My diary entry from my first day in the Moria Clothes Tent, Lesvos.
Today was superman pants.
They just arrived. The women and children queuing on one side the men on the other, startled, slow, shivering and in shock. I really wasn’t ready for it. The questions, Farsi, Arabic, the same questions again and again, some missing a shoe, many sopping sea-wet from the raft, wrapped in blankets and beach-given silver-gold survival foil, all ages, the babies with ice cold hands, the young studs, the mothers and the fathers and the toothless three score and ten, some grieving friends and family just lost, some texting their safe arrival, I couldn’t stop gawping, some signing again and again and again, for shoes, for socks, for hats, for cache-cache(scarves), for trousers, for “where next?”, for the doctor, the “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”s, the volunteers rushing past and my not remembering where soap was, or where toothpaste was, not knowing if we give out blankets, the “not him, his shoes will dry” advice, the “we don’t have enough size 42”s, the “gloves, are we out of gloves?”, the trying to understand why NGO’s hands were tied and it’s complicated and there are legal issues of course but are all these donations from independent people?, BARK – stepped on the dog – the texts, cold thumbed and slow on Greek phone to O “forgot to bring lunch”, J in charge, orderly, competent and patient, my bothering poor L “where’s this? where’s that?”, patting down shins and socks to see how wet, “remember to use hand sanitiser”, “Where’s Patrick? Have you called him?”, brought man in queue with in bare feet shivering uncontrollably to front of queue, “Patrick hates everyone” “But he’s in charge of the warehouse”, an 11-year old Brit kid calmly walking past and helping a stranger, J and “need you to manage the queue”, my wholly ineffectual please don’t push said in terribly polite tones, the please please slow down, please don’t all go at once!, “you can’t let them bunch like that”, one at a time, one at a time, one at a time, N coming to rescue, helping with queue, laughing and cheering and miming and dancing and making them smile, “don’t let too many through”, the long-stayers trying their luck – get rid of him please, patting trousers and shoes, “there’s scabies of course”, (what exactly is scabies?), bringing children forward as priority, I from Japan quiet and kind, the queue still growing, grey blankets, dark eyes just staring, curious, “tell them we have no more shoes”, socks inside survival-foil, check who has shoes in the queue, know that now, M noticing hadn’t had break and bringing out some water, “one at a time please”, “take them, it’s all we’ve got”, queue slowing down, 5 hours gone by, translator explaining “it’s not a shop”, “take the shoes”, “it’ not a shop”, “take the shoes”, what do they need after Athens?, “they’re the only shoes we have”, make sure only the desperate get them, we don’t have enough to go round, you can’t help everyone, taking old woman and her son to medical tent next door, on and on and on.
For 6 hours it was non-stop. And then it slowed. At about 2pm, finally, it started to slow. I tried to help an old man find some clothes. He was white-haired, polite, dignified and wet to the bone . He would have been waiting for 3 hours, quietly, and without complaint. We had no shoes in his size. I tried to show him how he could put dry socks inside the flimsy-feeling survival foil to keep his feet warm while his shoes dried out. I wished I knew what the Arabic for sorry was. He pointed to his trousers. The only pair that were close to fitting were too big, grey pinstripe and thin. We did not have a belt. I found him a hat, a big wooly pom-pom hat and then he asked me for pants. All I could find were superman pants. Bright royal blue with a big bold red and yellow S across the crotch. That was all that was left.
Superman pants. I handed them to the white-haired, polite, dignified and wet to the bone old man and he smiled, put his hand over his heart with a little bow and went off to the changing tent.. Felt mortified.
Reading If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson back in the hotel.
Their heart grew cold,
they let their wings down …
That’s possibly the most striking thing about today. Nobody let their wings down. Despite all the chaos, the shivering, the uncertainty, and the fear, there is this wonderful warmth.
There is warmth among the refugees. They are astonishing: courageous, patient, grateful and ever-ready to smile, regardless of these ridiculous conditions.
There is warmth among the volunteers. They’re equally special in their own way. They’re from all over, Japan, US, Canada, Switzerland, Jersey, London, Norway and with no clear expertise (other than the doctors). They don’t really know each other, but they all just muck in, helping where they can, encouraging and coaxing and, well, being loving.
And there is warmth between refugees and volunteers. It is a lovely thing to see complete strangers hugging.
Nobody’s heart grew cold.
Nobody let their wings down.
And as far as I’m concerned, they all deserve superman pants.