As usual, it's been a while since my last update. I've been waiting for the right moment to talk about some exciting news but who knows when that right moment will ever be.
I am writing from inside the gates of Moria. Pictures are forbidden so I implore your imagination to design a small town made of aid-tents and container-sized buildings with metal bars clinging to every window. The hedges in this town have been replaced by three meter tall barbed fences. A spotlight, a loudspeaker and a security camera are fixed on the corner-post of a small basketball court surrounded by razor-wire and sweltering unused in 40-degree heat. Camping tents line the sun-stroked entrance to a mound of utter desolation where the camp's inhabitants have now been waiting nearly 5 months for a chance to plead their cases before tribunals which have been recently re-staffed according to a new Greek law which all but precludes the possibility of acceptance.
I am here to present a project to a group of community leaders from each nationality in the camp who meet every week to discuss collaborative approaches to camp problems. I tell them about Mosaik support centre in 20-second intervals followed by slightly longer pauses where the room fills with murmurs as my speech is translated into a dozen languages. Mosaik stands as an affront to the retrograde hostility which has been meted out so ruthlessly over the course of my 5-month stint on the island. It is the collaborative brainchild of a handful of volunteers who embody the welcoming spirit this island represented before the mass detentions made it incredibly difficult to deliver this type of blind hospitality in good conscience. We serve migrants and locals alike in the centre of Mytilini, offering language training, legal support, art workshops, and music lessons in a beautifully restored manor whose 25 square meter stone mosaic sits under the shade of orange trees flanked by cafe tables and flowers. In the first 2 1/2 weeks of operation over 250 people signed up for courses which offer respite from the banality of camp life and an opportunity to take part in activities tailored to integration in Greek society.
I tell the community leaders about Mosaik with great pride because I have been working very hard for the last two months to coordinate all the activities, teachers and volunteers, to promote the center among asylum seekers and volunteer groups, to liaise with the NGO community on the island, to design the registration system (aka the insanity box) and to water the plants every night. I give each of the leaders a small treasure map so they can tell the people of Moria where we are, shake hands with the police commander who fortunately does not recognize me from the dozens of time I have been asked to put my guitar away and leave the premises immediately, and cross my fingers for tomorrow hoping that the message got through as I hoped it would.
There is also a bit of a bitter-sweet element because just as the center is taking off I have daily fantasies about doing the very same thing: getting off this island! I would love to stay here and watch the project grow, to keep shaking hands with everyone as they arrive for their classes and try to remember their names even though my small-town-ontario phonetic alphabet renders this task impossible, to move hell and high water to be able to sneak one more student into tuesday morning's 10am Greek class, to drive around town with khimar-clad moms on the back of my (borrowed) motorbike, to continue my arabic classes with an entire family of Syrian refugees as my teacher, to make cheeky comments at UNHCR meetings, and to water my roses. But, though I have been implicated in virtually every aspect of Mosaik since its inception it is now time for me to accept that it has a life of its own and that part of the volunteer experience is to back down and let the next ones take over.
By the grace of 24 people who bought my Xenophilia EP, my grandma who sent a cheque at the end of every month, and my parents who bailed me out each time things got really desperate, I've been fortunate enough to stay on Lesvos much longer than I anticipated. I have no clue who will replace me or when I will actually manage to leave, and I am very likely to have a last-minute change-of-heart if the opportunity presents itself in the right way. For now I have exactly enough money to make 6 CDs and buy a ferry ticket to the next island so it seems like a new adventure is kicking off. Hope to see some of you along the way!