in.